Teresa Kaepernick watched last Saturday’s 49ers game at home in Modesto, California. She was inactive with a cold and didn’t want to get her son sick. Missing his games is not a common occurrence for Teresa (or her husband, Rick.) In fact, Colin’s record-breaking performance was just about the only game Teresa has missed in several years.
The Kaepernicks are a close-knit family who have been catapulted into the spotlight because, well, their son happens to be hottest quarterback in the NFL, and his family comes with a fascinating back story. Before Teresa and Rick, along with their other son, daughter and their spouses, embark on Atlanta for the NFC Championship Sunday, Teresa was kind enough to illuminate the “Kaepernick experience” as our latest, “Featured Football Girl.” (Read on to find out how Teresa helped nurture Colin’s talent, the story behind her reaction to a certain infamous column about her son’s tattoos, and whether or not she’s tried some “Kaepernicking.”)
Colin and Teresa
Melissa Jacobs: Before we get into anything else, what was your reaction to Colin being on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week?
Teresa Kaepernick: It’s pretty exciting. I actually haven’t seen the magazine yet, just the photos online, and I actually just went down to one of the local stores to see if they had it and they didn’t have it yet. It’s not coming in until Friday. We’ll probably find it at the airport [on the way to Atlanta].
MJ: Colin’s 4th grade letter has become iconic, so much so that I see it headed to the National Archives if he’s playing in New Orleans on February 3rd. At what point did you feel like your son had professional athlete potential?
TK: I always knew he was very gifted athletically. That was obvious, and he always kind of stood out in his class. But I think when I watched his first start in college [Nevada] against Boise State. The game went into four overtimes. It was something like 69-67 and they had just been beating everyone alive prior to that game and when I watched him it was like ‘oh my god.’ I just thought about how talented he was and that he could take this all the way.
MJ: For the most part, was his college life pretty normal?
TK: Oh sure. Going to a smaller school he didn’t get any national exposure. Nobody was talking about Colin. We all knew what his talents were and everybody locally in Reno did as well, but nationally a good share of the country had never heard of him. Even when he was drafted.
MJ: What was draft night like for your family?
TK: It was so exciting. We had been waiting all day on Day One, of course, and I could see my son, well, he was getting really…I don’t know what words to describe it. He was tremendously disappointed he didn’t go in the first round. We were already getting feedback from his agent and knew there were a couple teams trying to move up to get him. We were really expecting him to go early the next day and he did. Colin got a phone call first from the Niners, that ‘you wanna be a Niner?’ kind of call, so we knew what was happening when the pick came up.
From that point forward it was crazy. People were in the neighborhood, ringing our doorbell, driving around our house and the media. It was crazy but exciting. Then Colin was on the phone with the Niners and they said ‘Can we fly you in first thing in the morning?’ and Colin said, ‘Fly me? We’re an hour and a half away; we’ll drive down tonight.’ They were like, “ohhhhh, ok.” So we all jumped in the car and drove down to Santa Clara.
MJ: While there were always questions about Alex Smith, it was still assumed by most people that Colin would be the backup out of the gate. For a while now your son’s Twitter bio has read as “trying to be #1 in a world that accepts #2.” Was that referencing his previous role and desire to be a starter?
TK: Yeah, but I think some misread that like they were accepting #2, like Alex was number two. That is not what he meant at all. I have seen him explain this on some shows so I’m quite sure I can explain it correctly. What he meant, people would say to him, ‘dude, you are a backup on an NFL team. My god, you’re making good money. Be content for now. Hold the clipboard.’ And he was like, ‘that’s not what I’m in this league for.’ People think it’s ok just to be a backup quarterback in the NFL but he never thought that way at all. I betcha all the backups in the league feel that way. These guys are ultra competitive. Colin was always vocal about wanting to be the starter. He never made a secret of that. And I would see people online saying ‘you just need to shut up and accept your role.’ Colin was working hard in his role but always with the goal of being a #1.
MJ: Well, when he was a backup with what we now see is clearly starting talent, how did you help keep him positive while he was biding his time?
TK: All we could do was say to him, ‘Colin, your time will come. Be prepared. When you have the opportunity, jump in there and don’t give it back.’ That’s all we would say to him. Try to stay positive. Keep learning. He didn’t want to hear how he still had a lot to learn and to take advantage. People will tell you it’s true. He had things to learn. And he’ll admit that now, too. But he didn’t like sitting. He was anxious to get on the field.
