Some don’t like his tattoos. Other don’t like that he leapfrogged Alex Smith. And more than a few don’t like him because he’s a little too much like his prickly pear coach, Jim Harbaugh.
But by and large, football people probably fear Colin Kaepernick more than dislike him. Put simply, he has been so good, so soon, and is leading a revolution at the quarterback position.
All eyes will be on San Francisco’s young fire-baller Sunday, as Kaepernick — the second-year, dual-threat signal-caller — tries to become the first quarterback to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl since Steve Young.
The Niners are favored to beat the host Atlanta Falcons in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game — and Kaepernick is the leading reason why.
Put simply, no quarterback has ever had a game quite like the Niners’ young star did last week. In San Francisco’s 45-31 divisional-round demolition of Green Bay, Kaepernick ran for 181 yards, the most ever by an NFL quarterback in the playoffs.
He also threw for 263 yards and accounted for four touchdowns to put the 49ers in the NFC title game for the second year in a row.
“You want him to be trusting what he sees and cut it loose,” Harbaugh said. “And I think he’s shown a rare ability to do that, to not have to double-check.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been many second-guessers of Harbaugh this season. Last January, Smith — the long-maligned former No. 1 overall pick — got the team to the brink of the Super Bowl with a narrative-busting touchdown drive late against the Saints in the divisional round.
And while Smith couldn’t get the 49ers past the Giants, he went on to play the best football of his career in 2012.
His quarterback rating had been over 100 when he sustained a midseason concussion that ultimately cost him his starting job.
While Smith was efficient, Kaepernick’s ceiling was far higher. Smith wouldn’t hurt you with the egregious error, but Kaepernick could make up for the occasional hiccup with stunning strength and speed.
And he has rewarded Harbaugh’s gamble by winning six of his eight starts.
Kaepernick has only thrown four interceptions since replacing Smith. And after each of those picks, he has led the Niners on a touchdown drive.
The 49ers’ game plan was once to ground, pound and defend. Now it’s to leave teams in their wake.
On Kaepernick’s gazelle-like, 56-yard touchdown jaunt last Saturday, he didn’t just run away from Green Bay’s linebackers. He outsprinted defensive backs, too, covering ground with long strides like Usain Bolt in London.
“Colin has got some very good long speed,” Falcons coach Mike Smith said. “He’s long, and he can take up a lot of ground when he’s running when he gets in the open.”
It will be up to Atlanta defensive coordinator Mike Nolan — who, ironically, is a former Niners head coach (not to mention a top Dolphins assistant under Tony Sparano) — to figure out a way to stop him. Few have.
Football purists think Kaepernick’s collegiate style of play — taking snaps in the pistol, running the read option — is just a fad and won’t last. Look at Robert Griffin III, they say. Get your quarterback hit enough and eventually he’ll break.
But if will plays a part in success, Kaepernick isn’t going anywhere.
His birth mother was just 19 when she had him and put young Colin up for adoption. His body is covered in tattoos, prompting one national columnist to compare him to an inmate and igniting a national debate. Kaepernick’s ink is far from nefarious, however.
Tattoos on his arms contain bible verses. The one across his chest reads: “Against All Odds.”
“I feel like pretty much my whole life I’ve been categorized as a runner,” Kaepernick said last week, which is ironic, considering he was drafted by the Chicago Cubs as a pitcher.
Kaepernick can throw a fastball in the 90s, and that arm strength has been on display over his remarkable two-month ascent to NFL stardom.
Sports Illustrated put him on its cover last week, with the caption, “Shout it from the mountaintop, Jim — you were dead on about Colin Kaepernick.”
One more win Sunday and even the most fervent Kaepernick basher would have to agree.