When Nes Andrion finished 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s first tattoo in 2007, he told co-workers Kaepernick was going to be a special player.
And they laughed.
But now those who work with Andrion at Endless Ink in Reno are booking appointments for his crush of new clients.
“I’ve had a lot more visits, a lot more calls,” Andrion said. “The more they show it on the news, the more calls and emails I get.”
Kaepernick’s tattoos have been a topic of much discussion since he first filled in for the injured Alex Smith on Nov. 11. The 25-year-old from Turlock, Calif. hasn’t let go of the starting position since, and will lead San Francisco against Baltimore in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3.
Kaepernick flew under the national radar while playing for Nevada, despite being the only Div. I quarterback to pass for more than 10,000 yards and run for more than 4,000. But after a breakout game against the Packers in the 49ers’ first playoff game and a win over the Falcons in the NCF Championship, he’s become a household name.
Kaepernick’s entire back is draped in ink. His shoulders are covered down to his elbows.
And after each touchdown he scores, Kaepernick kisses his tattoo-covered bicep, drawing attention to the Andrion’s work.
Andrion, who works in a small building with no parking lot about two miles from where Kaepernick played college football for Nevada-Reno, has seen his business rise along with Kaepernick’s NFL stock. It didn’t hurt when some disparaged Kaepernick’s tattoos earlier in the season, saying that the quarterback is the CEO of the team and a CEO shouldn’t have tattoos. In fact, it’s helped.
Andrion’s waiting list for an appointment is nearly three months, which is about double the time it usually takes to get in. The tattoo artist has received nearly a dozen requests for interviews from national media as far as New York and New Orelans this week alone. In that same time, he said around 15 customers have come in for tattoos because they heard Kaepernick got his ink done by him.
Andrion, an artist for 18 years, also has tattooed fellow NFL player and former Nevada tight end Virgil Green of the Denver Broncos and former Nevada center JaVale McGee, who plays for the Denver Nuggets of the NBA.
Some clients have even asked for a replica of Kaepernick’s tattoos.
Many of the tattoos on Kaepernick’s body detail biblical references. A cross, with a ribbon draped around it that says “Heaven sent” in cursive, starts on his left shoulder and runs down his tricep.
On both sides of the cross, a tattoo reads, “Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.” — Psalm 27:3.
In large letters above that verse are “God will” and below the words continues, “guide me.”
Coming down his right arm and over his bicep reads, “Faith.” In the same font, “Respect” is stripped down the opposite side of the right arm along the tricep.
On his right rib cage Kaepernick has “2K10,” which is the year he guided the Wolf Pack to an upset of Boise State, the biggest win in school history, and a Western Athletic Conference championship.
Perhaps his most famous tattoo is etched on his chest, “Against All Odds.” T-shirts with that quote and matching font are being sold online.
Kaepernick, who isn’t scheduled to talk to the media until Super Bowl media day on Tuesday, told USA TODAY two weeks ago, “I get tattoos because I like them, not for anybody else.”
A matter of character
Tattoo artists have a knack for judging character. They can often gauge who someone is by the tattoo selection and by spending a lot of time next to them.
Andrion, a Sparks High grad, said he got to know Kaepernick by spending four hours inscribing the Book of Psalm scripture 18:39, “You armed me with strength for battle; you humbled my adversaries before me” on his right shoulder.
Drawing the angels and demons on his back required a lot of ink, spread over 18 hours and two visits. Andrion said Kaepernick didn’t talk much.
“He was a real quiet guy, real humble. He didn’t have much to say,” Andrion said. “He never really explained every tattoo that I’ve done for him, but they all have really personal meaning.”
Andrion said his favorite was the “Let God lead the way” on Kaepernick’s left shoulder.
“That’s the one I like the most. It has really strong meaning,” he said.
Robert Gonzalez, an instructor at the Denver Body Art School of Tattoo and Piercing, said the negative perception for tattoos, even if they feature biblical references, is flawed.
“We’ve tattooed cops, judges and grandparents,” said Gonzalez, who estimated that Kaepernick’s tattoos cost around $6,000. “It’s a huge stereotype that if you have tattoos, you’re a bad person. You’re a felon. To condemn someone for having tattoos is wrong, in my opinion.”
Andrion declined to comment on the price he charged Kaepernick.
The 35-year-old is excited for March, when he will set up shop at the Body Art Expo near San Francisco. It’s billed as the largest tattoo expo in the world.
And if San Francisco wins the Super Bowl, Andrion said he could be in high demand.
“I ask myself sometimes, ‘Why are they interviewing me? Is it because of his tattoos? Is it because a great quarterback like him has tattoos? Why?” said Andrion, who moved from a dirt-floor home in the Philippines to the United States when he was 10 years old. “Sometimes I amaze myself because of all the great things that have happened to me.”