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Here is a link to my Thursday column about Colin Kaepernick: The full column appears below:

SANTA CLARA — Colin Kaepernick is special.

Let’s agree on that. OK? Let’s call it our working hypothesis.

But how is he special? I mean, let’s use our noodles to figure out this mystery — because it is a mystery. One of the good mysteries, like the Holy Trinity, one of the all-time best.

Kaepernick’s stats are good but not great. We are talking quantifiable things. Take last Sunday against Carolina. You watched that game you came away thinking he was the star. But he completed only 15 passes. Which doesn’t put him in the Peyton Manning category. His passer rating was 87.8. Pretty good. But you wouldn’t compose an epic poem about it: “Colin Conquers Carolina.”

And yet he was a hero in the game. You saw the 45-yard pass he threw to Anquan Boldin. Third quarter, Boldin alone way down the field and the Panthers looking like the Eleven Stooges, the pass long and high and right on the money. The pass taking the Niners to the Panthers’ goal line and then Kaepernick running around left end for the touchdown that really ended the game.

Kaepernick doing it.

Something about him transcends stats, although you can link Kaepernick to one overwhelmingly fascinating stat. Kaepernick has won three playoff games on the road. Atlanta last season, and Green Bay and Charlotte this season.

In the totality of his great 49ers’ career, Steve Young won no road playoff games.

It makes your head spin, this disparity.

Let’s do our due diligence, because we are serious about understanding football, and ask some of the concerned parties a direct question: What is the X-quality that makes Kaepernick special, that elevates him above mere numbers.

Jim Harbaugh: “Yes, A-plus in terms of intangibles. Poise. Big stage never seems to bother him. His leadership ability. Players love him. Coaches love him. Work ethic off the charts — A-plus-plus.”

Me: “When you say big games don’t bother him, does he have the same composure, the same attitude in a big game like what’s coming up as opposed to a regular-season game?”

Harbaugh: “Just noticed it even going back to college when I first started watching him — the big games, the big challenge, the big task — he has that special ability that the great ones have to elevate their game in those situations.”

Remember that phrase “the great ones,” because we’ll mention one of them in a moment. Brett Favre.

But first, back to the concerned parties. Like Boldin, Boldin at the podium Wednesday talking about the Kaepernick X-quality:

“Well, he’s just confident in his abilities. He doesn’t waver. Even when you guys say bad things about him, he’s still confident about getting his job done.”

Me: “What’s his demeanor like in the huddle?”

Boldin: “He really doesn’t change. If it’s a bad play, if it’s a big play, he doesn’t change. He’s always, ‘Next play. Let’s make it happen.’”

Boldin’s insight about the Kaepernick voice was interesting and so was his sharing the powerful phrase, “Next play.”

But Boldin was looking for a fight or trying to be rude, gratuitously doing one or both. “You guys” is the collective term for the media. It often translates as “you morons” or “you troublemakers.”

Excuse me, but this is Boldin’s big week. Everyone was there to praise him. Why the need to fight? It makes you wonder if he and Kaepernick sit at their lockers grumbling about the “you guys.”

Lighten up, Anquan.

Back to the concerned parties. How about Kaepernick on Kaepernick — it sounds like a sandwich at the Carnegie Deli, corned beef on rye with extra spicy mustard, and a hot chili dressing on the side.

I asked if his demeanor changes before a big play. Is his tone emotional or the same as any other play?

Kaepernick: “Well, you never know what play in the game is going to be the big play, so you really can’t change your tone before you know what’s going to happen.”

Me: “Is your tone soft, matter of fact?”

Kaepernick: “Trying to win, whatever tone that is.”

This is what we learned from the concerned parties. Nothing bothers Kaepernick. Rises to the occasion. Keeps consistent demeanor. Treats every play with the same degree of commitment.

All that is interesting. And we’re no closer to understanding what makes Kaepernick special.

Let’s keep trying.

Kaepernick does bad things every game. You’ve been watching, right? Against the Panthers he threw one grounder. In every game, he will overthrow a receiver or launch one to a receiver’s side. He never even tries to read the whole field. He’s a one-read guy and, if the read isn’t open, he becomes a dash-and-go guy.

Watching him louse up, his footwork sometimes awful, you want to smack yourself in the head.

But he wins. That’s demonstrable. And he comes on late in games. And his coach is absolutely in love with him.

What gives?

I’m saying there’s an X-quality that defies definition. But maybe we can describe it. At least we can try to.

He carries in him an extra component, a rare component that defies coaching and contradicts — explodes? — the traditional notion of what an elite quarterback is.

A traditionalist like Trent Dilfer criticizes Kaepernick, although recently Dilfer verbally double-backed. For Dilfer and people like him, a great quarterback conforms to a certain definition, and if a quarterback does not adhere to that definition, he is not so special. Even if he keeps winning the big games.

To which I say, a professor at Stanford once told me about definitions. He said some literary critic might come up with a brilliant definition for a great play. You might look at the critic’s definition and notice “Hamlet” doesn’t conform and doesn’t get on the list of great plays.