MJ: Over the past couple of months your son has catapulted into one of the most talked about figures in the NFL. How has life changed for you and your family since?
TK: Basically we all try to not have change. Just continue trying to be who we are and do what we do. But you do have to be aware that more people are paying attention to what you say. Still, we’re trying to have fun with it. We’re trying to enjoy it. At the same time there’s different things that get tiresome. I’ve had news crews come to my door, even late at night. They may say, ‘We’re sorry but we didn’t have your phone number.’ Well, I didn’t give you my number because I don’t want everyone to have my number. ‘Oh, can’t we just have a few words?’ No, I’m in my pajamas.
Rick and I don’t mind talking to media. We understand a lot of people are interested in our son. This is his life and his career. We’ll share a few things, but we’d prefer to be in the background.
The Kaepernick clan
MJ: Now that Colin is the starter, have you become more concerned about the safety of the game, especially considering what has happened to some of Colin’s quarterback colleagues?
TK: I try to not to focus on that kind of thing too much. He has taken some hits but if you really watch a lot of Colin’s games he really hasn’t taken very many nasty kinds of hits. He runs out of bounds. People have a hard time catching him. I’ve always watched the way he lands when he is hit and I think he doesn’t fight the landing. A lot of people get hurt when they’re trying hard not to go down. In college he played for four years with no injuries. He actually injured one ankle in a bowl game and that doesn’t go on record as an injury because he didn’t miss any time.
MJ: People have been judgmental about Colin’s tattoos, culminating in a now infamous column filled with what almost everyone considered inappropriate character attacks. It’s one thing to question whether it should have been Colin or Alex starting at the time, but another to attack a player for his appearance. How does a mother deal with such unfair scrutiny?
TK: I read different things. Some things really annoy me because there are so many incorrect things out there. I have decided since that time that it doesn’t even pay to respond to most of it. There are always going to be people who do not like him for whatever reason. They don’t know him at all, and I have to remember that.
I want to make it clear, too, that our comments, which wound up all over ESPN and whatnot, we did not contact anyone and say those things. I think that’s the impression that was given, like we fired back through the media. We did say those things. But it so happened that morning that the article came out there was a reporter here from USA Today, and he specifically asked me about Colin’s tattoos. Then I said, ‘well, there was an article this morning and it was so wrong.’ Then I made those statements.
MJ: Have you “Kaepernicked” yet?
TK: No (laughing). That too was just Colin’s response. I will say Colin never reads this stuff so I had sent him a text that said something about ignoring what people say. He was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ I didn’t get into details. The 49ers public relations staff keeps them informed, not of specific details but generally what’s out there in case the press asks about it. He was aware there. I think the “Kaepernicking” thing after the first scoring play after that article came out, was basically Colin kissing his tats. Kind of to say, ‘ok, take that.’ But now it’s become so popular and he had so many people who have tweeted him pictures doing it, he’s continued to do it.
MJ: I saw on Twitter he was even Kaepernicking for charity.
TK: That is true. And I want everyone to know that Colin is very active in Camp Taylor. He’s going to be hosting a big golf tournament this summer to raise funds for them. Camp Taylor is a camp for kids with congenital heart defects. Almost all of them have gone through some major surgeries.
If you didn’t know, I had two sons who died from congenital heart defects. But this involvement was entirely Colin’s idea. When he was drafted and went looking for where he could donate some of his resources he said ‘Mom, I’d like to do something with congenital heart defects’ and I was just blown away. I didn’t know he even thought about. He didn’t know his brothers. They died before he was born. We were so touched that he had given that thought. The kids at Camp Taylor love him so much and he’s hosted some of them to come to Niners games. It’s been a really positive thing.
MJ: In closing, what are some of the values that would Colin would say you instilled in him to help him get to where he is today?
TK: Faith. He’s a very good Christian. Loyalty. He’s a very loyal kid. Loyal to the point that when some of the different agencies were talking to him before he signed with XAM, they wanted him to train in a certain place or work with a certain QB coach that they worked with. Colin said no, ‘I know this guy and this guy and that’s who I’ve always worked with.’ Some of those agencies said no. But XAM said they’d go with who Colin wanted. He’s just loyal to people that have been good to him. He’s very honest. And he’s not fake. You get what you see.