Colin Kaepernick Stirring Ghosts of Legendary QBs from 49ers' Past

Bleacher ReportSenior Writer IJanuary 29, 2013

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 20:  Quarterback Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers calls a play at the line in the second quarter against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on January 20, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Except those ghosts never had tattoos.

For a moment, Colin Kaepernick's ink threatened to overshadow his game. Luckily, America didn't fall too hard for the transparent attention grab and the kid is far too smart/talented to be derailed by such idiocy.

Instead, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback of the present and future just kept trucking NFL defenses.

In his first career start, filling in for the cruising but concussed Alex Smith, Kaep went out and throttled a red-hot Chicago Bears defense that had been touted as an early-season Super Bowl favorite.

On Monday Night Football, no less.

By the time his debut as a starter was over, he'd flashed the physical tools necessary to compete as a professional quarterback, but perhaps more impressively, he demonstrated the nerves of steel necessary to thrive as one.

It was more of the same in career start No. 2.

The 25-year-old led the Niners into the Superdome—you might've heard there's another game being played there on Sunday—and took it to the New Orleans Saints. By the numbers, it wasn't as dominating of a performance as he had against Da Bears. However, Colin outplayed Drew Brees on his home turf in one of the toughest environments for opposing offenses.

By that measure, his encore victory as a starter was even better than the original.

Kaepernick endured a little adversity in his third start as he and San Francisco failed to reprise their roles as road warriors, losing in St. Louis to the improving Rams. A home victory over the Miami Dolphins (yawn) showed his resilience before the much-dissected victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots in Foxborough launched Kaep's star on the national scene for good.

The football gods served up one last serving of humble pie in the form of a 42-13 shellacking, courtesy of the Seattle Seahawks and their 12th Man. But a matter-of-fact win in the finale against the Arizona Cardinals set things right.

By the end of Week 17, it was obvious the Niners had something special behind center, and it was Kaeptain Comeback's game that had done the convincing. With a little help from his biceps.

But those were regular season exploits.

Weeks 1-17 are cute and all, but this is San Francisco. We make or break our football demigods based on what they can do in the playoffs.

So far, so good on that front.

The second postseason pass Kaepernick ever threw was a pick-six, and it was pretty horrific when you get right down to it. The wayward throw put the 49ers in an early hole, foiled the decision to receive after winning the coin toss and effectively killed the early vibe at Candlestick Park.

All of which simply provided the Niners' newest star with a more dramatic stage on which to work his magic.

When the final curtain dropped, he'd set an NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff or any other game, accounted for four touchdowns, outplayed Aaron Rodgers—arguably the cream of the current QB crop—by a significant margin and carried San Francisco into its second consecutive NFC Championship game.

Not too shabby for your first playoff start.

The NFC Championship in Atlanta was more of the same ... well, more of the similar.

Kaeptain Comeback once again rallied his squad from an early deficit, though he had no direct hand in the making of this one.

The Atlanta Falcons came flying out of the gates in the first half (see what I did there?), building a 17-point lead before the good guys were even on the board. No matter. Kaepernick took advantage of a Falcons "D" that was intent on containing his dynamic scrambles and brought San Francisco back by distributing the ball, either with surgical passes or by handing off to running back Frank Gore.

Consequently, the 49ers are back in the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years.

Kaepernick has already delivered on the implicit expectation that his team succeed where last year's failed and now has the opportunity to secure the franchise's sixth title. If successful, he would join Joe Montana and Steve Young as the only San Francisco quarterbacks to win Super Bowls.

Which would be fitting because Kaep's already reminding Niner fans of the franchise's two greatest signal-callers.

It should go without saying that it's insanely premature to lump him in with Montana and Young, but this being the Internet, I'll say it anyway.

Even if he blows the doors off the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII and earns MVP honors en route to the ring, he still has a tough row to hoe if he wants to rub elbows with the all-time greats and plenty of it. The bodies of work crafted by both Montana and Young are far too voluminous and decorated to ever be rivaled by a player getting his first taste of the starting gig.

That said, it's not too premature to point out that Kaepernick is excelling with the 49ers and channeling his legendary predecessors' most dangerous assets to do so.

Think about it.

Montana was the quintessential competitor without letting it affect his play in the biggest moments. He was good by the regular-season numbers, but it was his postseason brilliance that defined his career, especially his exploits in the Super Bowl.

In four title games, Montana attempted 122 passes, completed them at a 68-percent clip, amassed 1142 yards through the air and accounted for 13 touchdowns against zero turnovers.

It'd be an exaggeration to call Joe a running quarterback, but his mobility was still underrated. He rushed for 1676 yards and 20 touchdowns over the course of his career, including 59 yards and a touchdown against the Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl XIX.

Steve Young, on the other hand, didn't enjoy Joe Cool's postseason reputation, but was much more dynamic with his legs, so his defining characteristic became his versatility.

The Stormin' Mormon was an accurate passer all over the field and brutalized opposing defenses with the help of Jerry Rice. His aerial attack was significantly augmented by his legs, though, as Young amassed over 4239 yards and 43 touchdowns running the ball.

Only Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham have rushed for more yards as quarterbacks, and Young owns the NFL record for most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback (no disrespect to Otto Graham).

If you took the best parts of Montana and Young, you'd have an accurate passer who was dangerous to all levels, was a demon when sprung from the pocket, made good decisions and found another gear when the stakes were at their highest.

Think back to the Bears game, to the Saints game, to the Pats game, to the divisional playoffs, to the conference championship. Anything jump out at you?

Toss in a cannon for an arm a la John Elway, a liberal dose of body art and, whaddaya know, that's Colin Kaepernick.

Of course, possessing the raw ability is nice, but bringing it to bear consistently over a long period of time is what separates the men from the boys.

Both Montana and Young enjoyed protracted lengths of dominance. It was their consistency and longevity that allowed them to transcend greatness and enter the pantheon of the best to ever play the position.

Kaep can't force his way into their company any time soon, but he's sure off to a nice start.

Bringing that sixth ring back to the Bay Area would be an even better one.


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