Before there was “Kaepernicking” and grousing about a tattooed starting quarterback, before all of the commercials and glossy magazine covers, before the two marches through the playoffs and the throws that fell just short, there was The Start.
It came on Nov. 19, 2012, against the same Chicago team that visits Sunday. The Bears were caught by surprise. So were the 49ers.
During the week, it seemed almost certain Alex Smith, who had suffered a concussion the previous Sunday, would start. He was symptom-free during the week, he practiced and the game plan was geared around him.
But Smith’s symptoms reappeared Sunday, one day before the game. At the team hotel that night, coach Jim Harbaugh announced to the team that Colin Kaepernick, not Smith, would start the following evening against the Bears. It would be his first NFL start, and it would come on “Monday Night Football.”
Those involved recalled the weekend that launched Kaepernick’s career:
The news slipped out hours before kickoff. Kaepernick had made brief appearances in prior games but mostly on read-option runs. Before Smith’s concussion, he had attempted just nine passes.
With that in mind, everyone expected a conservative game plan. Steve Young, analyzing the game for ESPN that day, advised that Kaepernick rely more on his legs than his arm.
The 49ers didn’t listen. Eight of the first 12 plays were passes, including the game’s most memorable play, a 57-yard corner route to Williams on third and 7.
Kaepernick passed for 243 yards and two touchdowns and had a 133.1 passer rating in the 49ers’ 32-7 victory. His statistics would have been gaudier if the Bears had been more competitive and the 49ers were forced to throw in the second half.
The following week, Harbaugh again gathered the team and told the players that Kaepernick would start. He’s started 28 games since.