That commercial where Colin Kaepernick is wearing Beats headphones while making a torture walk through a tough crowd that's hurling mean things at him -- sharp objects, four-letter words and spittle -- is a classic case of art imitating his life to a degree.
There are four quarterbacks in the NFL championship games this weekend, and only one has so much splatter on him that you wonder if the residue might be enough to cover up his tattoos, or -- God help some of us -- simply mutate into new ones.
Seriously: In a career that has spanned barely two full seasons, Kap has put up with a lot of crap, most of it unnecessary and frivolous. Folks have taken their shots at his colorful body art, at his bicep-kissing, at his two-word-answer press conferences and, just a few days ago, gave him grief because he wore his cap backward after the 49ers beat the Panthers. Can't a quarterback be allowed to work on his street cred anymore?
If you'd rather your NFL quarterbacks carry themselves like CEOs, then Kap isn't your guy. Not even close. And especially on Sunday, the contrast will be night and day in Seattle, when the backwards-cap-wearing QB goes up against Mr. Straight-Laced, Russell Wilson, who's the anti-Kap in terms of image.
Wilson is smooth, polished, dignified, intelligent and with skin so clear he doesn't even have ink from a ball-point pen on his fingertips. His choice of attire in the post-game press conference -- because we all know these sessions are so important -- is usually a suit and tie that would make Justin Timberlake jealous. He's the guy you'd want your daughter to marry, or your sister, or if she's divorced, maybe your mother.
But, stripped of all the outside stuff, this is about football, and results, and that is what Kap is consumed with, to be honest. To hear his teammates tell it -- because Kap's responses are too short -- Kaepernick is on a personal mission to become the most dangerous quarterback in the game, especially this championship weekend, when he might rank No. 4 out of 4 on the public's list.
"He gets the job done," said 49ers running back Frank Gore. "He comes up big in big games, and he's done this in what, his first 20-25 games? Not many quarterbacks you can say that about."
Other than Tom Brady, who won a Super Bowl the same year he took over for Drew Bledsoe, you can't say that about any of the QBs still alive in the postseason. Kap is now 4-1 as a playoff starter and 3-0 on the road in the postseason. He has beaten Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers (twice), and Matt Ryan in the playoffs. In the regular season? Tom Brady, Drew Brees (both on the road) and Wilson. He took his team to the Super Bowl last season, in only his 10th game as a starter, and nearly delivered a stunning rally.
He's not a finished product, which is both good and bad. Bad in that Kap is still trying to master certain reads, and working on his accuracy, and learning to be more of a pocket passer. Good in that, because he's a hard worker and looking for his first big contract, maybe the best is yet to come. That's a scary thought, given that Kap is slowly emerging from a solid batch of young QBs and could stand out completely if he's flashing his tats and twisting his cap backward three Sundays from now on the victory podium.
"He makes plays," said Gore, "the kind of plays that decide games. Like the scramble (for 24 yards on third and long) in Green Bay on that winning drive. How many quarterbacks make that play in that situation? Not many."
You see, that's what sets Kap apart from other quarterbacks. He certainly isn't bringing the big numbers and the shiny QB rating. Kap was No. 10 this season with a 91.6, which was behind Tony Romo and Josh McCown. Even more alarming, it was nearly 7 points less than the previous season. This was his first full season as a starter, and strictly from a numbers and expectations perspective, it was mildly disappointing: 58.4-percent completion (29 quarterbacks were more accurate), 21 TDs and eight picks. Decent enough, but no wow factor.
He did improve after an early-season funk, and seems to be catching his stride. Nobody in the Bay Area is clamoring for Alex Smith.
"Kaepernick is, I think we can all agree, a clutch performer," said coach Jim Harbaugh. "He's as tough as they come."
Notice that you haven't read anything directly from Kap yet. Well, that's because Kap isn't big on insight. He keeps it short and close to the vest. He did pull a surprise after the Carolina game when he pretended to be a reporter. Imagine that: A man of few words (for the media anyway) suddenly digging deep into his vocabulary.
"Anquan, what was your mentality coming into this game?" asked Kap.
That Kap question was longer than any answer Kap gave a little later, when he replaced Anquan Boldin on the podium. But he did allow this much: He was still annoyed about being taken in the second round, 35 spots behind Newton, in the 2011 draft. And that was the driving force behind Kaepernick's "Superman Tug" celebration when he scored on a bootleg and then stole Cam's signature move.
"Just a little shout out," said Kap.
"I think you know the answer."
OK, then. Kap isn't big on pleasing anyone except his family (not including his biological mother; they have no relationship), friends and teammates. He keeps his circle tight and his personal thoughts to himself. As for the image he projects, well, Kap keeps it cool. In that sense, he is more wide receiver than franchise quarterback, breaking all of the decorum rules for the position, opting for swag over suits. And you should know my position when it comes to these things: To each his own, and if he's not breaking laws or mistreating the people who don't matter in his life -- the common folk he comes in contact with -- then what's the big deal? If we all looked and expressed ourselves the same way, we'd all die of boredom.
Besides, there's a bit of a double-standard when it comes to the ways of Kaepernick.
The bicep kiss? Is that any more offensive or egotistical than Rodgers strapping on a championship belt?
His tats? Many are Biblical.
His Bill Belichickian media sessions? Nobody is clinging to every word in those gatherings, anyway. Plus, nobody grumbles about it except the media, and who cares what we think, right?
And, oh please, his backward cap? Now you're just Kaepernick-picking. Why can't it be adorable, like when Junior Griffey wore it that way?
Kaepernick is breaking the mold for NFL quarterbacks and what we expect from the position. Maybe that should be the center of everyone's attention. He's as unconventional as they come, in almost every way. He's a dangerous scrambler, a much more confident thrower than in October, a solid leader if you ask his teammates and perhaps the perfect test tube baby for the run-option given his size and speed. He also brings a hint of an edge even though he's not really edgy, in a dangerous sort of way.
Hey, he recently took a picture with the First Lady and they both were Kaepernicking, so his touchdown celebration can't be that threatening to national security, can it?
"He has his own style and he's his own man," said tight end Vernon Davis. "I can respect that."
All the 49ers know is they're in the NFC title game for the second straight year with Kaepernick, and going for road kill once again, this time in Seattle. The only problem is, unlike in Green Bay and Carolina, Kaepernick can't mock the next quarterback's TD celebration, because Wilson doesn't have one
Well, if he wins this game, Kaepernick can show up in a Brooks Brothers suit, stash the backward cap, and be lyrical in his press conference answers. Conform to the so-called norm, right?
That's not the kind of play Kaepernick cares about. By then, well after the final gun, all of his statements have already been made.
"He's all about making the plays that win games," said Harbaugh. "He can make 'em with his feet, make 'em with his arm, make 'em with his head. Who's able to do that in this league? Very few guys."