The quarterback matchup in the NFC Championship Game Sunday is a classic that embodies one of the most intense rivalries in sports. Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson are standard-bearers for their bitterly divided sides in an epic clash:
Pitcher vs. batter.
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Yes, if each had veered just a little -- and this were a different time of year -- they could have been squaring off at a distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.
The 49ers' Kaepernick showed such arm strength and potential that the Chicago Cubs drafted him as a pitching prospect after watching him play a college football game.
The Seahawks' Wilson played second base for two seasons in the Colorado Rockies' farm system before he was taken by the Texas Rangers last month in the Rule 5 draft.
So anyone who today says the quarterbacks are uniquely "athletic" and "multi-dimensional" might not know as much as Sam Hughes, the national cross-checker for the Cubs who urged his organization to pick Kaepernick and who also scouted Wilson.
What might have been
"I never saw him play baseball. I got enamored watching him throw a football for Nevada-Reno in his sophomore year," Hughes said of Kaepernick. "We came to find out he was a pitcher in high school, he had gained some weight and became bigger and stronger. We loved his arm stroke."
They took a flyer with a 43rd-round pick, but it ended there. As hard as they tried, Hughes and other Cubs officials could not get Kaepernick to call an audible and play a season of minor-league ball while he still was in college.
"Russell is a completely different story," Hughes said. "He was a fourth-round draft pick. I saw him as far back as high school and I saw him play at N.C. State. He was really interested in the game. If he had concentrated just on baseball, who knows how it would have ended up?"
Advantage . . .
Here's an interesting question to ponder as the dynamic young quarterbacks try to outdo each other Sunday in a race for the Super Bowl: How would a Kaepernick vs. Wilson, pitcher vs. batter, contest have turned out?
"Good question," Hughes said. "I'd like to bet on my guy, Colin."
The Rangers invested $12,000 to obtain Wilson's rights in the Rule 5 draft. He conceivably could be the first Super Bowl-winning quarterback to say after the game, "I'm going to Disney World . . . and to Surprise, Arizona!"
The latter is the Rangers' spring training home. Wilson has told reporters he plans to show up.
But seriously, folks
Josh Boyd, director of professional scouting for the Rangers, said that bouncing between two sports cost Wilson a chance to get consistency and timing in his swing. But he added that "his ability, his athleticism could have allowed him to play anywhere on the field. He showed quick, strong hands and a line-drive swing at the plate with fluid actions in the field.
"The two quotes that stick out most to me from our scouting reports were 'instincts and overall athletic ability are off the charts' and one of our scouts, Russ Ardolina, who scouted him in high school, said he 'was probably my favorite kid I have ever been around,' " Boyd said.
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels reached Wilson on his way to practice, at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time, on the day of the draft, three days before a game against the football Giants.
Wilson did not treat it as a joke or a distraction. After the win at MetLife Stadium on Dec. 15, he said: "To get drafted by the Texas Rangers is a great opportunity. God has continued to bless me. Obviously, it's a great organization. Obviously, my focus is on football."
Kaepernick's focus was solely on football, too, even during the 2009 college offseason, when the Cubs were offering him essentially a summer job that paid $30,000. At the time, there were no indications that the former California all-state high school baseball player was going to be a Super Bowl quarterback.
"We worked with our NFL sources at the time and they said he'd be a CFL guy or at best a backup in the NFL. We told him, 'Colin, this is a great opportunity here. Those NFL guys don't think much of you,' " Hughes said, mindful that the Cubs had success converting Notre Dame wide receiver Jeff Samardzija into a member of their rotation. But Kaepernick said he did not want his Nevada teammates to feel as if he were abandoning them.
"He didn't want to get into the money part of it, which was impressive for a 20-year-old kid," said Hughes, a Bay Area native who grew up loving the Raiders and hating the 49ers. He now roots for the latter team because of Kaepernick.
"I still shoot him a random text every once in a while," Hughes said. "I saw he threw out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game. I told him it looked like he was still throwing 88 miles an hour."
Both baseball stars-turned-quarterbacks are known for covering all the bases in preparing for big games. They agree about the rush that comes from taking snaps in front of 70,000 people. Wilson expressed that opinion at the Seahawks' facility last month. Kaepernick echoed it at 49ers practice Wednesday, telling reporters, "Football . . . is a lot more of an emotional sport. There is a lot more invested, in my opinion."
Word is that the 49ers and Seahawks have a pretty good rivalry, too. Even a devoted baseball bird dog cannot cry foul at that. "Both of those guys," Hughes said, "made good decisions."