Sports Illustrated's most recent cover features 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick running wild against the Packers last week, with a one-word headline.
Yep, the NFL certainly acts like an alien ship has landed on the Super Bowl Tournament, and mysterious beings have emerged from the capsule. Close Encounters of the QB Kind.
Robert Griffin III. Russell Wilson. And, foremost, Captain Kaepernick. Rifle-armed quarterbacks who can run like the wind.
To which college coaches say, welcome to our world.
Most gridiron developments drift down. Pro to college. College to high school. But this quarterback progression has moved up, from campus to Metropolis.
The Pack didn't know how to defend Kaepernick? The Falcons fear the same fate Sunday in the NFC title game? Get in line.
“We'd love to play everyone in a box,” Bob Stoops said the other day, wistfully remembering the days when foes would line up and try to pound you. “It's a lot easier when everything is not so spread out.”
The box days are gone — well, except for that Alabama-Notre Dame Big Bowl — which explains why every coach on a big stage is fleeing the old ways.
Multiple NFL teams have incorporated the option, which once was believed to create quarterback genocide. The squads with traditional quarterbacks have embraced other twists, like New England and the hurry-up offense.
Stoops, having been fourth-degree burned by consecutive Heisman winners RG3 and Johnny Football, is moving away from a Marlboro Man quarterback to a mobile QB system.
In Stillwater, Mike Gundy sprung a quarterback-run wrinkle in Bedlam, with third-teamer Clint Chelf wounding the Sooners with a variety of draws.
That fulfilled the prophecy of Gundy's former offensive coordinator, Todd Monken, who during the season suggested that the next spin to Air Raid offenses was a quarterback who could run. Upon that declaration, Big 12 defensive coordinators immediately unionized, demanding combat pay.
It all reminded me of a conversation I had a quarter century ago with an old pal, the late Mike Little, who said every team runs the ball, then either runs the option or passes. Twenty-five years later, the “or” is gone. And that's a big or.
With Johnny Manziel, A&M ran the ball efficiently and threw the ball expertly and scrambled to great gain. Then in the Cotton Bowl, the Aggies sprung some option plays on the Sooners.
OU was embarrassed, but before the month was out, the most regal name in the sport was victimized exactly the same. Kaepernick's play against Green Bay made the NFL fall off its axis. And much like Johnny Football, Kaepernick came largely from nowhere, having been given the 49er job six days after Thanksgiving.
That's another reason Kaepernick's performance dropped NFL jaws. A guy with seven pro starts lit up the Packers for 263 yards and two touchdowns on 17-of-31 passing, plus an NFL QB-record 181 yards rushing and two more TDs.
The play that perhaps changed pro football was Kaepernick's 56-yard touchdown run off a shotgun option, which the colleges call a zone read for dubious reasons, since almost every play in football includes reading a zone.
While the Packer front line defenders chased a tailback who didn't have the ball, Kaepernick broke into the clear and ran away from Green Bay's defensive backs.
“We're going to look back 10 years from now, this was the point where quarterback evaluation in the NFL changed,” Fox analyst Howie Long said after the 49ers' 45-24 victory. “It's a nightmare for defenses.”
Long's sidekick, Terry Bradshaw, called it some of the best quarterbacking he's ever seen.
NFL defenses are not designed, culturally or structurally, to deal with such quarterbacks. The Packers looked as helpless as Kansas State looked in 1971, trying to stop the Oklahoma wishbone. Get this: Kaepernick wasn't touched by a Packer on 178 of his 181 yards. He spent the day running free, then either sprinting out of bounds or into the end zone.
But pro coaches are smart. They'll come up with some tonic to counter the likes of Kaepernick. Colleges can borrow such intellectual property, though if you don't have the horses, no strategy can save you.
Running quarterbacks have always been thought to have short shelf lives, because while college football has a few carnivores, every NFL locker room has a dozen.
That's why the oft-injured Griffin, at 217 pounds, and the shortish Wilson, at 206, were not considered extraterrestrials.
But Kaepernick is 6-foot-4, 230 pounds. Linebacker big and DB fast. So even if defensive coordinators figure out how to get a shoulder pad on him, there's no great assurance his block will come off.
Good luck, Falcons. But you'll get no sympathy from the college crowd.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.