Colin Kaepernick was 4 years old the last time he experienced a Wisconsin winter. In 1991 his family moved west to Turlock, where a dip into the 40-degree range is considered a wicked cold snap.
The 49ers quarterback returns to his native state Sunday to face not only a resurgent Packers team but a brutal forecast that seems to get worse by the day. The latest prediction is for a high temperature of 8 degrees and a low of minus-17 that night.
To put that in perspective, the temperature for the famous “Ice Bowl” game between the Packers and Cowboys in 1967 was minus-13 degrees.
Kaepernick, whose extended family lives within a half-hour’s drive of Green Bay, grew up dreaming about walking through the tunnel at Lambeau Field. But encountering Old Man Winter at the other end wasn’t precisely the scenario he had in mind.
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“I don’t think my dream was to play in freezing weather,” he said Wednesday. “But to be in the playoffs and have this opportunity – yes, it’s part of the dream.”
Those who have followed Kaepernick’s career from Nevada until now, however, note that the strong-armed quarterback is in his element when the elements are the most challenging.
Kaepernick’s most famous game with the Wolf Pack, a 2010 win over Boise State in Reno, is also his coldest. The temperature dipped into the 20s by the time the game ended, and Kaepernick had 259 passing yards, a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown as Nevada rallied to knock off the No. 3-ranked Broncos 34-31 in overtime.
Offensive lineman Joel Bitonio blocked for Kaepernick in that game.
“Obviously, cold conditions affect everyone on the field,” Bitonio said. “But to me it seemed like he was honed in and almost more focused because there was a different element to contend with out there. He put more focus on his throws and how he was going to get the ball there. He never let the things on the sideline or the weather affect his game.”
Other Kaepernick highlights also came amid dark and stormy backdrops.
In 2007, he threw for 404 yards – the highest total of his college career – in a win over Louisiana Tech that featured 20-mph winds from start to finish. Bitonio said it seemed to snow three times a week in December 2009 when the Wolf Pack prepared for the Hawaii Bowl.
“We had to practice outside because we have no indoor facility,” he said. “So we would practice in 6 inches of snow pretty much every day. He’s been in the cold his whole career, pretty much.”
One of Kaepernick’s best NFL games came at New England last December amid a wintry mix of rain and sleet. He threw for a career-high four touchdowns in San Francisco’s 41-34 victory. Still, the temperature at kickoff for that game was 34 degrees.
Not only is Sunday’s game certain to begin below the freezing mark, it could dip below zero degrees before halftime.
Even lifelong Wisconsinites think that’s cold, one reason there were still 7,500 tickets for the game unsold as of Wednesday afternoon.
Kaepernick’s father, Rick, will join the perhaps 40 or so Wisconsin relatives who will drive 35 miles from their homes in New London to Lambeau Field. Rick Kaepernick said he’ll borrow a relative’s orange hunting suit and wear his red 49ers jacket over it.
“People keep asking me, ‘Do I have clothes and gear?’ ” he said. “I tell them, ‘No, I don’t have any. Do you think I stored them for 30 years?’ ”
Kaepernick’s aunt and godmother, Kathy Algiers, said she’ll wear a neutral-colored coat. But a red 49ers hat and red scarf – a Candlestick Park giveaway at Kaepernick’s first start against Chicago last season – will show her true allegiance.
“I have a green and gold (coat), but I’m not wearing it,” she said. “That’s been tucked away in the closet a few years now.”