Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Budding rivalry takes center stage

September 14. 2013 11:36PM
DANIEL BROWN San Jose Mercury News

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson go head to head Sunday night.

Get used to it.

“This is something that we can see the next 10 years,” Rodney Harrison, the former All-Pro safety, said.

Harrison knows something about quarterback rivalries, having played for New England during the era of Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning. Now, as the 49ers head for Seattle and a prime-time showdown, Harrison said the NFC West stars might represent the next big passing show — the air apparent.

“You see the transition of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning getting a little older,” the NBC analyst said. “But you see these young quarterbacks — the talent, the leadership and the maturity that they have — and I think it’s exciting for football.”

Sunday marks just the second installment of what should be a long-running series. Kaepernick is 25. Wilson is 24. Combined, they have a mere 25 career regular-season starts. Even St. Louis Rams youngster Sam Bradford has 43 all by himself.

But their early flashes of potential have raised eyebrows (and perhaps raised an eyebrow. More on that later). It has taken only a handful of games for Kaepernick and Wilson to emerge as the faces, not to mention the arms and legs, of a blossoming division rivalry.

“They’re both cut from the same (cloth),” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh told Seattle reporters this week. “Each guy has everything that you want in a football player.”

They have a lot in common besides their teams’ mutual disdain.

Both passers draw inspiration from their draft day snubs: Kaepernick slipped to the second round in 2011; Wilson was a third-rounder in 2012.

Both are dragonfly fast. Kaepernick clocked a 40-yard dash time of 4.53; Wilson was a tick away at 4.55.

And both are suddenly among fast company: Since Week9 of last season, the highest passer ratings in the NFL belong to Wilson (119.6), Manning (109.5), Aaron Rodgers (107.4), Kaepernick (103.5) and Drew Brees (100.6).

Phil Simms, the former Super Bowl quarterback who now works as a CBS Sports analyst, said all the focus on the read-option detracts from the quarterbacks’ other skills.

“People say, ‘Oh, they can run.’ But they forget: We’re talking about Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick, who have big time NFL arms,” Simms said.”Big time.”

Because of their corresponding meteoric rises, Kaepernick and Wilson are now so intertwined that the “Madden NFL 25” video game built an ad campaign around them. And since the rivalry is so new, the copy writers had to concoct a deeper back story.

The plot line is that young Colin and young Russell met at Camp Winnepesaukee in the late 1990s and made a “vow to become the greatest mobile quarterbacks in the NFL so that they can someday beat each other, with each other, in Madden.”

It was a bit of a gamble, basing an ad campaign on a pair of neophytes, but Anthony Stevenson, the senior director of marketing for EA Sports, said executives quickly recognized the long-term potential of two charismatic passers.

“When you look ahead to the rivalries of the next 10 years, these guys are the face of it,” Stevenson said.

The ads have been a sensation, but Kaepernick was in no mood to revisit his on-screen chemistry with his co-star this week. He said his interaction with Wilson during taping consisted of “a few brief conversations in between shooting” in Los Angeles and left it at that.

Regarding the latest plot line, which suggests that the losing quarterback will have to shave off an eyebrow as part of a pregame wager, Kaepernick sniffed: “I’m not thinking about that. I’m worried about getting the win.”

Indeed, it’s not about the commercials. The play’s the thing. And both passers did their part in Week1 to set the stage. Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and three touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers. That broke a 49ers record for most yards in a season opener, topping the mark previously held by Steve Young, who threw for 363 yards against the New York Jets in 1998.

It’s not the first time those two 49ers passers have been linked. A recent Sports Illustrated cover featured a photo of both quarterbacks with a line that said: “Why Colin Kaepernick = Steve Young.”

Young was asked about the comparison during an appearance Tuesday at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek. “Well, he’s 6-6 and 250 and faster than I ever was and can throw it further,” Young cracked. “Otherwise, we’re the same.”

In his opener, Wilson threw for 320 yards to lead a comeback on the road against the Carolina Panthers. That dramatic ending continued a trend for Wilson, who three times last year delivered a game-winning touchdown pass in the final two minutes of regulation or overtime, the most by a rookie since the 1970 merger. Wilson also won a fourth game with a running touchdown with less than 2 minutes to play.

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