x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Super Bowl 47: Big stage beckons for Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick

Contrasting backgrounds might be a common assumption for Super Bowl quarterbacks Colin Kaepernick and Joe Flacco, but there are more similarities than meet the eye, writes .

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before practice this week. Flacco and the Ravens will meet the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday. Sean Gardner / Reuters
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco warms up before practice this week. Flacco and the Ravens will meet the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans, Louisiana on Sunday. Sean Gardner / Reuters

Super Bowls are supposed to be a showcase for glamour quarterbacks. Each of the last nine was enhanced by a Manning, a Brady or a Roethlisberger. In that span, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner further embossed the position.

Not since Brad Johnson versus Rich Gannon a decade ago has the game brought together a pair whose names do not resonate with the masses.

But, as zeroed in as Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick have been during the play-offs, it would be tempting to take them over Peyton, Eli, Tom or "Big Ben" if there were a special player draft for this game only.

Similar in stature, arm strength and mental make-up, with parallel leaps required of them from midlevel college trams to the NFL, the two nonetheless arrived at this momentous intersection in their lives from different directions.

Kaepernick lived with his birth mother for only five weeks. A broke teenager, unsupported by the father, she gave Colin up for adoption to a middle-class couple who had lost two children as infants from heart defects.

One request from mum of the new parents was granted, many times over: that Colin be raised in a sports atmosphere.

For a while, his crystal ball took the shape of a baseball. He was drafted as a pitcher by the Chicago Cubs. This, after nearly being switched to safety at Nevada, the only university to tender him a football scholarship.

It turned out he had in ideal body type – a gangly 6ft 4ins with deceptive sprinter's speed – and a quick-thinking mind to operate an unusual offence there known as the pistol, so named because the quarterback lines up four yards behind centre, not quite as far back the shotgun formation. The main running back was stationed next to him.

The read-option quarterback faced decisions galore, one being a read option that was foreign then to the NFL. Kaepernick, depending on how he read the defence, could roll out and keep the ball or tuck the ball into the running back's gut.

Before the 2011 NFL draft, Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers coach, confided to his father, a former coach, that he viewed Kaepernick as the ultimate prize. Not just among quarterbacks, but all prospects.

By then, Flacco was a three-year starter with the Baltimore Ravens – an implausible feat for anyone, much less a rookie who had been plucked from the undistinguished University of Delaware programme.

In the 12 seasons preceding his incumbency, the franchise had shuttled through 15 starters. One of them was Jim Harbaugh.

Flacco's upbringing also was stable, if a little more conventional.

The lanky 6ft 6ins athlete, also a baseball standout, is small-town through and through, with five siblings in a family that could have been featured in an old-fashioned American television series.

He is tattoo-free, in contrast to the thoroughly inked Kaepernick. He wound up marrying his high school girlfriend and conducted his post-draft press conference in the least fanciest digs imaginable: at the elementary school down the street from his parents' home.

"Regular guys" is a common description. "Dull" might seem harsh, except that the term is applied by Flacco's father.

Yet Flacco is every bit a straight shooter, not just with a pass from his howitzer arm. Once asked if he considered himself an elite quarterback, he answered yes, which caused eye-rolling with the Manning/Brady/Brees acolytes.

Questioned this past week about staging next year's Super Bowl in the potentially frigid New York area, he ripped the choice, which surely causes eyebrows to furrow in the league office.

Five years on the job, Flacco might be expected to exude confidence and calm, but his demeanour was much the same as a rookie.

He rarely hesitated to throw downfield more often and farther than his peers.

"I've never seen him get rattled," the Ravens guard Alex Boone said.

Inquiries to Kaepernick about mounting pressure from a Super Bowl in his 10th career start are met with quizzical looks and replies about how proper preparation eradicates any nervousness. He took the same stance when Harbaugh promoted him to replace Alex Smith, who had merely won 20 of his previous 25 games.

"The thing you see in his eyes," said the coach, who sometimes dials up read option plays, "is the competitive fire, the poise beyond his years."

The term "Kaepernicking" has been coined to describe him kissing his biceps after every touchdown.

A Ravens player describes his dull teammate droning on without changing expression as "Flacco-ing".

Neither quarterback might be regarded as elite. But if an extension of their surnames is becoming common football slang, what does it say that there is no Peyton-ing, Eli-ing or Brady-ing?

*TV coverage for Super Bowl 47 will start Monday at 3am on ESPN America, OSN Sports 2 HD and Fox Sports Middle East


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