Not so, my professor said. You don’t throw out “Hamlet.” You throw out the definition.

With Kaepernick, you throw out all definitions. You find new ones. Because he is new. He might be the best athlete ever to play quarterback in the NFL. In a certain way, he’s like Favre when Favre was young. Favre did so many things wrong you wanted to smack yourself in the head. But he kept winning, definitions be damned.

Same for Kaepernick.

And that means — please pay attention — Kaepernick is involved in an entirely unique relationship. He is two guys, Good Colin and Bad Colin. Time after time, Good Colin saves Bad Colin from disaster. And the Niners win.

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Comments

21 Comments

  1. RandR-Guy840

    Wow!! Spot on the money with this article Lowell… He’s a new breed of QB that no ones ever seen on this level and will redefine his position and possibly the league(in the next 3-5 years that is).. Great article and GO NINERS!!

    January 16th, 2014 2:33 am

  2. mbabco

    This is a bit off-topic, though it is concerns relating to the media. I got a kick out of an item in Tuesday Morning Quarterback by Gregg Easterbrook on how Bill Belichick treats the media. Reminded me of another NFL coach. Can you guess who (though he smiles more).

    “One reason Bill Belichick has such a mixed reputation is that he snarls at the sports media. Geoff Foster of the Wall Street Journal reports Belichick has smiled in public exactly seven times this season.”

    “NFL coaches’ contracts require them to address the press corps, else Belichick likely would never step behind a microphone. He appears to think sports reporters are idiots and the requirement to explain himself to such lower life forms is an awful burden.”

    January 16th, 2014 4:57 am

  3. Streetglide

    Bottom line is I think he is really shy and trying to be part of the scene, even though his name screams pumpernickel bread, beer and brauts. There’s the engine that runs Colin…

    January 16th, 2014 6:32 am

  4. Elknarps

    I’m paraphrasing…. You asked Boldin what makes Harbaugh a successful coach. Boldin: “He played the game.” I think there was a follow up by someone else and Bolden might have said Harbaugh understands what it takes to win.

    You quickly asked (again, paraphrasing) does that mean a non ex player cannot be a successful coach? Bolden was not pleased, stating he was not talking about what other coaches are.

    Anyway, I think you were on the verge of going Bill Walsh on him. Was that your thinking? No more follow ups though, as the presser swiftly moved on.

    January 16th, 2014 6:42 am

  5. CohnZohn

    Elknarps, It’s almost impossible to ask follow-ups in a forum with nearly 100 media.

    January 16th, 2014 8:11 am

  6. Max

    To pin down intangibles is always difficult, but you’ve made a great first stab at it here, Lowell. Hell, I don’t know, but I think one of the reasons intangibles are so hard to get at is that they are by nature mostly non-verbal and so are more often than not non-verbalized and non-verbalizable. I’ve been trying to think of a few intangibles-revealing moments of the 49ers. Quentin Patton rushing up to help his quarterback after a play. That’s one. Michael Crabtree’s exasperatedly hurling of the football downfield – and coaches’ and players’ reaction to that. That’s two. Anquan Boldin’s reaction to his head coach rushing out onto the field to confront officials. That’s three. Colin apologizing to Vernon after a bad throw – “My fault,” he says – and Vernon’s reply – “That’s okay, man” – and the tone of these words: they’re spoken tenderly! That’s four. Others can no doubt recall more. But what do these events say about a team? To what do they add up? I’m not sure except that, as you so astutely point out – we’re winning!

    (BTW: I really liked your riff on the nature of definition, and how you so smoothly used that riff in developing your take on Colin. Great thought-provoking stuff!)

    January 16th, 2014 8:39 am

  7. Elknarps

    I can tell there is very limited opportunity to ask a question or two. I wondered if you wanted to pursue the non player as a good coach, and if so don’t think that was the time and place to do it.

    January 16th, 2014 9:52 am

  8. MJ

    I’d hardly call Colin “special”, unless it’s the motherly “my kid is special” terming, in which we are all “special”. Physically he’s not that unique, we see 3 other qb’s possessing the same size, speed and relative arm strength as Colin in Andrew Luck, Cam Newton and Terrell Pryor. We’ve even seen guys before like a Randall Cunningham that were just as tall, just as fast, and much more elusive and nimble (who also punted a 93 yarder in a game once, that’s kinda “special”).

    And as you said, the guy puts up average to above average stats, enough to win a game but also enough to lose a game. He’s been EXTREMELY lucky in both games, having thrown it right into defenders hands in both games, both of which were dropped, and had both of which been caught most likely would have been pick 6 category. So he is prone to make the, or couple, costly bone headed plays. That’s hardly special to me. I feel that if you put a Brady, Brees, Rodgers, or Manning on this 49ers team, guys who are truly “special”, the game vs Green Bay would have been 35-20, and possibly even more so against Carolina. Colin puts up offensive performances against average to below average teams (Atlanta, Arizona, GB) that result in last second wins via a kicker. Too many 3 and outs, unproductive drives.

