Colin Kaepernick already has proven to be a rare talent, a physically gifted, cerebral quarterback with so many dimensions that NFL defensive coordinators endured a sleepless offseason.
He is the nightmare who came out of nowhere OK, out of that small Central Valley town of Turlock and within weeks dislodged Alex Smith, became simpatico with coach Jim Harbaugh, found more holes in the Green Bay Packers' defense than in a packet of Swiss cheese and brought the 49ers within one loping stride of a Super Bowl victory.
Is he going to pass? Drive around the end or churn up the middle? Fake a handoff one direction and bootleg the other, only to spot an open receiver downfield and choose another option before he crosses the line of scrimmage?
Then, as now, Kaepernick is the hot dog that is being chased, the most fascinating presence in a group of new-age quarterbacks that includes Russell Wilson, Robert Griffin III, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, if for no other reason than the fact that he had the 49ers right there.
First and goal. Four shots at the Super Bowl title. Four chances to complete a precocious season and punctuate a masterful comeback. Instead, four times the 49ers faltered, with Kaepernick calling an audible and missing Michael Crabtree on a final, fateful lob into the end zone.
So already he knows enormous pressure. The 49ers don't merely make Super Bowl appearances, they collect Super Bowl trophies. Joe Montana grabbed four; Steve Young claimed one. Kaepernick is the only 49ers quarterback stuck at 0-1.
Yet because he was so young (25) and so relatively inexperienced, his rise so swift (10 NFL starts) and improbable, he gets a bit of a pass for his shaky first half and that late gaffe in New Orleans.
The sting of the defeat would linger, he said afterward, "for the rest of my life."
But the rest of his life? The part that establishes whether he is a one-season wonderkid or a future Hall of Famer? That starts today, amid expectations that extend beyond enormous, touching upon the emotional and the geographical and the historical; in its final months, Candlestick Park will suffocate with sentiment and nostalgia.
"We have to end it right," Kaepernick said bluntly.
Today against the Packers and prolific Aaron Rodgers, the Chico native who has his own legacy to preserve and protect, Kaepernick officially makes the jump from being haunted to being hunted. Unofficially, the transition accelerated throughout the offseason, with the public unveiling of the 49ers' first celebrity quarterback since the Montana/Young years.
At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, with his compelling background and Central Valley roots, Kaepernick is hard to ignore.
When he posed nude for ESPN the Magazine, it was impossible to look away. His busy offseason included sightings at the ESPY Awards, wearing a Miami Dolphins baseball cap and sending 49ers fans into a tizzy, hanging out with Dodgers rookie Yasiel Puig at the Playboy Mansion and filming various television commercials, all while his jersey streaked to the top in NFL sales.
It all sounds exhausting, and probably is, which might be one reason Kaepernick put his celebrity on sabbatical before arriving at training camp. Either that or he has been completely Harbaughotomized taught to minimize media intrusions with short, clipped replies, and when pressed, to repeat the phrases and reveal nothing useful.
Asked to elaborate on the difference between the season opener a year ago, when he was a backup and itching for playing time, he replied tersely: "No different. You still have to go out and perform. You have to win."
It doesn't sound very sexy, and it certainly seems inconsistent with someone who displays body art, poses nude for magazines, kisses his biceps and is one of the most dynamic young players in the league.
But that's all part of the Kaepernick intrigue. He keeps everyone guessing. Is he going to pass, scramble, run the read option? As he becomes more experienced, will he become more comfortable with public scrutiny and the media's glare or continue to keep his thoughts and emotions hidden beneath those tattoos?
Then there is this: If he doesn't win, no one cares anyway.
Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208, and follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.