This isn’t like watching Roger Clemens in the 1998 World Series or Ray Bourque in the 2001 Stanley Cup final.
It isn’t akin to the sort of renaissance that was seeing Jim Plunkett win the Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders, or watching Robert Parish grab another ring with the Chicago Bulls. It’s definitely not the same as watching the likes of Johnny Damon, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Kyrie Irving chase promises elsewhere, for better or worse.
So, where do we stand in our rooting interests for old pal Jimmy Garoppolo, set to lead the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs in this weekend’s Super Bowl LIV?
Unlike some other examples of note it’s complicated, right? Bourque’s Boston following was a 180 from the despise Clemens received with the Yankees (I mean, the man got a City Hall rally). Plunkett and Parish were more afterthoughts by the time they found success elsewhere. Damon buried his local legacy in an idiotic month of fawning over himself and his new contract with New York, while there couldn’t be two more welcomingly disastrous figures to change zip codes of late outside of Ellsbury and Irving.
Garoppolo is different in that the success he’s finding now with the 49ers was supposed to be ours at some point. He was supposed to be in this Super Bowl with the team that drafted him in the second round, only graciously running out the backup string until Tom Brady decided to finally call it a career. He was supposed to go head-to-head against Brady in Miami, at least before anyone realized that the supporting cast in New England was something akin to that in “Major League 3.” He was supposed to not find such success this quickly, particularly with the Patriots sitting around with little clue about what their quarterbacking future looks like.
This whole thing would be a lot easier if Brady, even at 42 years old, were still under contract in New England. If Garoppolo were in this game under that scenario, even with the Patriots sitting home, there’d be a lot more ease in rooting for the guy who was supposed to be. At least there would be another year of Brady to depend on, putting aside the “what coulda been” for at least one more season.
Instead, the situation might be that man-in-waiting is hoisting the Lombardi Trophy somewhere else, while the guy he was supposed to replace in New England plans on announcing his new address only weeks after.
Leaving the Patriots with…what?
For all the reaction to the 49ers winning the NFC title game in spite of any contribution from Garoppolo, the quarterback had a good season in San Francisco. He had a better passer rating (102) than either Deshaun Watson or Aaron Rodgers. He threw as many touchdown passes (27) as Drew Brees. Brady threw for more yards (4,057 vs. 3,978), but had fewer touchdowns (24) and a lower rating (88).
The Brady vs. Garoppolo comparisons aren’t necessarily a sore subject quite yet though. The Patriots rightfully chose Brady in the great dispute, which helped lead to two more Super Bowl appearances: One in which the future Hall of Famer performed exceptionally well until gagging in the final moments, the other a game in which he happily played sidecar while the Patriots’ running game and defense stole the title.
What Garoppolo did over that time period was get hurt, sign a record, five-year, $137.5 million contract, and help launch his team back to the Super Bowl. There could be many more in his future. There could be none.
That’s why Patriots fans are really in a sort of infancy with their Garoppolo emotions. It’s hard to say an emotional goodbye to the guy you hardly knew, difficult to blame your team for surrendering his talent in lieu of the guy who was behind six Super Bowl wins.
Then again, the reason Garoppolo was shipped to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick (for comparison’s sake, the Patriots traded Plunkett to the Bay Area in 1976 for a draft package that turned into Pete Brock, Tim Fox, Raymond Clayborn, and Horace Ivory) was because Brady held all the cards with the Krafts and insisted he was going to play until he was 45. In lieu of actually paying the guy like they should have for the previous decade, Bob and Jonathan instead made the cheaper assurance to their commitment to Brady by trading away the team’s future.
Which lands us here. Garoppolo is in the Super Bowl. And Brady? Depends on which real estate report is considered the most dependable on a daily basis.
From the sense of what Garoppolo’s presence in Miami still means for the Patriots’ future, it isn’t all bad. Bill Belichick has shown a recent knack for drafting the right guys at the position, leaving some hope that he has the right mindset for what there is coming out of college, or that Jarrett Stidham has the right tools to succeed. Not like it will be an easy job for anybody to handle. Imagine you’re the guy to replace Tom Brady in New England. Think somebody like Teddy Bridgewater or Cam Newton wants to waltz into Gillette Stadium next season with that under his belt?
Montana had Steve Young. Favre had Rodgers. The Patriots don’t have anybody.
Which is what makes this all so frustrating.
On one hand, it would be great to see ol’ Jimmy G. win the Super Bowl, if only there was the promise that the Patriots would be back for one more call in 2021. But if he gets a ring and then the Patriots are left scratching their heads about who’s going to be their quarterback moving forward, that spirit won’t last.
It’s difficult to blame the Patriots for the course they took at the time. But it’s also reasonable to assume they might have had a plan. That part of the equation has yet to materialize, which is really the unforgivable part about how the Garoppolo trade ultimately delivered.
But will he turn out to be Jeff Bagwell or just another name in the long line of those who discovered fleeting success elsewhere? Rooting for Garoppolo to win the Super Bowl doesn’t make you a disloyal Patriot fan, just as rooting against him doesn’t prove your unwavering loyalty to Patriot Place.
Either way, we probably have to understand that this is only the prelude to the story. And the Patriots seemingly have little idea as to how they’re going to construct their part of the narrative.