With the “Big Game” only days away, the quarterback matchup has attracted lots of attention. The Kansas City Chiefs are riding high on the arm of the NFL’s 2018 Most Valuable Player, Patrick Mahomes. In stark contrast stands the might of the San Francisco 49ers. With Jimmy Garoppolo behind center, the 49ers needed only eight passing attempts to trounce the Green Bay Packers as they made their way to the team’s seventh NFC Championship title and quest for a sixth Super Bowl ring.
Many have suggested that this 49ers team is built to run-first, but if you watched the team, you would have observed that San Francisco can paralyze an opponent from the air as much as they can from the ground. That all starts with the premier talent at quarterback – James Richard Garoppolo.
Jimmy Garoppolo was born and raised in Arlington Heights, Illinois. In his own words, he is from a “tight-knit, big Italian family” and is the third of four sons born to Denise and Tony Garoppolo. He played college football at Eastern Illinois where, as a senior in 2013, he broke Tony Romo’s school records for career passing touchdowns, career passing yards and passing touchdowns in a season. In 2013 alone, he threw for over 5,000 yards and 53 touchdowns! That year, he won the Walter Payton Award, given to the most outstanding offensive player in the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.
He was drafted by the New England Patriots and wears two Super Bowl rings, but that was at the expense of playing backup to Tom Brady. While he did not take any snaps in the Patriots’ Super Bowl XLIX victory, Patriot’s Head Coach Bill Belichick credited Garoppolo with helping to prepare the Patriots defense for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. Although Jimmy is the consummate team player, such light duty behind a future Hall of Famer did not suit his enormously competitive spirit.
In October 2017, Garoppolo was traded by the Patriots to the 49ers. He won his first five starts with his new team as quarterback which, including his two victorious starts for New England, earned him a 7–0 record as a starter. With Garoppolo under center, the 49ers scored on 62 percent of their offensive drives, 11 percent more than the second-place New England Patriots. To place that in perspective, NFL teams scored on 35 percent of their drives in 2017 and the 49ers scored on just 29 percent of their 2017 drives without Garoppolo. His performance that year was enough for the 49ers to want to lock him in for the long haul. In February 2018, Jimmy signed a five year, $137.5 million deal with the team, then the largest contract in NFL history.
His second year with San Francisco ended prematurely after he tore his ACL in week three of the 2018 season. Working like a man possessed, Jimmy engaged in an intense rehabilitation and conditioning schedule. It paid off as soon as the 2019 season began. He led the 49ers to their first 8–0 start since 1990 and also guaranteed their first non-losing season since 2014. He finished the 2019 season with 3,978 passing yards, 27 touchdowns and a QB rating of 102. The 49ers ended the regular season with a record of 13-3.
In the Divisional Round of the playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings, Garoppolo threw for 131 yards with one touchdown during the 27–10 win. Hampered by a knee injury, he attempted only eight passes in the 37–20 Championship Round victory over the Packers, the fewest in a postseason game since Earl Morrall in Super Bowl VII, 46 years ago.
Those who have only watched the most recent playoff games by the 49ers have seen a ruthlessly efficient team that systematically has taken apart their opponents by exploiting every weakness and excelling wherever necessary. The matchup this Sunday that has analyst tongues wagging pits the very strong defense of the 49ers against the high-flying offense of the KC Chiefs. As exciting and pivotal as that may be, the game well might come down to the talents and determination of James Richard Garoppolo, as he seeks a third Super Bowl ring for his finger, but the first one to be earned by his arm.