I’m just now getting to the place where I can openly discuss the heart break from Sunday’s game. As a life-long Forty-Niner fan, I was and am devastated. I woke up in the middle of the night after the game with a knot in my stomach. I couldn’t go back to sleep as I re-lived plays and stewed in the loss of our perfect Super Bowl record. 5-1 just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Then I got to thinking about Colin Kaepernick. If you’re not a football fan, the short of it is that he’s a second year quarterback out of the University of Nevada, Reno. At Nevada, Kaepernick was a stud who broke all kinds of records. He’s really just an amazing all-around athlete who apparently could have even played professional baseball if he’d wanted. Coach Jim Harbaugh controversially replaced starter Alex Smith with Kaepernick after Smith went out mid-season with a concussion. The punchline was that as Smith’s replacement, Kaepernick did extremely well and as you may be aware, took his team to the Super Bowl with two epic post-season performances.
Another important factor: The Super Bowl was only his 10th start in the NFL.
Up till Sunday, this guy seemed to be completely unshakable. He’d kept his cool during a couple of rough regular season starts and two big post-season games. But on Sunday, for the first time, I saw fear in his eyes. I think that for the first time it seemed like he wasn’t sure and for the first time he felt the weight of circumstance bearing down on him.
Then I got to thinking about how Colin Kaepernick is only 25 years old, how he could be in my young adult ministry and that I know kids just like him (though none of the kids I know have played in the Super Bowl). On some level, what Colin experienced on Sunday was only an aggrandized version of what college students and young adults experience all the time. All of a sudden I realized that this isn’t just about football, this is a life lesson. The weight of those circumstances, the experience of fear and the feeling of defeat will forever shape the athlete, and the man, that Colin will be.
I then started to wonder what might have happened if the 49ers had won. Don’t misunderstand me, victory is still my preference; but I think the outcome for young Kaepernick is profoundly different. The character formation of humility is important for every young man, many of which are of lesser prestige than Kaepernick’s. Which makes this lesson for him, someone who I truly believe can and will go on to achieve great success in his career, virtually priceless. If he wins that game he is forever the guy who won the biggest football game in the world on his 10th career start. The potential ego-mania of that is endless and could have turned him into a certain kind of person and player for the rest of his life. If he loses it, he has the chance to be something different; and quite possibly something better.
I cannot find it in myself to be glad that they lost. Still, and maybe only for my own consolation, I am glad that he had this experience. Every young person who faces the challenges and obstacles of their circumstances will eventually be humbled and overwhelmed. This shapes them, changes them, matures them and propels them. And this I think, is good for everyone.