It wasn't clear, in the days after Smith's concussion, with the Bears coming to the 'Stick, that his understudy would get the chance to lead. "We had no idea who was going to [start] until very late in the week," says 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman. That made Kaepernick's debut, which Roman describes as "almost flawless," all the more stunning. Against an opportunistic Chicago D, Kaepernick led the Niners to touchdowns on their first four possessions en route to a 32--7 rout.
An injury should not cost a player his starting job when he returns to health. That, at least, has been the time-honored custom. In Smith's case Harbaugh was willing to make an exception. Dispensing with tradition—and alienating the large bloc of Smith fans—Harbaugh went with "the hot hand," as he put it. The job was now Kaepernick's to lose.
Between big plays of the Niners' 31--21 Week 12 win in New Orleans, teammates could hear Kap barking four-letter epithets at the Saints. That hardly tracks with his humble, G-rated off-field persona, or the Bible verses tattooed on his biceps, which he theatrically kisses after each touchdown in a celebration that has been dubbed Kaepernicking. In addition to adding an extra dimension to the offense with his legs, Kaepernick brings more of an in-your-face edge than Smith ever did. Even when silent, Kap exudes a nonverbal, athletic swag that has energized and electrified the Niners.
Regarding his performance against Green Bay, Niners middle linebacker Patrick Willis said, "You never really see him open up like that in practice. To see him do it in a game, it amazes me. I'm just saying, 'Wow, did he just do that?'"
Yes, that was Kaepernick fooling the Green Bay defense, the cameramen and the world with a superb fake to running back LaMichael James, pulling the ball from LaMike's belly, then engaging the afterburners to score a 56-yard third-quarter touchdown that put the Niners up 31--24.
The truth is, beneath the serene, smiling exterior, Kap is still upset. He's angry at the college coaches who didn't find him worthy of a scholarship; at the NFL teams that needed a quarterback and didn't draft him; at the San Francisco fans who preferred Smith.
"I had a lot to prove," Kaepernick shouted on the field after the game. "A lot of people doubted me and my ability to lead this team."
What few doubters remain can kiss his biceps.