It started with a distinct high-pitched whiz of the football traveling through the air and then the boom of it hitting the receiver in the hands. That is Aaron Prince’s first memory of Colin Kaepernick.
It was 2005 at an Elite 11 regional event at California Memorial Stadium and Prince was working as a writer for Rivals covering the recruiting classes of both Cal and Nevada. He knew immediately that Kaepernick was destined for great things and became a proponent for the college prospect following his path to Nevada and beyond.
What Prince didn’t know was that that the young quarterback from John H. Pittman High School in Turlock, California would start one of the most divisive movements in sports history.
Flash forward 14 years and Prince believes there is another part of the story that is destined for greater things. He owns Kaepernick’s rookie jersey that the 49ers quarterback wore while taking his first regular-season snap in the NFL.
Prince believes the jersey, a Christmas gift for his wife Celeste, is among the most significant pieces of memorabilia in sports. While it has sentimental value to his family, he believes it should be in a place where more people can appreciate and learn from it, which why he has chosen to put it up for auction.
“It’s one of those things where he’s become such an icon and an inspiration to so many people that it’s really not just a piece of football memorabilia anymore,” Prince said. “He’s at the level that very few people could ever achieve.
“I think 50 years from now we will look back at him in the same way that we look back at Muhammad Ali. That’s the closest way I can maybe compare him, because of the difference that he stood for. Even as a former military member I believe that.”
It was only one snap on October 2, 2011. It started as a change of pace play on third-and-17 in Philadelphia. Kaepernick was likely to take the direct snap and run with the football like he had done so successfully at Nevada.
The 49ers ended up calling a time out and the play was changed to a handoff to Frank Gore who went for five yards. Subsequently, the team punted and veteran quarterback Alex Smith finished the remainder of the game under center.
“Ironically, this represents a completely forgettable, blink-and-you’d-miss-it start to a career that ended in the exact opposite way,” said Chris Nerat, football memorabilia expert at Heritage Auctions where the item has been consigned.
“One would hope that even those who object to Kaepernick’s message or method would respect the courage he’s displayed in sacrificing so much to stand--or, rather, to kneel--on principle,” Nerat added. “History has judged the likes of Muhammad Ali and Curt Flood well, and we suspect that past will prove to be prologue here as well.”
The relationship between Prince and the Kaepernick family grew over time. Even though Kaepernick had a great performance at Memorial Stadium in 2005, Cal's head coach at the time, Jeff Tedford, didn’t even speak to Kaepernick, already having another player in mind to lead his offense.
Prince recalls Kaepernick being deflated after Tedford didn’t even come down to the field to meet him. Prince kept Kaepernick in mind, wrote about him, believing he still had a shot at a scholarship.
“Colin is just one of those kids who stood out to me,” Prince said. “I was really, really happy when Nevada decided to spend their very final spot in their recruiting class on him. I thought he was a difference-maker and it ended up being that he’s the number one football player they’ve ever had.”
Prince and his wife went to several Wolfpack games and his support for Kaepernick did not go unnoticed by Colin’s father, Rick. They kept in touch through Colin’s exceptional career at Nevada as well as his return to Northern California as a member of the 49ers.
At the end of Colin’s rookie year, Prince had dinner with Rick and revealed his wife’s longtime fandom of the 49ers and his desire to get her something of Colin’s for Christmas.
“I think because of the interest that I showed in Colin and recruit interest in general,” Prince explained. “The fact that I noticed him a long time ago, went to a lot of his games and just kept monitoring him and kept up with him. He gave me some cleats, a few signed pictures, and then he walked me back to Colin’s closet and said, ‘Pick any jersey you want.’”
Prince said the white one he chose was simply the one that stood out to him. He has been questioned why he didn’t choose the red home jersey, but it turns out he chose the one that marked Kaepernick's first snap as a rookie.
Prince recalled that when Kaepernick signed it for him, he knew exactly which jersey it was, having only two in that first season. The white version for away games, and the red for home matchups.
Prince is proud and supportive of Kaepernick’s cause but also believes it is unfortunate that it has been the reason he is no longer playing in the NFL. He is one of the many supporters who believe that the quarterback should still be on a roster.
“Absolutely he should still be playing,” Prince said. “There’s been a number of opportunities out there. Nobody can tell me that Mark Sanchez is better than Colin Kaepernick. No offense to Mark Sanchez, who was a heck of a quarterback in his day, but this is a Super Bowl quarterback and he has very low tread on the tires and still loves the game.”
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As far as the jersey finding a new home, Prince hopes that it goes somewhere where it can bring awareness to what Kaepernick has done and is continuing to do.
“I don’t want it to end up in a window that no one sees,” Prince said. “I would hope that it would end up in a place that Kap has inspired greatly or to a person who loves what he stood up for, but also understands that he gave up the honor to wear that uniform to stand up for more important issues in this world. Someone who has that understanding.”
Colin Kaepernick's rookie jersey is available for bidding on ha.com until May 16th, 10 p.m. CST. After that time potential extended bidding could take place.