Quarterback Colin Kaepernick sprinted off his home field and past thousands of adoring fans on his way to the winning locker room. He raised one finger in the air. He owned the night.
That scene played out Sept. 17, after Kaepernick ran for three touchdowns, threw two touchdown passes and entertained better than any Reno lounge act in Nevada's 52-31 rout of Cal.
Will that heroic aura come with him in a 49ers uniform? It could, if you've witnessed how Kaepernick can rattle a defense, rally a fan base and light up scoreboards.
"I love the way he competes and moves his team," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I did watch a lot of film on him, and the guy's a winner."
This was the royal ceremony 49ers fans sought: uniting Harbaugh with a prized, promising quarterback.
The 49ers traded up nine spots Friday to draft Kaepernick in the second round, after five quarterbacks came off the board in the previous 35 picks. One spot after TCU quarterback Andy Dalton went to the Cincinnati Bengals, the 49ers acquired Denver's pick, and general manager Trent Baalke insisted Dalton's selection did not put the 49ers in panic mode.
Four hours after getting drafted, Kaepernick drove with his parents from their Turlock home to the 49ers' facility, nearly a 100-mile trip east to what he calls his "perfect situation."
Said Kaepernick, "I'm going to come in, work as hard as I can and compete for the starting spot. That'll be Coach Harbaugh's decision if I'm ready (to start)."
Patience is needed, and so are other quarterback options until Kaepernick is brought up to speed in a prostyle offense.
Alex Smith remains in the mix, having met with Harbaugh on Friday apparently willing to return for a seventh year on the Yorks' payroll. Baalke said a third quarterback will be sought, either via free agency or trade, keeping in play potential castoffs such as Carson Palmer, Josh Johnson or Donovan McNabb.
Harbaugh insisted the starting job is up for grabs, at every position. For now, Kaepernick is an exciting choice. His entertainment value and gaudy statistics at Nevada illustrate that.
In his fourth season as the Wolf Pack's quarterback, he produced 4,228 yards (3,022 passing, 1,206 rushing). He was the West Coast's answer to Cam Newton, Auburn's star who totaled 4,327 yards (2,854 passing, 1,473 rushing) and was drafted first overall Thursday by the Carolina Panthers.
Harbaugh initially raved about Kaepernick's production and ability to make comeback wins, as well as enough "arm strength to power a ball through a defense."
No argument here.
But Kaepernick won't be facing defenses as vulnerable as Cal's that September night inside Mackay Stadium. Against the Bears, he indeed was speedy, slippery, multifaceted and composed.
He also was running the college-friendly "pistol" offense, which he'll bid adieu despite perfecting that shotgun-formation, triple-option attack. On Friday, he became a future caretaker of the 49ers' long-lost West Coast offense that Harbaugh is importing from both Stanford and Bill Walsh's legacy. No, Kaepernick does not hail from a prostyle offense. That is why Harbaugh is here to mentor him instead of the Misguided Mikes (Nolan/Singletary).
Harbaugh wisely noted that all quarterbacks are works in progress when they enter the NFL. For Kaepernick, the "second-round" label won't weigh as heavily as Smith's scarlet "No. 1."
Then again, Kaepernick is the 49ers' third-highest drafted quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, behind Smith and Jim Druckenmiller (26th overall, 1997). The previous third-highest quarterback drafted: Giovanni Carmazzi, 65th overall in 2000. (Joe Montana was taken 82nd overall to cap the 1979's draft third round.)
Think about all the quarterbacks the 49ers drafted since Montana. Here are their 15 surnames: Hartwig, Adams, Clark, Barry, Paye, Grbac, Druckenmiller, Carmazzi (not Tom Brady), Rattay, Doman, Dorsey, Pickett, Smith, Davis and now Kaepernick.
Quarterback was a major need for the 49ers, as was finding a pass rusher, which they addressed with Thursday night's first-round drafting of Missouri's Aldon Smith. Seizing a cornerback was also a must, and the 49ers deployed a third-round pick on South Carolina's Chris Culliver.
None in that trio is a nationally recognized name. Not yet. Not even Kaepernick, not when four other quarterbacks went in the top 12 picks Thursday.
He is, however, the only collegiate to pass for 10,000-plus yards and rush for 4,000-plus yards in a career. His 64.9 completion percentage as a senior bodes well for the NFL's vital demand of accuracy, especially in a West Coast offense. His 20 touchdown runs last season matched Newton's total.
Best of all, he went out with a 13-1 record that included that nationally televised win over Cal, an overtime victory over Boise State, a WAC title and a Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl win against Boston College.
That success made him a big star in the Biggest Little City in The World. Next stop: The Biggest Quarterback Fishbowl in the NFL.