San Francisco 49ers phenom Colin Kaepernick has come from nowhere to become one of the most exciting players in the NFL. The second-year quarterback with a rifle arm and incredible speed set an NFL playoff record for rushing yards by a quarterback in the 49ers' rout of the Green Bay Packers, and now his team is favored heading into a Super Bowl matchup with the gritty, veteran Baltimore Ravens. In a season dominated by rookie sensations Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, and Russell Wilson, suddenly it's Colin Kaepernick who's the toast of Super Bowl celebrations in New Orleans.
But Kaepernick's football success was hardly pre-ordained. He was riding the bench before starter Alex Smith got injured earlier this season, and well before that, Kaepernick was a 2009 draft pick of baseball's Chicago Cubs. Indeed, during high school in California, Kaepernick was an all-state pitcher, but elected to spurn baseball offers to pursue football. The Cubs still took a chance with a 43rd round pick, but it just wasn't meant to be.
This storyline is far more common than you might think. Let's take a trip down memory lane...
1. John Elway
The two-time Super Bowl champion wasn't always a Denver Bronco. He was once a young outfield and pitching prospect who was coveted by several baseball teams. Elway was drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 18th round of the 1979 draft, but chose to attend Stanford instead. Elway continued to excel at both sports on campus, but it was football where he really stood out; he was named the Pac-10 player of the year his sophomore and senior seasons. Still, the Yankees decided to give it one more shot, taking Elway in the second round of the 1981 draft. He played one season of minor league ball for the Bronx Bombers before returning to his preferred sport: football. The rest is history.
2. Dan Marino
Marino was also a Royals draft pick in 1979. But the hard-throwing quarterback decided against life on the pitching mound, and instead chose to take the route toward the NFL by attending the University of Pittsburgh. He became the school's starting quarterback almost immediately, and went on to become an All-American in his junior year. Oh, and then he became one of the greatest QBs in NFL history.
3. Tom Brady
Brady was selected in the 18th round of the 1995 draft by the Montreal Expos. The Patriots QB would have played catcher. But he never seemed to seriously entertain the offer, choosing to play football at the University of Michigan instead. Still, the Expos& reportedly didn't back off. They invited him to attend batting practice with the team to see whether they could coerce him to change his mind. Of course, Brady made the right decision. He's a three-time Super Bowl champion.
4. Michael Vick
Vick was so strong and fast that the Colorado Rockies tried to get him to play baseball. They took him in the 30th round of the 2000 draft — even though Vick hadn't played baseball since middle school. It didn't matter to Rockies scouting director Bill Schmidt who told Sports Illustrated: "When you can run like him, our feeling was he could cover some ground for us in the outfield. I didn't think it was a major investment at that point. If it didn't work out, we could take a chance. Michael Jordan tried (baseball). Maybe he might want to make a run at it."
5. Russell Wilson
It really looked like Wilson was going to choose to play for the Rockies, which drafted him in the fourth round of the 2010 draft. But when Wilson struggled in the minors for two seasons, he thought better of his decision and returned to football, playing at Wisconsin before getting selected in the third round of last year's draft by the Seattle Seahawks. Wilson then shocked the world by winning the starting job in training camp, and leading the Seahawks to an improbable playoff run.
6. Daunte Culpepper
Culpepper was a three-time Pro Bowl selection for the Minnesota Vikings. But before his NFL career, he was such a strong athlete that the Yankees picked him in the 1995 draft. Indeed, once his football career was done, speculation sprang up that Culpepper might return to the mound for an encore. But for better or worse, Culpepper seems done with both baseball and football.
7. Jake Locker
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim took Locker in the 10th round of the 2009 draft. Locker, a highly touted outfield prospect, appeared to be on board with that plan, signing a contract with the team. But Locker refused to rule out football. Indeed, Locker thought better of his decision, and returned to college football in 2011. Waiting those two years actually hurt Locker's stock, as he struggled in his senior year at the University of Washington, and fell to the eighth overall pick in 2011. He now starts (and struggles) for the Tennessee Titans. If all else fails, of course, baseball is a fallback for Locker: The Angels have him signed until August 2015.