    If you want “special”, look at the defense, these are the men responsible for keeping the 49ers in games, the men responsible for saving the “special qb”, lest I remind you of the Navaro Bowman pick 6. Colin is a decent, NFL starter, but “special” is not the first work that I’d use to describe the man.

    January 16th, 2014 9:59 am

  9. Andrew Hutchinson

    Good comparison Lowell. Farve, especially in his early years, had a supreme faith in his other worldly arm, just like Kaep. Years later he became better and better at the finer points of the West Coast offense and using the scheme to assist him. Just because Kaep has had an almost unprecedented early success does not mean this is the finished Kaepernick.

    January 16th, 2014 10:07 am

  10. Mark M

    So many people want to use statistics to define good, great, bad in today’s game. I think you’ve touched on the need for better definition, but can’t quite deliver it yet. I don’t blame you at all as I have not done so either.

    I always use the eyeball test to come up with these definitions more than anything. But I admit, that is as subjective as it gets so it’s hard for me to explain why I think Kap is light years better than Alex. Stats do tell a story, but they are so inadequate in the context of a football game. Strategy and game situations dictate how much you run and pass, what type of play calling takes place, and reflects the coach’s style of play. It’s not like baseball where hitters are always trying to hit and pitchers always trying to get outs. Stats do a much better job with that sport defining things.

    Kap has work to do but he’s proven we are capable of greatness with him at the helm. Go Niners!

    January 16th, 2014 10:13 am

  11. Stan

    Like I said before,he doesn’t need big stats to win.

    THIS is how I see the way the 49ers can win:

    Like a huge Anaconda,hungry after not eating for a year goes after the biggest prey in the swamp..a Crocodile (really a Caiman but not getting technical here) The big Anaconda with natural tats all over it is one big muscle…it wraps around the Croc in a powerful embrace,never giving an inch, squeezing the Croc on every breath it takes. The powerful Croc is also in its home swings its head trying to deliver a bite that the mighty Anaconda’s head off…too late. As the more experienced old snake never makes a turnover..keeps its head clear. The Croc is done for.
    The winning Anacaonda can now go another year unfed..

    January 16th, 2014 10:45 am

  12. Stan

    More or less.

    January 16th, 2014 10:46 am

  13. Stan

    btw, Lowell,I see newspapers online are dropping that “Facebook” malarkey where your forced to reveal all your personal photos and whatnot to say NFL players are on steroids…”And,here’s my home ph#..”
    They got some new thing where Stan is good enough.

    January 16th, 2014 11:26 am

  14. Streetglide

    Was that Owsley Stan? ;- )

    January 16th, 2014 12:23 pm

  15. Mighty Joe

    Can we stop with the 1 read nonsense, Lowell? There was a very good post on niners nation yesterday which put a spear in the side of that unicorn. During the 3rd qtr, Colin looked first to his right where Crabtree was covered, he then “climbed” the pocket and found Boldin coming open in a gap in the zone between 4 Panthers.

    I’m not claiming that Colin sees the field as well as Brees or Brady but he’s found his second and third reads repeatedly even in the last month. (Another example from the same article had him hitting Boldin on a drag route: his third option on the play.)

    January 16th, 2014 12:27 pm

  16. Dan

    Sports fans in the Bay Area should probably reflect a few moments before Sunday’s game and appreciate what we have. All major sports in the region have teams in their playoffs, and some championship games/series. We look back at the 80′s and 90′s as a great time. Take a moment to realize what going on now and enjoy the times. We can always complain about missed calls, pitching changes not being made and who should be a head coach or GM at a later date.

    January 16th, 2014 1:16 pm

  17. Max

    Stan, you are nothing short of amazing!

    January 16th, 2014 1:48 pm

  18. Chris

    Great article! I too have been critical of Kaep, but there is not denying the man is clutch and getting better every game.

    January 16th, 2014 4:44 pm

  19. Stan

    Thanks guys! And can you believe I made that up on the spot as I wrote? Really.wink.
    You know,if I had taken more time, I could have embellished and fleshed out the scene in more detail..
    But you know.. a mighty Constrictor just tightening its grip..sort of looks like Kapernicking.

    January 16th, 2014 6:39 pm

  20. russell

    The X-factor is a pretty good description. I watch the games I kind of feel like “MJ” wrote above there, but then it just seems like something clicks. Good old “It” or “clutch” or whatever you want to call it, Kaep seems to possess it. As a many-times-professed, here on your blog, non-Niner fan, I will cheer for Seattle on Sunday, but something is telling me Colin may show us a next level of clutch this weekend.

    January 16th, 2014 7:18 pm

  21. Tommy CostaRica

    The key to winning tomorrow will be scoring first and stay ahead to keep the crowd out of it.

    January 18th, 2014 8:39 am

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