Heading into his first full season as the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo still has a lot of thoughts on his time with the Patriots.
The surprising 2014 draft, studying and competing with an NFL legend, and the eventual trade to San Francisco were all heavily covered in a recent profile written by Bleacher Report’s Joon Lee.
Here are a few takeaways from the interview, including Garoppolo’s unorthodox introduction to playing quarterback.
Garoppolo was almost in a car crash heading to the airport after the 49ers trade.
As Lee describes it, Garoppolo was in the back of a limo taking him to the airport after the Patriots traded him to the 49ers when he was nearly in a car crash on I-95 in Massachusetts:
That’s when the unexpected nightmare began. Another car exited the highway, skidded off the side of the ramp, turned straight toward Jimmy’s door—straight toward the man who is now the third-highest-paid player in the National Football League.
Luckily, Garoppolo’s driver veered off the road, avoiding a collision.
What was Garoppolo doing during his car ride? According to Lee, he was studying the new playbook he had to learn.
His response to the Brady-Belichick rumors almost pose more questions than they answer.
When asked about the rumored drama between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, and how it might have led to the 49ers trade, Garoppolo offered an ambiguous quote.
“Parts of it were true, parts of it I knew weren’t true, parts I didn’t know if they were true or not,” Garoppolo said. “I appreciated that Coach Belichick put me in the best situation—you hear those horror stories about guys finding out from … Twitter.”
He was 6’2″ in the sixth grade, but didn’t play quarterback until high school.
Garoppolo’s background in football was explained to a new level, including that he didn’t start playing the sport until sixth grade. Even then, he began as a tight end and linebacker.
Remarkably, he was 6’2″ in elementary school, and he became a running back. His coach would often call a halfback passing play, which was “always” a touchdown. Yet according to the story, Garoppolo turned down offers to switch positions to become a quarterback out of respect for his friend who lived down the street (and was the current starter).
Finally, in 2008 as a junior in high school, Garoppolo transitioned to quarterback. Who did he model his game after? Tom Brady.
“It wasn’t even like I was a Patriots fan,” Garoppolo said, “but seeing him do that, it was flawless. I was like, ‘OK, that’s how I should throw.’”
His college coach was stunned he was at Eastern Illinois.
After being recruited and put on scholarship almost blind by Eastern Illinois (“there was barely enough data or game tape to put together a firm scouting report”), Garoppolo wowed his new coach, Dino Babers.
“This guy shouldn’t be here,” Babers reportedly told a staffer. And after the staffer confused his meaning, Babers clarified.
“No, he shouldn’t be here, as in, he shouldn’t be at I-AA,” Babers explained. “There’s a whole bunch of coaches who should be fired for missing this guy. He’s really, really good.”
Willie McGinest gave him a draft day jolt.
Garoppolo registered his college roommates as his brothers in order to get them into the NFL draft in 2014. They all shared the same hotel room, with Garoppolo giving his bed to friends, instead sleeping on the couch.
And, according to the profile, it led to a moment with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:
On Day 1 of the draft, Roger Goodell approached the Garoppolo table in the green room. Juice Williams, who is 6’7”, black and clearly not Italian, looked up at the commissioner. “Eight brothers, huh?” Goodell said with a laugh. (The NFL disputes this.)
On the second day of the draft, Garoppolo had an impromptu run-in with former Patriot Willie McGinest. McGinest told him, “I’ve got a feeling I’m about to call your name here in a bit.”
Garoppolo thought he was joking, but McGinest proved prophetic 40 minutes later. The first phone call with Belichick went by without incident despite the volume in the room.
“Everyone was making noises, and I couldn’t hear half the things,” Garoppolo told Lee. “It didn’t matter what was being said. I made sure to say, ‘Yes, sir. Yes, sir. Yes, sir.’”
He shadowed Brady without “ruffling feathers.”
Having met Brady briefly during a pre-draft visit, Garoppolo came to understood the subtlety of learning from the NFL legend without getting in his way.
“I was going to watch and literally absorb everything I could from him without being an annoyance,” said Garoppolo. “I didn’t want to ask a ton of questions. I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. You have to play the politics a little bit.”
“We would push each other and we got two Super Bowls out of it.”
Competing day-in and day-out with Brady was perfect for Garoppolo, who explained their post-practice “bucket game” (when quarterbacks try to drop passes into a bucket) was especially intense.
“There would be days where one of us would win and you wouldn’t talk to the other for a little while,” Garoppolo noted. “We’d be fine the next day, but it was one of the best things for me. We would push each other and we got two Super Bowls out of it.”
“The competitiveness between the two of us was very similar,” Garoppolo said. “If I’m playing my best friend in one-on-one basketball, if we are both into it, by the end, we are going to hate each other. That’s how it is. All the good competitors have that. We got along, but there were always times where we wanted to kill each other. It was a healthy, competitive relationship.”
Love advice from Brady?
This was one of the few front on which Garoppolo revealed basically nothing.
“I can’t tell you that,” he told Lee. “That’s top-secret stuff.”
He’s always had the mindset to believe he could beat anyone, even Brady.
Garoppolo acknowledged that he’s not lacking in confidence, and never has. When he first arrived in New England, he admitted thinking he could win the starting job over Brady, even if that was impossible:
I’ve always had that mindset. I knew that [Brady] was better than me in my first day in the NFL. Naturally, you’re the rookie and he’s the veteran, but you have to have that mindset, that you want to be the starter.
Even when I was a little kid, my brothers, whenever we would play, I would literally always think I was going to win. I wouldn’t, but I would always think that. It’s like when I go to New England, when I first got there, I thought in my head, “I’m better than this dude.”
Garoppolo tempered the quote by saying he would “never speak that” quote aloud. In his own words, it’s about his mindset.
“I’m not stupid,” Garoppolo said. “You have to pick your battles, but I had belief in myself that I could do certain things, and it’s always worked out pretty well. It will always be in me, that drive that comes from my dad telling me that someone is always working harder, that I’m always in last place and I need to catch up to someone else.”
The 49ers wanted a quarterback who wouldn’t wait for Brady to retire.
While San Francisco’s football hierarchy wanted Garoppolo well before the 2017 NFL trade deadline, they were really sold on him after he forced the Patriots’ hand.
“I know New England wanted to keep him there and keep him on ice before Tom eventually retired … but what was exciting for me was that New England knew he wasn’t going to re-sign there,” Shanahan explained to Lee. “He wanted to start and he wanted to play. He forced their hand. … It would’ve been cool to play for Belichick and do that stuff and be in that system once Brady retires, but he didn’t want to wait. That’s the guy you want.”