Garoppolo: Fine line between being that guy and one of the guys

Art Spander

MIAMI — Jimmy Garoppolo understands, which in the game of football is no less a measure of his position than an ability to perform.

“As quarterback,” Garoppolo said, “there’s a fine line between being that guy and being one of the guys.”

That guy, the one who has his team believing. And the opposing team worrying.

Who wins the game that another quarterback might not have won.

Who is respected, admired and even feared — by players on the other team and, at times, players on his own team.

Joe Montana was that guy; Steve Young was that guy, Maybe Garoppolo, an heir to the Montana-Young legacy, is to become that guy.

To win a Super Bowl — as did Joe and Steve and the man under whom Garoppolo served a brief apprenticeship with New England, Tom Brady.

The story is going around, quite understandably, as the Niners prepare to face Kansas City in Super Bowl LIV on Sunday. San Francisco very well could have had the Chiefs' brilliant quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who was the 10th selection overall in the 2017 NFL draft.

The Niners, with the third choice, took lineman Solomon Thomas of Stanford, who while finally this season is helping make the Niners' defense one of the finest isn’t the superstar that Mahomes is.

That fall the Niners traded with the Patriots to obtain Garoppolo. Kyle Shanahan was the rookie head coach with the Niners that season. He had been an offensive coach with the Redskins, where quarterback Kirk Cousins was about to become a free agent. Why not sign a known entity, was the organization’s thinking, and save a high pick?

As Shanahan reminded on Tuesday, in a media session at the Miami Grand Hyatt, where the Niners are bivouacked this week, first-round quarterback picks are a gamble. Then again, so is life.

Somehow it’s worked for the Niners. So far, Mahomes has set passing and offensive records, Garoppolo has handed the ball to Matt Breida or, in the one-sided NFC championship win over the Packers, to Raheem Mostert.

It may not have been thrilling, but it was dominating.

Shanahan said the tactic was unintended. “We started off passing,” said the coach of the division victory over the Vikings, ”but we were successful running.”

Garoppolo said that he’s happy if the coach is happy — and coaches inevitably are ecstatic about wins.

Maybe this is the result when the quarterback begins his career in high school as a linebacker. “I could throw, because I was a catcher in baseball,” Garoppolo said.

Over the years, there have been debates about quarterbacking styles. The complaint against Alex Smith when he was with the Niners was that he was a game manager, as opposed to someone who, say, throws and throws. Then again, nobody managed a game quite like Brady.

Garoppolo believed when Tom retired he would be the Patriots starter. But one Monday in October 2017 Garoppolo took a nap and woke to 150 texts and phone calls, He had been sent to the Niners. A new team, a new system.

Best to go back to sleep.

“It all happened so fast,” said Garoppolo, “But obviously I’m glad the way it turned out.”

Niners general manager John Lynch said the trade moved the team up the ladder, and even though Garoppolo missed most of the 2018 with a torn ACL there is no disappointment now.

"He made us better as an organization instantly,” said Lynch. ”He's a winner. A lot of that is just inherently who he is, but I think the ‘Patriot Way’ helped shape that as well. He had great experiences there. All he cares about is winning."

That’s the whole idea for someone determined to be “that guy.”

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