NEW ORLEANS –
Colin Kaepernick will start his 10th NFL game Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII, which makes him a hardened veteran compared to Jeff Hostetler’s experience entering the title game 22 years ago.
The Giants’ victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV was just the seventh pro game that Hostetler started – his third in the postseason after four regular-season starts. Hostetler became the team’s No. 1 quarterback when Phil Simms broke his foot in the 14th game of the regular season against Buffalo.
Seven years earlier, Vince Ferragamo of the Los Angeles Rams made his eighth NFL start (third in the playoffs) in a Super Bowl XIV loss to Pittsburgh.
Now here comes Kaepernick, a precocious NFL sophomore who stepped in under center for the San Francisco 49ers when Alex Smith suffered a concussion in a Week 10 tie with St. Louis. Eight days later, Kaepernick led the Niners to a 32-7 Monday night rout of the Chicago Bears, at which point Coach Jim Harbaugh kept the dual-threat quarterback as his starter. Kaepernick led San Francisco to a 5-2 record down the stretch, playoff victories over Green Bay and Atlanta and on Sunday, he will start the Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
In 1990, Hostetler led the Giants to victories in their final two regular-season games, playoff contests vs. Chicago and San Francisco and a 20-19 triumph in the Super Bowl. Hostetler did not throw an interception in five games. In the Super Bowl, he completed 20 of 32 passes for 222 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown to Stephen Baker just prior to halftime.
When Hostetler took the first snap against the Bills, he had the fewest starts ever by a Super Bowl starting quarterback, a mark that still stands. Hostetler’s 87 passes in 1990 is the lowest total ever by a quarterback in a season in which he started in the Super Bowl. Kaepernick threw 218 passes (ironically, the precise number of passes Smith threw in 2012 prior to being injured).
“There are a lot of similarities, just from the experience end of it,” Hostetler said this week from his home in Morgantown, W.Va. “And the fact that compared to Alex Smith, he’s a completely different quarterback to defend. And that was the difference between Phil and me. We were completely different quarterbacks to defense against. The fact that he doesn’t have a whole lot of experience and he’s in the playoffs – I was in a very similar situation.
“Experience is great to have. But you can’t get experience unless you’re on the field. He’s taken advantage of a situation that is really out of his control, which was similar to mine. Mine was injury, his is the coach making a decision because of an injury. You have to produce and that’s what he’s doing.”
Like Hostetler, Kaepernick isn’t concerned that he will enter the Super Bowl with such a short resume.
“Just because you’re in a situation you haven’t been in before doesn’t mean you have to feel pressure from it,” Kaepernick said. “Pressure, I feel like, comes from lack of preparation. This isn’t going to be a pressure situation, it is going to be a matter of going out there and performing physically.”
Kaepernick had a much shorter wait than Hostetler before stepping into the spotlight. He was a second-round draft choice in 2011 and became a starter midway through his second season.
Hostetler joined the Giants as a third-round draft choice in 1984, but didn’t throw his first pass or start his first game until 1988, his fifth Giants season. Hostetler started another game in 1989, but was still a little-used reserve when Simms went down on Dec. 15, 1990.
“My whole thing was I didn’t have a lot of experience because I didn’t have an opportunity to leave the Giants and go somewhere else to play,” Hostetler said. “We didn’t have free agency at the time. I didn’t have any doubt I could play, I just didn’t have the opportunity. I was playing behind a guy that was playing really, really well – in a situation where there was no free agency and in a situation where I tried numerous times to get out of there with no success.
“The bottom line is I had an opportunity with very little experience and was thrust into a situation where most of the time experience is what gets you through it. In my case, I didn’t have the experience, but I had the ability to do it. That’s how Kaepernick is. He didn’t have the experience, but just because he didn’t have the experience it doesn’t mean he can’t get the job done.”
A dearth of pre-Super Bowl experience isn’t the only link between Hostetler and Kaepernick. Both backups-turned-starters were more mobile than the players they replaced. Because of that, their coaches were able to expand the team’s offensive repertoire.
Under Kaepernick, the 49ers are running the increasingly popular Pistol read-option. Kaepernick takes the snap four yards behind the center. As a running play unfolds, he can hand off or pitch the ball or keep it himself. He also has numerous run-pass options. In an NFC Divisional Playoff Game victory over Green Bay, Kaepernick threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns and set an NFL quarterback record with 181 rushing yards.
Hostetler’s numbers on the ground weren’t as dynamic, but he did bring a new dimension to the Giants’ conservative offense.
“Mobility – there was a big difference there between Phil and me,” Hostetler said. “I could throw on the run and move around and make plays with my legs if I had to. My five starts there I made some key first downs and kept some drives going by tucking the ball and running. Or getting out of the pocket and throwing on the run. There was a big difference in our styles. Phil was a pure dropback passer. I think there’s a big difference between Alex Smith and Kaepernick. He has a good amount of speed.
“We moved the pocket around, we did a lot of bootlegs, we did a lot of naked stuff. There were a lot of things to help the offensive line out. Defenses couldn’t just say, ‘He’s going to be seven yards behind the center.’ We were able to mix things up. They definitely had to defend a little differently.”
Hostetler was able to win his Super Bowl with scant experience. On Sunday, the country will tune in to see if Kaepernick can do the same.