January 12, 2013 is a day, for Packers fans, that shall live in infamy. I'm of course speaking of the drubbing that Green Bay received at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers, and especially one Colin Kaepernick, in the divisional round of that year's playoffs. While the Packers had their fair share of ignominious defeats in the Mike McCarthy-era (the worst of course being the 2014 NFC Championship Game loss to Seattle) this one stung particularly bad for the Packers. Only two years removed from a glorious Super Bowl victory, Green Bay had actually opened their season against San Francisco, losing a close one 30-22. And after beating the Vikings in a wildcard game immediately prior to the 49ers matchup, there was great optimism that a competitive Rodgers & Co. could get the Pack back on track.
Alas, that aforementioned quarterback great, Colin Kaepernick, had other plans. On his way to the win he rushed for 181 yards against Green Bay and two touchdowns, while also throwing for 263 yards and yet another two touchdowns. Those 181 yards on the ground still stand as an NFL record for most in a game by a quarterback, despite the ever-growing success of mobile quarterbacks like Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson. It was a humiliating defeat that has touched off an antipathy between Green Bay and San Francisco that has never quite healed.
It is in the shadow of another humiliating defeat at the hands of the 49ers (37-8 the Sunday before Thanksgiving) that I can't but help to contemplate the fate of the dynamic signal-caller at the center of that mid-January showdown.
While Kaepernick would go to the Super Bowl that year, a dominant Ravens defense denied him and his 49ers a chance at joining the Steelers as the only other team in the NFL to possess six Lombardi trophies (the New England Patriots have since accomplished this task). Still, the future looked bright in the Bay. Kaepernick was young, and his ability to make plays with his legs hearkened to the classic mobile greats from Fran Tarkenton to Michael Vick. There was a hungry defense on the other side of the ball and serviceable enough skill players like running back Frank Gore and wide receiver Michael Crabtree to give head coach Jim Harbaugh a go at getting his team back to the big dance.
And yet it was not to be. A tough loss in the 2013 playoffs to division rival Seattle parlayed into an 8-8 season in 2014, after which Harbaugh was removed from his position amidst a power struggle with team ownership.
Meanwhile Kaepernick's own career plateaued in that same time, and then, under the disillusioned leadership of Jim Tomsula in 2015 and Chip Kelly in 2016, it took an absolute nosedive.
It's at this point in time that my fellow Milwaukee native began to develop a profile beyond that of a simple athlete. He refused to stand during the national anthem as a symbol of protest against police brutality and racial inequality in the United States. Doing so set off a firestorm. Some players rallied to his side, others remained mute or even actively opposed him. Then-presidential candidate Donald Trump even said that Kaepernick should take himself to a country that "works better" for him.
But most of all, the NFL owners were upset at the PR nightmare that the situation with Kaepernick became. That, of course, became the crux of the collusion argument that Kaepernick made concerning the league. NFL team owners hadn't liked what Kaepernick was doing, the negative backlash, and the especially the money that went out the window as fewer people tuned in to watch the games. And so, according to Kaepernick, they froze him out of employment after he became a free agent at the end of the 2016 season.
Fast forward now to 2019. Kaepernick has been out of the league for nearly three years, but there is the chance that he'll get to play again. Or, such was the narrative. Roger Goodell and the NFL have organized a workout opportunity at the Atlanta Falcons' training facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. However, at the last minute Kaepernick and his team pull out, citing concerns over the nature of the waiver he was asked to sign as well as the prospect that no cameras will be allowed into the facility to film the practice.
Ultimately, Kaepernick does practice, but at a separate facility miles away from the Flowery Branch location. Only six NFL scouts manage to attend at this new venue. And, approximately three weeks later, Goodell makes remarks to the media amidst yet another scandal concerning the New England Patriots: "We've moved on."
Now, whatever your opinion on the nature of Kaepernick's protest and subsequent grievance (my own being somewhere along the lines of he meant to have a worthy conversation, but it was ultimately drowned out by the way he protested, namely in that the American flag is such a broad symbol that reacting directly against it immediately dilutes any content that one hope to bring to the forefront) it's only fair to say that the man is talented. And, especially this season, as we've seen the likes of Kyle Allen and Duck Hodges lay absolute eggs against mediocre opponents, one has to ask why wouldn't anyone take a gamble on Kaepernick?
Publicity is probably the one word that could sum it up. A mixture of true disdain for the man and his movement paired with the difficulty that could arise from a fan backlash (the NFL has about equal numbers of conservative and liberal fans according to FiveThirtyEight). That means even more bad press and even more lost money. Especially as the entire Kaepernick situation seems to be put to bed, with NFL revenues recovered and viewership returned to its pre-2016 state, the real question is why would any coach or owner risk so much on a guy who might certainly be better than a third-string undrafted rookie, but only by a hair? It has been three years after all, and there's no guarantee that Kaepernick is even the slightly above average quarterback he was in 2016, let alone the game-breaking force he was on that cold day in 2013.
And so, here we are. With nothing left but fond memories of Kaep running roughshod over my beloved Green Bay and a final parting from the commissioner for football. We're moving on. Only time will tell what the next chapter is in the admittedly bizarre saga of Colin R. Kaepernick.