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[January 19, 2013]
Cool Kaepernick inspires 49er fan fever
SANTA CLARA, Jan 19, 2013 (The Sacramento Bee - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A sign that you have arrived: Someone dons a replica of your work clothes, heads outside in the dark of night, fires up the truck headlamps for proper light and poses for a photo imitating your biceps-kissing celebration move -- while sitting atop a rearing horse.
Such is how Meg Johnson, of Three Rivers in Tulare County, recounted her contribution this week to "Kaepernicking," the online fad of San Francisco 49ers fans copying quarterback Colin Kaepernick's touchdown celebration and posting the pictures to social media.
"Everybody just seemed like they were doing the same thing, in their house," Johnson, 18, said by phone Thursday. "I thought it would be something different." Turns out it was, as Kaepernick -- the Turlock product who sent the football world reeling last week with his evisceration of the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park -- referred to Johnson's photo when asked Wednesday about his favorite fan shot.
His answer was short and direct, as is his custom. Kaepernick, 25, has an all-business demeanor, and is staying calm before Sunday's NFC Championship Game even as he finds himself the center of a pop culture storm.
His picture graces the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated. His jersey is the NFL's third-best seller in January behind stars Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning, according to online sports merchandise retailer Fanatics.com.
And "Kaepernicking" has taken 49ers fans to a host of places -- a frozen waterfall, Disneyland, the top of a motor home -- to pay homage to the dynamic, tattooed player who has their team within one win of the Super Bowl.
"I think he's everything you kind of want, right, wrapped up in one," said ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer. "He's big, he's good-looking, he's athletic, he can throw, he's very articulate. And at the same time he's a little different, he doesn't necessarily look the part, and I think that's kind of cool and cutting-edge.
"And he's performing. I think at the end of the day you get famous in the NFL when you light it up. And he lit it up on a huge stage." Last Saturday against the Packers, Kaepernick set an NFL record for rushing yards in a game by a quarterback while showcasing a volcanic arm in just his eighth career start. This week has been busy for Shawn Smith, co-founder of X-A-M Sports and Kaepernick's marketing agent.
Smith said offers have poured in for Kaepernick, including two book deals, product endorsements and a reality TV show.
"People want dates, people want him to come to their daughter's 16th birthday party," Smith said.
The week has also marked a shift in the collective consciousness of Bay Area sports fans, said KNBR radio host Brian Murphy.
Kaepernick, drafted by the 49ers in 2011, assumed the starting role in November of this season after incumbent Alex Smith suffered a concussion, and continued to start even after Smith recovered. That sparked debate between supporters of Smith and Kaepernick that remained lively going into the Packers game.
But, Murphy said, "everything changed Saturday night." "People who liked Kaepernick going in are now gaga for him," Murphy said. "And people who didn't like Kaepernick, or thought Alex should've been the guy going in, were just stunned into coming over to his side." Members of the 49ers say Kaepernick hasn't been affected by his budding celebrity and is focused on preparing for the 49ers' upcoming opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. Smith, the publicist, said she hasn't discussed the wave of offers with Kaepernick -- and that he probably has little interest in them anyway.
"He's really just about football," Smith said. "He doesn't know about that unless he reads any of this stuff. And I doubt he's doing that, either." It wouldn't fit in the typical evening that Kaepernick described this week, which involves watching game film and "anything on TV but sports." He learned of the Sports Illustrated cover from his agent. When not on the field he can often be seen wearing a pair of large red headphones, blocking out extraneous noise.
His father, Rick Kaepernick, said Colin has a "unique ability to focus on the task at hand. I think people have a hard time understanding that, but he's so driven to his goals." As an example, Kaepernick pointed to his son's response when he began to attract attention from prospective agents in his junior year of college.
"Dad," Rick recalled Colin saying, "I have to do football and school. If I don't finish school, and if I don't do good in football, none of this will matter. You take how many (calls) I get, and narrow it down to three, and then when I'm done playing football in college you can put the three in front of me if I'm fortunate enough to make it that far." He has. And the 49ers, their fans and -- ostensibly -- their fans' horses are hoping he can make it a little further.
Call The Bee's Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.
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