If you're wondering where the San Francisco 49ers get their swagger, look no further than their head coach.
What Jim Harbaugh pulled off two months ago in the privacy of his office ranks as a bigger risk than any fourth-and-1 gamble the NFC champions might dial up in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Baltimore Ravens.
Harbaugh's faith in his backup quarterback has been repaid in full as Colin Kaepernick approaches his 10th NFL start.
"I could stand here and say I knew it all the time, but that's not the case at all,'' said 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who conferred with Harbaugh before Kaepernick was tabbed as the starter only days after Alex Smith was cleared to return from a concussion.
A dejected Smith said he didn't do anything to lose his job, and the numbers bear him out.
In the eight quarters before he suffered a concussion against St. Louis, Smith had completed 32 of 35 passes for 385 yards and five touchdowns.
Not exactly a midseason malaise.
"I applaud Jim Harbaugh for making the decision when he did, because it wasn't an easy decision,'' Fox analyst Troy Aikman said. "The easy thing to do would have been to go back to Alex Smith, and it wouldn't necessarily have been the wrong decision because Alex was playing really good football.''
The 49ers were 6-2-1 under Smith, who led them to the NFC title game a year ago, but Harbaugh wanted more.
"Jim went all in … that's his nature,'' ESPN analyst Steve Young said.
After Kaepernick shredded a solid Chicago defense for 243 yards and two touchdowns Nov. 19 while filling in for an injured Smith on "Monday Night Football," Harbaugh played it coy the next week.
He wouldn't publicly commit to Kaepernick before the matchup at New Orleans, where Smith was declared healthy enough to suit up.
Seven games later, Kaepernick is the talk of the league while Smith is mulling a change of address in 2013.
"When the whole thing was going on, I felt for Alex as a friend,'' 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. "But I love blocking for Colin. He is an amazing player. Alex has taken this and handled it super well. You guys do not see all of the stuff he does with Colin.''
Once he made the switch to the more athletic Kaepernick, Harbaugh knew there was no turning back.
Kaepernick was a bit erratic in his first month as a starter, but his performance against Green Bay in the NFC division playoffs was breathtaking.
After Sam Shields of the Packers intercepted a pass on the fourth play from scrimmage and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown, Kaepernick ravaged Green Bay for 181 yards and two scores on the ground in a 45-31 victory.
The next week, Kaepernick rallied San Francisco from a 17-0 deficit at Atlanta as the 49ers knocked off the NFC's No. 1 seed 28-24, returning the Niners to the Super Bowl after an 18-year absence.
"It's just natural that this guy can handle this,'' Harbaugh said. "There was no conversation about his life changing. He's a great kid. Well, he's a fully-grown man now. He's got lots of talents from mom, dad and God.''
While Smith sits, Kaepernick thrives.
And inwardly, Harbaugh has the look of a man who trusted his instincts and broke up a pair of jacks to draw a flush.
Kaepernick beat the Packers with his legs, then relied on his powerful right arm to subdue the Falcons.
On Super Bowl Sunday, this weight-room fanatic may show off his complete arsenal at the Superdome, where the 49ers are favored by four points.
"It's crazy man," 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree said, referring to Kaepernick's startling rise. "The guy can play some ball. We are in the Super Bowl, and half of it is because of Colin Kaepernick. You can't ask for a better quarterback.''
If he's nervous, Kaepernick doesn't show it.
"It was tough watching the team do well and not being able to contribute,'' he said. "What kept me going was the fact I might get an opportunity to get out there. When I did, I needed to take advantage."
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