He was little known as the season began, just the sixth quarterback drafted in 2011, somebody from the University of Nevada, just a guy trying to get off the bench.
“Trying to find a way to get in a game,” as he said earlier this week.
Now, with all of nine career starts, he’ll be the third-least experienced QB to start a Super Bowl. Only the Rams’ Vince Ferragamo (seven starts entering the 1980 game) and the Giants’ Jeff Hostetler (six in 1991) had fewer.
Kaepernick has a chance to not only win, but to join the pantheon of Super Bowl QBs who truly stand out.
I’m not sure the Ravens’ Joe Flacco does. The Flacco theme entering this game is, “Is he elite?” Rule of thumb: If you have to ask, the question is no, or at least, charitably, not yet. Flacco does not excite or enjoy the off-field panache that Kaepernick does.
He owns stage
Kaepernick reminds us why the quarterback owns the Super Bowl stage — even this one. The preamble has been mostly about the coaching Harbaugh brothers and about Ray Lewis’ emotional farewell. But once the game kicks off the championship will literally and figuratively be in the QBs’ hands.
Maybe that is why 25 of the 46 Super Bowls MVPs have been passers.
The Super Bowl is not an automatic bridge to stardom at the position — winning QBs have included career also-rans such as Mark Rypien, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson — but as often as not the Super Bowl makes or secures legends at the position.
Like Joe Namath, with his famous “guarantee” in 1968, or Kenny Stabler’s swagger in 1977 (any QB nicknamed “Snake” has a leg up), or Doug Williams as the SB’s first black quarterback in 1987. Men like Terry Bradshaw, John Elway, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning were lacking until the moment the Super Bowl completed them. Joe Montana and Tom Brady became football royalty because this game was their kingdom.
Watching what this game does to Kaepernick and Flacco, what it means to their reputations moving forward, will be interesting.
I also find intriguing what these two QBs and this matchup tell us. Remind us, really:
There is no verifiable formula to get to the Super Bowl. No reliable road map.
The starting point
This should be both exhilarating and terrifying to teams like the Dolphins who are trying to get here, trying to divine that formula or find that map.
An elite QB is the starting point, right? Well, maybe. Except that Brady, Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are all watching Sunday’s game just like you are while some little-known guy with tattoos takes over their stage.
A dominant team is required, right? Well, hmm. The reigning-champion Giants were 7-7 at one point last season, their coach rumored on the firing line, before they got hot late. The Ravens this year are the seventh wild-card team in the past eight years to reach the Super Bowl.
The 49ers and Ravens instruct as that, even in the space-age NFL where the quarterback is king, a team still can ride a strong ground game and big defense.
And yet the quarterback still is likeliest to steer Sunday’s result.
The TV cameras will focus on the coaching brothers and the storyline will center on Lewis’ farewell, but chances are the game will be decided because one of these two things happens:
Flacco will make his case for that elusive “elite” tag.
Or Kaepernick will properly introduce himself as America’s newest star, a tatted-up, biceps-kissing gust of fresh air.