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It was a brutal pick-six, but not entirely unexpected. Colin Kaepernick had spent the week assuring people that last Saturday's divisional playoff against the Packers was "just another game," that he felt no added pressure. But he had to be hiding something, right? Strong-armed and speedy though he was, the kid could not suspend the laws of nature. He'd started only seven games as a pro. His eighth would be in the crucible of the NFL postseason. There was this added layer of angst: Plenty of people around the Bay Area weren't sold on him. They believed Alex Smith gave the Niners the best chance to make a Super Bowl run.
So when Kaepernick scrambled left on the game's fourth play, unleashing a dreadful, misbegotten pass across his body and into the waiting arms of Packers cornerback Sam Shields, who sailed 52 yards for a touchdown, the Candlestick crowd was mortified but not particularly surprised.
While enjoying the ride—Kap had won five of his seven starts since replacing Smith, who'd gone down with a concussion on Nov. 11—many Niners fans couldn't help worrying that success had come too easily for the second-year QB out of Nevada-Reno. It felt as if some reckoning awaited. These weren't the Idaho Vandals across the line of scrimmage. They were the Green Bay Packers, led by a Super Bowl--winning quarterback with the best passer rating in history, a team many experts tabbed to win it all.
With his fluidity, accuracy and what former Niners quarterback Steve Young calls his special ability to execute a wide array of throws and make intricate adjustments on the ball during his release, the 6'4", 230-pound Kaepernick often makes offense look easy. It's not easy in the playoffs; but it seemed that way in San Francisco's 45--31 victory over Green Bay, after Kaepernick had rushed for more yards—181—than any other quarterback in any NFL game, and thrown for another 261, with four TDs all told. Kaepernick, 25, had outplayed Aaron Rodgers, vindicated coach Jim Harbaugh and stamped his complete ownership on this team.
He'd also displayed the resilience that is becoming one of his trademarks. Entering the huddle on the series after his pick-six, Kaepernick was his usual cool self. "We're all looking at him," recalled right guard Alex Boone, "and all he says is, 'All right, let's go!' No big deal. We didn't need a speech. He just led us down the field"—eight plays, 80 yards and a touchdown. "I love that about him."
Leaving the stadium after the game, Kaepernick waded into a scrum of friends and family. Rick Kaepernick embraced his son, then stood to the side, happy but not particularly surprised. Colin, he explained, has been doing this for years. The numbers he put up against the Pack practically mirrored those he had in his first collegiate start, against Boise State.
While Colin posed for pictures, Rick needled him about the 15-yard taunting penalty he'd drawn for a minispike after a scramble for a first down. "You were just trying to hand the ball to the ref, right?" said Colin's older brother, Kyle. There they were, a father and two sons who look nothing alike.
Let me correct you," Teresa Kaepernick tells a reporter who had referred to Colin as her adopted son. "He is adopted, we are his adoptive parents, but he's our son, period."
They are cheeseheads from way back. Teresa and Rick Kaepernick were married in Wisconsin in 1975. He managed a dairy plant. She was a registered nurse. They had a son, Kyle, and a daughter, Devon. However, the couple had lost two infant sons to congenital heart defects, and after Devon, doctors advised them to stop having children. "But I'd always wanted three or four," says Teresa. "Things just felt incomplete; it didn't really feel like our whole family was there." One day, she recalls, "I woke up feeling very strongly that we need to start contacting [adoption] agencies."
Six years later, five-week-old Colin joined the family. "He was actually kind of sickly," Teresa says. "He had upper respiratory infections all the time. We tested him for cystic fibrosis, just to stay on top of it."