The great quarterback caper

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I’ve been thinking a good bit the past few days about Colin Kaepernick, and I’ve reached a conclusion: What we’re witnessing is the most mysterious downfall in modern sports history.

Yes, athletics are filled with downfalls. Teams that fail to fulfill expectations; athletes who never meet the hype, or athletes who start hot, convince us we’re seeing the next Reggie Jackson/Earl Campbell/Dr. J/Paul Coffey, then plummet back to earth. You and I can name a million examples. Why didn’t the 1980s New York Mets win more than one World Series? How could those Viking teams of Randall Cunningham fail to reach a Super Bowl? You thought Shane Spencer would club 50 homers a season. You thought Rick Mirer was the next Joe Montana. You were convinced David Volek would set all sorts of NHL records. You knew—just knew—Schea Cotton was about to own the NBA.

But Kaepernick … he’s different. The now-benched San Francisco 49ers quarterback set the league aflame. He led his team to the Super Bowl. He passed for 21 touchdowns, with just eight interceptions, in 2013, then went 19-10 last year. Beats By Dre built an ad campaign around him. Ron Jaworski predicted he’d become the greatest quarterback to ever play the game. He was a sure thing, because he’d already proved his merit over a relatively long span. This wasn’t Spencer going on a surprise power surge, or Daniel Murphy unleashing craziness for 10 days. This wasn’t a halfback coming off the bench to run for 120 yards in a half. No. This was a quarterback with electric skills doing it, then doing it again, and again — and then completely losing it before his 27th birthday.

I’ve argued that opposing defenses have figured Kaepernick out, and there’s no doubt that’s true. But there’s something even bigger here. It’s as if Superman took a soothing Kryptonite bath, and his skin permanently absorbed the residue. He can’t fly, can’t bend steel, can’t see through iron. He’s just a guy, struggling to figure out how he lost everything that made him whole.

Colin Kaepernick is lost. Maybe for good.

I don’t understand why.