SAN FRANCISCO — It was seen with one scan of the bleachers hundreds of 49er jerseys bearing the name "Kaepernick."
It was even seen with the tee collector, the boy who dashed onto the field to retrieve the tee after 49er kickoffs. Yes, he wore his own No. 7.
Most important, it was seen in the performance, poise and competitive spirit of Turlock's Colin Kaepernick. He's the quarterback, captain and the unquestioned leader of the San Francisco 49ers, and he's reached this lofty place after only 11 NFL starts.
His team wouldn't have survived Sunday's rugged 34-28 push-and-shove against the Green Bay Packers without him.
Had Kaepernick committed one serious mistake a fumble, an interception, an error in judgment he and his team would have banana-peeled to 0-1. The Packers, far better prepared than their playoff fiasco eight months ago on the same field, were determined not to let Kaepernick embarrass them again with those long spiderlike legs.
This time, Kaepernick toppled the Packers with what coach Jim Harbaugh called "laser throws, downfield throws, pinpoint accuracy."
Harbaugh, a former quarterback himself, added something else.
"Colin Kaepernick throws as good as anyone I've seen on the run."
The last time we saw Kaepernick and the gang in red in a game that counted, they walked off the Super Bowl field while the confetti flew for someone else. They were separated from the Lombardi Trophy by all of five yards.
He didn't have an off-season
Kaepernick took exactly one week off. Then he flew to Atlanta and prepared for 2013 with the same trainer who got him ready for the draft nearly three years ago.
Much will be made about Green Bay's state of readiness and the Pack was ready, all right for the 49ers' celebrated read-option. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his staff journeyed over the winter to Texas A&M, a college team that still sees a lot of option offense, just to learn its nuances.
The Packers even acquired Scott Tolzien and Seneca Wallace, two quarterbacks rejected by the 49ers last week. Why? To glean secrets on how Kaepernick operates. Imagine each QB whispering into Capers' ears, one saying "Read" and the other "Option."
Meanwhile, less attention was directed toward Kaepernick's thorough-until-it-hurt preparation. The NFL is learning more and more about the former Pitman Pride star with each week. The message: You might beat him, but you'll never outwork him.
Kaepernick gashed the Packers for 412 passing yards, the most for him since he was a freshman at Nevada. He also directed the 49ers to three scores in the fourth quarter, each one of them needed. The 49ers took four separate leads yet fell behind 28-24 with 8:26 left. This exquisite duel between Kaepernick and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers teetered toward the Chico product as the shadows lengthened at Candlestick Park.
A merely good effort wouldn't have been enough this day. So Kaepernick dug deep and unloaded a bullet to his newest weapon, former 49er killer Anquan Boldin, for 43 yards. Three plays later, the 49ers were ahead to stay.
"I feel like there were more throws that I should have made out there," Kaepernick said. "There were plenty of times I feel like I should have completed passes that I didn't. That's something I have to get better at."
Kap withstood the pressure
Sounds like a perfectionist, which he most certainly is. But he's more than that.
"I saw it last year, that he was going to be our leader," veteran running back Frank Gore said. "He deserves it. If he stays healthy, he'll be a great quarterback in this league."
If there were any remaining doubts about Kaepernick's take-charge skills, they were squashed against Green Bay. The quarterback operated while the manic Packer linebacker Clay Matthews, as he promised this week, tried to physically wreck him.
Matthews launched into Kaepernick while he was two full strides out-of-bounds. Later, he tossed him to the ground and, as Kaepernick regained his feet, taunted him facemask-to-facemask.
But with barely three minutes left after one of his clutch first-down passes to Vernon Davis, Kaepernick eyeballed Matthews for several delicious seconds. It was a football moment perhaps only the two of them best understood.
Summarized Kaepernick later, "If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one."
"He's been the same guy he was last year," said tackle Joe Staley, who hustled to Kaepernick's defense after Matthews' out-of-bounds hit. "He's the guy that people rally around."
Kaepernick is the indispensable 49er. When the Packers schemed Kaepernick out of Plan A, he beat them with Plan B.
This is the sign of an elite player, a competitor, a winner.
Bee staff writer Ron Agostini can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2302. Follow Ron on Twitter @modbeesports.