Arlington Heights’ Jimmy Garoppolo hopes to get prep jersey retired if he wins Super Bowl
Garoppolo, who grew up in Arlington Heights and played for Rolling Meadows High School, is one win away from leading the 49ers to their first championship since the 1994 season.
MIAMI — Jimmy Garoppolo aspires to be the perfect quarterback in every facet of the job, so he’s ultracareful to make sure he always says the right thing. But he couldn’t sidestep a question that resonates with anyone who grew up with the Bears over the last three decades:
Did you have to look outside your favorite team to pick your favorite quarterback?
“What do you mean, man?” Garoppolo said with a laugh and a hint of sarcasm.
Come on, man.
“Yeah, they definitely saw some dark years for their quarterbacks,” he said, no doubt cycling through memories of Erik Kramer, Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman. “I loved Mike Vick growing up.”
Garoppolo actually played running back and safety as a kid in Arlington Heights before taking flight at quarterback at Rolling Meadows High School, so he was drawn more to Hall of Fame safeties Brian Dawkins and Ed Reed.
He wasn’t fast enough to follow them, but quarterback is working out just fine as he plays on a $137.5 million contract. After winning two championships as Tom Brady’s understudy with the Patriots, Garoppolo gets a chance to win his own as he leads the 49ers into the Super Bowl on Sunday. To do so, he must outduel the most dangerous quarterback in the game: the Chiefs’ Patrick -Mahomes.
Garoppolo doesn’t carry his team the way Mahomes does, but he’s highly competent. This was his first full season as a starter, and he completed 69.1 percent of his passes, threw 27 touchdowns against 13 interceptions and posted a 102.0 passer rating.
With an elite defense and superb running game, the 49ers don’t ask a ton of him. Garoppolo completed 6 of 8 passes in the NFC Championship Game win over the Packers and went 11-for-19 the previous week against the Vikings. He completed fewer than 20 passes in 10 of his 18 starts overall.
If Mitch Trubisky can get back to being at least an average quarterback, the Bears might be able to cook up a similar recipe next season.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid believes there’s a misperception of Garoppolo, though, because the 49ers have relied on their ground game. Just because they haven’t asked much of their quarterback doesn’t mean they’re hiding him.
“I respect the heck out of him,” Reid said. “They’ve been running the ball [lately], but if you look at his [stats], you see he’s a heck of a quarterback throwing the football.”
One key difference between Garoppolo and Trubisky, by the way, is that Garoppolo got much more time to develop, in college and in the NFL. He wasn’t asked to start until 2016, when he was almost 25 — the same age Trubisky is now. Players never want to wait that long, but it’s often good for them.
“I don’t have too many complaints,” Garoppolo said. “Everyone has a different story in this league of how you get to where you’re going. I’m happy with my story and how it’s worked out.”
He couldn’t have imagined his exact course, but Garoppolo envisioned himself reaching this level as a kid.
He has a grasp of what winning a Lombardi Trophy could do for his stature after seeing it firsthand in New England. He also remembers the legacy of the 1985 Bears — Garoppolo was born in ’91 — and how they continue to tower over the city’s sports skyline.
His best memory of watching the Bears was as a 15-year-old, when they rolled to a 13-3 record and made the Super Bowl in South Florida. They lost to the Colts 29-17.
“That was an exciting year — tough ending,” Garoppolo said. “I grew up a Bears fan and I loved the Bears, but it’s a little bit of a different story now.”
Winning a Super Bowl for another team wouldn’t make him a Chicago icon, but it could gain him some clout where he grew up.
“Maybe get a jersey retired,” he said. “We’ll see.”
Since he mentioned it, that is a legitimate possibility — win or lose. Rolling Meadows has never retired an athlete’s number in any sport, according to assistant principal Lisa DaRocha, but the school is warm to the idea of making his No. 10 the first.
“Boy, we’d love to do that,” she said. “We’d love to celebrate him. There’s a lot of hype in our school this week.”
Garoppolo was a modest talent at Rolling Meadows and ended up at Eastern Illinois, an FCS program famous for producing Saints coach Sean Payton and longtime Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
He went a unique route there, as well, struggling his first two seasons before turning it around under coach Dino Babers. He threw for 84 touchdowns over his junior and senior years, and the Patriots drafted him in the second round as a potential successor to Brady.
That plan fell apart as Brady played into his 40s, but Belichick sent Garoppolo to a favorable situation. Garoppolo started five games after the in-season trade in 2017, lasted just three games last season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament, then came back strong this season.
And in his first real opportunity to prove himself, he has the 49ers one win away from their first title since the 1994 season.
“Everyone imagines themselves being in this situation,” he said. “I’m blessed to be here. Just enjoying the ride, really.”