Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick… (EPA and McClatchy-Tribune )
NEW ORLEANS — There's no more sudden a superstar than San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
A few months ago, he was all but anonymous. Now, he can't walk through a hotel lobby without 49ers fans spotting him and making a beeline for him. It doesn't help matters this week that there's a movie-screen-sized photo of him throwing a pass directly opposite the front desk of the team's hotel on Canal Street.
"I've watched him go from us going to Wal-Mart or gas stations with no one noticing us, to we can't get out of the car, or we have to pull off at the red light because people are following us," said his roommate in the Bay Area, Ricardo Lockette, a practice-squad receiver for the 49ers.
"Here's one: We're walking down Bourbon Street as soon as we get here. And you know how the fans come out and they've got the helmets and stuff? This guy starts following us, walking and talking like 'Can you sign this? Can you sign this?' And — boom! — the guy runs right into a lamppost. Helmets are flying in the air. It was the funniest thing."
Like that hapless autograph hound, the emergence of Kaepernick was the equivalent of walking into a lamppost. He came out of nowhere, directing the 49ers to their first Super Bowl appearance in 18 years after a mere 10 career starts.
Conversely, it seems as if Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has been around forever, and only now is reshaping his reputation — however unfair — from game manager to big-time, elite playmaker.
Flacco, for years overshadowed by the consistent excellence of the Ravens' defense, has eight touchdowns and no interceptions in this postseason.
"In the second half of that New England game, obviously something was said or done, because [the Ravens] decided to put it on Joe's shoulders," said K.C. Keeler, Flacco's coach at Delaware, referring to the AFC championship game in which Flacco threw three touchdown passes in the second half of a 28-13 victory.
"I think now they realize for sure that they can put it on his shoulders in the most critical time in any game and he'll deliver. You think about that third and fourth quarter, and they came out very aggressive, maybe some people think too aggressive when there's seven minutes left in the fourth quarter and they're still winging the ball around instead of maybe trying to run out the clock. But they decided, you know what, if we're going to win, he's going to be the one to take us there. And he did."
It's easy to forget that Flacco was a dropped touchdown pass away from getting to the Super Bowl last season, and that he now has six career playoff victories on the road. That's more than Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana, Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Brett Favre, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning (of course, those players tended to win enough during the regular season that they didn't spend a majority of postseason time away from home). Regardless, whereas that group is a combined 13-29 on the road in the playoffs, Flacco has won six of 10.
The two quarterbacks in Super Bowl XLVII have different styles. At the most basic level, Kaepernick runs more and Flacco is closer to a drop-back passer, but they're similar in one important regard — they are largely uncomfortable in the spotlight (even though they're completely at ease in big games) and deflect attention from the media whenever possible.
That doesn't mean that they don't enjoy their successes. Kaepernick, for instance, has a touchdown celebration called "Kaepernicking," in which he celebrates by kissing his biceps.
But when he's in an interview, he gives one- and two-sentence answers that basically reveal nothing. He's a dream for close-to-the-vest Coach Jim Harbaugh, who has called him "a man of enough words." Kaepernick talks in tweets.
The 49ers quarterback had one of the prime podiums at media day, and when peppered with questions tore off some zingers such as "I play to win," "I was very confident" and "It's another game. You have to go out and execute."
Meanwhile, Flacco has more to say and often reveals a bit more, but he comes across as flat and square as his standard-issue crew cut.
"I don't know if I'd say I'm dull," he said this week, "but I'm probably close to it."
Said Keeler: "In his first and second year in the league, here's a guy who was making millions of dollars, and he'd come back to his family's home in Audubon, N.J., in the off-season. I believe he shared a room with his brother, and there's a Tom Brady poster on the wall. That's who Joe is.
"I remember saying to him, 'Joe, just one time, throw a big touchdown pass in Delaware Stadium, run down the sideline pounding your chest, pointing into the stands.' And he'd get flustered, 'Aw, no! I could never do that!' I'd say, 'Why?' And he'd say, 'My parents and my brothers would just tear me up after the game.'
"We didn't get a finished product with Joe. But we got someone who was very far along in terms of his morality, in terms of his need to be a good teammate, in terms of 'Don't make me be the focus.'"
The same can be said of Kaepernick, and that is by design. It seems Kaepernick studies the media the way he studies game video.
"We get home and we watch all the interviews," Lockette said. "He interviews how he wants to interview when he wants to interview. Nothing is a mistake with Colin. Remember that: Nothing is a mistake."
For Kaepernick and Flacco, their ability to avoid mistakes has taken them plenty far already.