A decade ago, Colin Kaepernick commanded the Super Bowl stage and helped change the QB prototype conversation
February marks the celebration of Black History Month. This year’s theme — according to the Association for the Study of African American Life and History — is “Resistance.” Yahoo Sports will feature a series of stories highlighting the achievements of pioneering African Americans whose very being is a form of resistance against the status quo in their respective fields.
Super Bowl XLVII had no shortage of drama and buzz, from Jim and John Harbaugh coaching the two teams to it being Ray Lewis' last game to Beyoncé's incredible halftime performance featuring a Destiny's Child reunion to the power outage that stopped the game for about 35 minutes at the New Orleans Superdome.
It also included Colin Kaepernick as quarterback of the NFC champion San Francisco 49ers, and to look back at highlights from the game on its 10th anniversary is to be reminded what a unique talent he was and how in many ways he was a precursor to the type of quarterback play that has now become the NFL norm.
Since Kaepernick began protesting in 2016, which a small-minded subset of people didn't approve of, a myth propagated that he wasn't really a good player and didn't deserve to be in the league anymore at the time. Aaron Rodgers didn't believe it. Neither did Tom Brady. We are not here to argue that Kaepernick was in a class with Brady or Rodgers, but to say he was terrible is an outright lie.
One need look no further than that Super Bowl. The Niners were down 28-6 seconds into the third quarter after Baltimore's Jacoby Jones returned the second-half kickoff for a touchdown. Kaepernick had a first-half interception, but the Ravens didn't get any points off it, turning the ball over on downs when kicker Justin Tucker picked up just 8 yards on a fake field-goal attempt on fourth-and-9.
Facing a significant deficit in the third quarter after Jones' TD return, San Francisco's defense settled in, and Kaepernick went to work. On the Niners' second possession of the half, he ran for 20 yards on the first two plays and completed a 9-yard pass to Randy Moss on third-and-8. An 18-yard sideline completion to Vernon Davis and a 31-yard TD pass to Michael Crabtree showed that Kaepernick wasn't going to fold.
A 32-yard Ted Ginn Jr. punt return set the 49ers up nicely on their ensuing possession. A pass to Davis and a 6-yard touchdown run by Frank Gore, and all of a sudden, it was 28-20. San Francisco got even closer when the Ravens' Ray Rice fumbled at the Baltimore 24 on his team's next drive, and the 49ers got a field goal off the turnover. San Francisco scored 17 unanswered points in the third, with Kaepernick completing six of nine passes for 107 yards and the touchdown.
Down 31-23 in the fourth quarter, Kaepernick ran for a 15-yard touchdown, dropping back and then quickly taking off toward the left sideline, punctuating the score with the biceps kiss that would become his trademark. Then a potentially game-tying two-point try to Moss failed, and the Ravens went on to win 34-31.
While he was then in his second season, the Super Bowl was just the 10th start of Kaepernick's career. Jim Harbaugh had decided to stick with Kaepernick as his starter even after Alex Smith returned from a concussion in November. Smith had been the starter when the 49ers played for the conference title a year before but was uninspiring in a loss to the New York Giants.
Harbaugh wouldn't regret the decision. San Francisco went 5-2 to close out the regular season with Kaepernick running the offense, locking up the NFC West and the conference's No. 2 playoff seed.
As a quarterback, Kaepernick wasn't much different than Cam Newton, who had been chosen No. 1 overall in the same 2011 NFL Draft; Kaepernick went 36th. They were smart, they could pass, and they could also run. They didn't fit what was for decades the QB prototype.
Of the four QBs drafted between that duo, only Andy Dalton ever appeared in a playoff game. Kaepernick appeared in six in two years.
In his postseason debut, in the divisional round against the Packers, he bounced back from an early pick-six and shredded Green Bay, announcing his arrival on the grand stage with 263 yards passing and 181 yards rushing on 16 carries, with two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. The rushing total was a record for a quarterback in any game, regular season or playoffs.
A week later, Kaepernick and San Francisco went on the road to face the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons, and he showed that he could throw a little bit, too, completing 16 of 21 passes in a 28-24 win.
Kaepernick remained the starter as the 2013 season began, and he rewarded Harbaugh's faith. The 49ers were 12-4 that season, with Kaepernick throwing 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions and adding four rushing TDs. In the playoffs, the Niners faced Green Bay, this time at Lambeau Field in the wild-card round, and again Kaepernick passed and ran his way through the Packers. A divisional win over the Carolina Panthers followed before San Francisco lost to eventual champion Seattle in the NFC title game, 23-17.
With not even two full seasons as a starter under his belt, Kaepernick had been to the Super Bowl once and the conference championship game twice.
The 2014 season was rocky, with San Francisco missing the playoffs at 8-8. Kaepernick had a career high in yards and also in sacks (52), and Harbaugh was gone at the end of the season, forced out by then-general manager Trent Baalke after the two had been at odds. With the 49ers in shambles, hiring one-and-done coaches in 2015 and 2016, Kaepernick missed the end of the '15 season and the start of 2016 to injuries that required surgery, but he started the final 11 games of the season. With a receiving corps that was substandard (to put it kindly), he threw 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.
That was also the year he began his protest for racial and criminal justice, and a vocal minority of football fans whose voices were amplified by right-wing media were intent on tearing down not just Kaepernick the man but also Kaepernick the player. Everything he'd done was forgotten, replaced by racist vitriol with no basis in reality.
Far less talented quarterbacks are still earning paychecks, as starters and backups, but for speaking up for people who look like him, Kaepernick was called a "son of a bitch" by the then-President and discarded by a league he was once on the precipice of conquering — a league that has welcomed back accused domestic abusers, those accused of sexual assault and some accused of both.
But for anyone who watched Super Bowl XLVII a decade ago, who saw the big arm and the gangly legs sprinting toward the goal line, the bravado of a biceps kiss and a style of play that was fresh — and effective — all you saw was the promise of a player and excitement for what could follow.