NEW ORLEANS Colin Kaepernick almost engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history. Almost. This close. Five yards and a cloud of fists, grabs, shoves? Five yards and a penalty that might have been called?
Should have been called?
So it didn't happen, and the 49ers didn't win, and the only shock is that Kaepernick didn't finish off his remarkable rise with yet another stunning come-from-behind victory. Joe Montana and Steve Young and someday soon Colin Kaepernick.
The kid is a terrible loser.
The kid, man, is a winner.
No deficit is too large, no adversity too much to overcome. On the biggest stage in sports, and against a Baltimore Ravens team that arrived at the Superdome with Kaepernick as the No. 1 target on its hit list, the 49ers' second-year star did everything except complete his final drive with a Super Bowl flourish.
He hated the ending. The 49ers all hated the ending. NaVorro Bowman was so upset afterward he had to be coaxed to remain at his interview area.
Jim Harbaugh was so infuriated by the lack of a holding call on Kaepernick's last attempt to Michael Crabtree that he prefaced his remarks with the following: "We want to handle this with class and grace. Had several opportunities in the game. Didn't play our best game."
Then came the zinger: "There's no question in my mind that there was a pass interference and then a hold (by Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith) on the last one."
A few minutes later, Kaepernick arrived for his postgame appearance and was in full Harbaugh mode, which is to say, with few words coming out of mouth and pure heat firing from his eyes.
He predicted that this defeat would cling forever, ensuring that he will be thoroughly miserable at least for the foreseeable future. Or at least until he joins Montana and Young as Super Bowl winners and expunges that nasty nugget of history. (The 49ers are now 6-1 in Super Bowls.) Or at least until he gets older and gains some organic age-old perspective.
Until then, he won't see the 16 completions (in 28 attempts) for 302 yards, won't get excited about the 31-yard touchdown strike to Crabtree, won't be impressed his 15-yard scamper that brought the 49ers within 31-29 early in the fourth quarter. They were right there, so close, on the cusp of capitalizing on a power outage for a total shocker of ending.
"I made too many mistakes," Kaepernick would say later. He was referring to a number of passes that were overthrown, the throw that Ravens safety Ed Reed intercepted in the second quarter, the different decisions he would have made if given another opportunity, and even a rare hint of nerves that he displayed in the opening period.
Joe Flacco was the deserving MVP and a terrific story in his own right. But Kaepernick's second half was spectacular, and we would say improbable except that he keeps doing this.
Engineering comebacks. Making crucial throws. Delivering passes that should have been caught; those drops by Crabtree and Vernon Davis don't belong in the negative-Kaepernick category.
No, the 49ers didn't lose because of Kaepernick. They almost won because of Kaepernick his feet, his arm, his intellect and his uncanny sense of timing.
The 49ers trailed 28-6 when the lights dimmed and the power went out for 35 minutes. The Ravens were poised to pounce, to ride Joe Flacco's arm and Ray Lewis' toughness to a rout. It never happened. It never happened because Kaepernick refused to let it happen.
Is he just too young to know better, or is he simply just this good? He is simply just this good.
The lights went out. Then the game resumed. Then the 6-foot-4 former Nevada standout started finding Davis over the middle, Crabtree down the sidelines and Frank Gore for one burst after another. When the Ravens pressured, Kaepernick made the smart move, often just held onto the ball and galloped into the seams.
"I said, 'We've got this,' " Davis related. "All we've got to do is get the ball back one more time, and we're going to win this thing."
The 49ers got the ball back that one last time, started out on their own 20 and drove right into the guts of the red zone, but, no, they didn't score.
Harbaugh believes his older brother got the break and in his 49ers heart-of-hearts feels the Ravens stole one, that Crabtree was held on one incompletion and then grabbed by the jersey on another.
As Harbaugh walked toward the locker room later Sunday, he turned to KGO-TV reporter Michael Schumann. "Did you say anything on TV?" the coach asked, hoping for a different outcome. His only consolation is that he gets another chance at this next season, with Kaepernick in full control as the 49ers' franchise player.