In the interest of full disclosure and proper journalism, I must begin by proclaiming my undying love for the San Francisco 49ers. Yes, it sounds corny, but after spending my entire childhood in the San Francisco Bay Area and taking in games at Candlestick Park with my dad an uncle while proudly wearing the jersey of my childhood hero, Jerry Rice, I'm clearly biased toward my hometown team.
But with that said, I'm not a hometown sucker either. I don't sip the red Kool-Aid when it comes to the 49ers. They've been dreadful in recent years and I called for the heads of many coaches and even the ownership when things looked most grim in the mid-2000's.
Today, however, the 49ers franchise is enjoying a renaissance led by a former Michigan Wolverine, who happens to be the best coach in the NFL today: Jim Harbaugh. In just his 2nd season in San Francisco, Harbaugh is leading this franchise back to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995. His experience as a former college and NFL quarterback drives his passion and desire for the game, but also provides him an incredible insight into offensive management.
There is no better example of Harbaugh's magic touch than the story of his current quarterback Colin Kaepernick. A tall, lanky kid with his arms covered in tattoos, Kaepernick played quarterback for the relatively unknown University of Nevada-Reno. That's where Kaepernick mastered a revolutionary style of offense under head coach Chris Ault. It's called "The Pistol." Thanks to Kaepernick's blazing foot-speed and his fastball delivery on every throw (Kaepernick even turned down offers to play professional baseball), he grabbed the attention of first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers.
Plenty of fans chuckled as Harbaugh selected Kaepernick in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Once given-up for adoption by his young mother and adopted by a loving new family, Kaepernick had finally reached his ultimate NFL dream. In fact, as a kid, Kaepernick once wrote a school essay, proclaiming he would one day play for the 49ers. Kaepernick certainly brought a bold and confident approach to the game of football, but he was the sixth quarterback selected in the 2011 draft, so many wondered how this kid with a funky style and small-school pedigree could carry a once-great NFL franchise back to prominence.
Flash forward to the Kaepernick's brilliant performance during an NFC Championship win in Atlanta two weeks ago and it's safe to say Kaepernick is already proving his doubters wrong. This is just his second year in the NFL, but Kaepernick found his time to shine when starter Alex Smith fell victim to a concussion. In 2012, Smith led the 49ers to an unexpected NFC Championship Game appearance during Harbaugh's first season at the helm, which was nothing short of a shock after Smith's many struggles with the 49ers since he was drafted #1 overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. He was enjoying his best season in red and gold before stepping aside on November 19th to recover from his concussion while Kaepernick took over the starting role on Monday Night Football.
Kaepernick shined against the Chicago Bears talented defense. The strong-armed quarterback completed 16 of 23 passes for 243 yards, 2 touchdowns, and no interceptions. A star was born in San Francisco that night, but Harbaugh was still facing the toughest choice. Alex Smith would soon return from his injury and would bring with him one of the most accurate arms in the NFL. But Harbaugh made the brave, and often-criticized choice, to keep Kaepernick in the starting spot because the kid offered far more natural gifts in the running and passing game than Smith's less-flashy yet safe approach to passing.
That move demonstrated the killer instinct of Jim Harbaugh, making him a shockingly brave and successful coach at the NFL level. Yes, Harbaugh previously resurrected a once-comatose Stanford University football team and crafted the young arm of current NFL rookie QB sensation, Andrew Luck. But Harbaugh's extreme makeover of the 49ers offense this year is his best work yet. He knew the media and fans would butcher him if Kaepernick fell short of the NFC Championship Game. Harbaugh would've eaten plenty of crow for pulling his starting quarterback for a relatively unproven kid, but he didn't care about the safest choice for his public relations. Jim Harbaugh is simply the smartest man in the room, and he's gonna do things his way.
Flash forward to the Super Bowl this Sunday and a second-year head coach is guiding his second-year quarterback to a game nobody could've predicted just two seasons ago when they both arrived in San Francisco together. They've reignited the fire of a proud city and franchise, left in disarray for much of the last decade. The 49ers rode a magic, red and gold carpet into the Super Bowl this season and there's just a feeling of destiny around this team as they prepare for the Baltimore Ravens.
On Sunday night in New Orleans, we'll see a heavyweight fight between the NFL's most-prolific defense and the fattest offense in the West. Say what you will about Ray Lewis and the Ravens stingy defenders, but thanks to the 49ers new-look "Pistol" offense and a young, gun-slinging quarterback, we'll see plenty of red and gold beads at the post-game party on Bourbon Street.