NEW ORLEANS — Starting at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers will play in a Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years. And for the sixth time, they enter football's biggest game with a dynamic, game-altering quarterback at the center of it all.
Colin Kaepernick intends to extend the undefeated Super Bowl history established by Joe Montana and Steve Young with a mesmerizing style that has the NFL buzzing.
With no disrespect to Ray Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens all-world linebacker who will be playing in the final game of his 17-year career, Kaepernick is the talk of the Super Bowl. And he doesn't even talk.
OK, he does speak. But if you want anything beyond comment on his tattoos and a few clich?, call the CIA. Kaepernick has taken to heart the blandness cues that flow from coach Jim Harbaugh. And whether he intends it or not, Kaepernick has made himself more interesting by keeping the book on himself closed. In fact, it is a very small book.
First chapter has four words: I don't feel pressure.
Second chapter has four words: God gives me strength.
And the third and final chapter has nine words: I don't care if people approve of my tattoos.<NO1><NO>
Despite enduring two weeks in the center of the white-hot Superbowl media frenzy, Kaepernick remains somewhat of an enigma. He's very smart, having scored 37 on the Wonderlic intelligence test administered by the NFL (the average is 20). He's independent minded, having tuned down Dartmouth so he could play football at Nevada. And he's devout, having adorned his body with religious-themed tattoos.
<CW-30>In an era when professional athletes take self-promotion to a most conspicuous level — Ray Lewis' "squirrel" dance comes to mind — Kaepernick refuses to use the game's glamour position as a bully pulpit. He is content to let others speak for him.</CW>
"The only thing Colin Kaepernick has to worry about," said Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe, "is whether he's going to hit his head on the goal post crossbar after he scores a touchdown."
It seems impossible to find a football expert who will offer a flaw in the 25-year-old's game. They just wait, like the rest of us, to see how high his star rises. He has started barely half a season in the NFL, yet has the fan base spinning to the dazzling possibilities. They see a potential franchise icon, the next 49ers quarterback to win a Super Bowl and in a few years a ticket to Canton, home of the hall of fame.
Such is the tide of acclaim washing up at the feet of this NFL neophyte. Even if it's premature.
"I love watching him," said former Cal and Niners coach Steve Mariucci. "But remember, Colin has started just nine games in the league. To be considered a great, elite quarterback, Colin has to do this over a period."
Forty-Niners fans are more than happy to jump the gun. Mariucci knows from first-hand experience about the 49er Faithful being an impatient lot, now more than ever, having gone almost two decades without a Super Bowl trophy. They want their savior, someone with Joe's and Steve's skills, and they want him now. They believe they have found him, and few people disagree.