A message to all NFL defenses: be afraid, be very afraid. Be afraid of one of the most dynamic quarterbacks the league has seen since the advent of the forward pass. Be afraid of the arm that dislocated the sticky index finger of Randy Moss on one seven-yard toss. Be afraid of the 6'5" 250-pound blur of scarlet and gold streaking across the field like a runaway Shinkansen.
Believe it or not, what we witnessed last year in the playoffs may have been just a teaser trailer for Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers in 2013. The complete annihilation of the Green Bay Packers' once impregnable defense. The eulogy delivered to the Atlanta Falcons after the second half of the NFC Championship. The Joe Montana-esque comeback which fell four yards short in the Super Bowl.
All of that came after a grand total of seven regular-season starts for the second-round draft pick out of Nevada. Now, after a full offseason of training with the 49ers' first-team offense—Kaepernick actually began working out with his receivers just two weeks after the Super Bowl—and having played under the lights of the game's grandest stage, it's scary to think how dangerous the fleet-footed missile thrower will be come September.
His name and his trademark, "Kaepernicking," have already become something of a legend in the Bay Area. The flex of the guns and a kiss of the word “faith” tattooed on his right bicep. Pure innovation. Much cooler than “Tebowing,” and without any of the unwanted controversy. The last time a quarterback achieved this kind of hero worship in San Francisco was when some 24-year-old kid out of Notre Dame engineered a couple of game-winning drives to bring the city its first world title. And three more after that.
Everyone should have seen this coming. During his college days, Kaepernick became the first quarterback in the history of Division 1 football to pass for over 10,000 yards and rush for 4,000. His arm—capable of firing 95 mph fastballs on the baseball diamond—was one of the strongest in the country, and he used it to thread passes into airtight coverage and launch the football from one end of the field to the other. In those few instances when there was no one to throw too, he would play tag with the linemen and linebackers, outrunning his pursuers until he reached the safe "no-tag area" in the opposing end zone. Tackling was futile. Defenses were powerless.
After four years of terrorizing the WAC, he was ready to fulfill a promise that he made to himself when he was eight years old.
Now he has a chance to do what McNabb, Young, Vick and Cunningham never accomplished once in their storied careers: become the first quarterback to throw for 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000 more.
Four words for Sunday morning church goers: Get your DVR ready.
To be sure, the NFL wasn’t short of any thrills last year. But as inspiring as it was to witness Calvin Johnson pass Jerry Rice for all-time receiving yards in a season and Adrian Petersen come eight yards shy of Eric Dickerson’s immortal 2,105 after returning from knee surgery, records are always meant to be broken.
If science and math have taught us anything, true greatness can be measured in originality just as much as in quantitative reasoning. Some of the best examples include Joe Dimaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Paul Hornung's 15 touchdown/15 field-goal clinic and the eighth wonder, Oscar Robertson’s triple-double season stat line. A 4,000/1,000-yard gem currently lies glittering in the horizon, waiting to be picked up by the next Avant-garde athlete.
In the ultimate team sport, such a feat would elevate any individual into the upper echelons of sports hierarchy inhabited only by the greatest deities, men and women who have transcended the game through their Herculean deeds or their sheer ability to win over the crowd.
But is it possible? Kaepernick's time in Nevada gave every indication that he was bound to be something special, prophesized a career filled with Madden video game covers, car commercials and guest spots on PBS tortoise documentaries. But college football—much like the Playstation and the Xbox 360—is a place where athletes often put up absurd statistics that often include 150.0 quarterback ratings and offenses that average anywhere between 45 to 50 points a game.
No one knew whether Kaepernick's dominance at the college level would materialize in the much faster and stronger NFL.
It turns out those concerns were invalid, perhaps even asinine. In his first half season as a starter, Kaepernick threw for 1,608 yards and ran for 238—a pace of 3,700 and 550 over a full 16-game tilt. He also had a quarterback rating of 98.0, proving to be every bit as efficient with the ball as he was dangerous.
Now equipped with more weapons and a better perspective of the game (nothing edifies a quarterback more than losing a Super Bowl), a battle-tested Kaepernick will set out to torch opposing defenses once again. The 49ers’ offense was nearly unstoppable in last year’s playoffs, averaging 470 yards and 35 points a game, and a large part of that was the kaleidoscopic attack that started with their Swiss Army Knife under center.
Reaching 4,000 yards through the air shouldn’t be a problem for Kaepernick, especially in today’s pass-oriented NFL. Even with the loss of star receiver Michael Crabtree to a torn Achillies for the first half of the season, the 49ers have more than enough wideouts running around the field for their star quarterback to blow up his stat sheet.
Grinding out 1,000 yards on the ground will be a much iffier feat, and one of the main reasons is that Kaepernick is a throw-it-first quarterback, opting to run only when under duress or when a play breaks down completely. This is what makes him a superior signal caller to athletes like Vick and Newton who choose to run the ball by design, and rest assured Jim Harbaugh won’t be asking his star to make any changes to his game now, or ever. The 49ers’ running back committee of Gore-Hunter-James will also make it difficult for Kaepernick to get the touches necessary to crank out big gains every week.
Not that he needs it. During his time with the 49ers, Kaepernick has barely showed any interest in individual achievements. Just one year ago, he joked on Twitter about being the starting quarterback after a disgruntled Alex Smith appeared headed for Miami following the team’s unsuccessful bid to sign Peyton Manning. Like 49ers Hall of Famer Steve Young, he’s just happy to have this opportunity.
His teammates love him. His head coach would make him prefect if he could. The strides Kaepernick has made both on and off the field since his trial-by-fire start on Monday Night Football last season is one of the reasons San Francisco is favored to win the NFC West over their northern rival Seattle Seahawks. He gelled with tight end Vernon Davis in last year’s playoffs and has already drawn praise from newly-acquired wideout Anquan Boldin. Despite the laundry list of concerns the 49ers still have on their roster, affinity is not one of them.
Kaepernick's tremendous physique and blistering speed have already drawn comparisons to superheroes like The Hulk and The Flash. He's actually more like Iron Man, with an indestructible suit of armor and a glut of tools at his disposal. The only thing missing from his repertoire is the element of stealth. There’s no bigger disadvantage for an athlete than being a superstar, and Kaepernick won't be the Rubik's cube that no one could solve midway through an NFL season. The football nerds have sliced up his game and drawn up a cheat sheet, one that's likely gone viral.
But that's what elite quarterbacks face every week. Brady. Manning. Rodgers. Teams study them, find out their weaknesses, mutter their names during their daily routines, work sleepless nights to devise a another "foolproof" strategy. And defenses still can't stop it, what they prepared for, what they know is coming. Because you can't stop greatness. You can only witness it.
For Kaepernick, a mythical season isn't necessary. Just pretty damn awesome.
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