Jimmy Garoppolo finally makes it to Soldier Field — to face the Bears
Subscribe for unlimited digital access.
Try one month for $1!
Subscribe for unlimited digital access. Try one month for $1!
Jimmy Garoppolo grew up a Bears fan in Arlington Heights, cherishing his jerseys of Brian Urlacher and Anthony Thomas. But when he steps foot Sunday in Soldier Field as the 49ers’ starting quarterback, it’ll be his first time there for a Bears game.
‘‘It’s exciting,’’ said Garoppolo, 26, a former standout at Rolling Meadows and Eastern Illinois. ‘‘I’ve got a lot of family and friends going. They’re just as excited as I am.
‘‘It’s going to be a fun opportunity. The Bears have a talented roster, a good defense. So it’s going to be a good challenge for us.’’
Garoppolo’s first start for the 49ers — and third in the NFL — is the latest twist in a whirlwind season. After winning two Super Bowl rings in three-plus seasons as Tom Brady’s backup with the Patriots, Garoppolo was traded to the 49ers on Oct. 31 for a second-round draft pick. When starter C.J. Beathard suffered a bruised knee and a strained hip late in the 49ers’ game Sunday against the Seahawks, coach Kyle Shanahan didn’t waste much time naming Garoppolo the starter.
Garoppolo was 2-0 as a starter with the Patriots last season while Brady was serving a suspension for the ‘‘Deflategate’’ episode. He threw four touchdown passes and no interceptions and had passer ratings of 106.1 and 135.4 before suffering an injury in a victory against the Dolphins.
But running the 49ers’ offense on short notice figures to be a bigger challenge.
‘‘I think it’s getting better week by week,’’ Garoppolo said. ‘‘Things are starting to slow down for me. Obviously, getting the first-team reps this week, that’ll help a ton. It’s been a process, but I think things are really coming together.’’
That his first start with the 49ers will come in Chicago has made it even more exciting, with friends and acquaintances offering congratulations, reconnecting and asking for tickets.
‘‘I don’t have an exact number for you, but I was getting [a lot],’’ Garoppolo said. ‘‘Some of the texts, I don’t even know how people got my number. It’s always a good thing when you have requests coming in like that. Thankfully, I have a good support staff that has helped me out with that.’’
At this point in Garoppolo’s career, starting for the 1-10 49ers is better than sitting behind Brady on the 9-2 Patriots. The 49ers are expected to put the franchise tag — likely a $23 million payday — on Garoppolo if they can’t sign him to a long-term deal.
‘‘I don’t know if I got tired [of waiting for Brady to retire],’’ he said. ‘‘I was eager to play, though. Being behind Tom and learning from him and [offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels, coach [Bill] Belichick — they’re very smart, very knowledgeable about the game. That stuff is invaluable for me for the rest of my career.
‘‘I’m happy the way things worked out. Going into my fourth year, I was definitely getting eager. But I think things worked out pretty well.’’
Garoppolo has made a good first impression in his short time with the 49ers.
‘‘He’s a great kid, [has] a lot of talent, awesome guy in the locker room,’’ said 49ers kicker Robbie Gould, who played for the Bears during Garoppolo’s formative years in Arlington Heights. ‘‘He grew up right down the street from where I live. It’s kind of neat to be able to have another Chicago guy in the locker room to talk about Chicago things. I’m excited for him to go back home and get his first start as a 49er.’’
Gould was coy, though, when he was asked how Garoppolo was looking in practice.
‘‘You’ll find out Sunday,’’ Gould said.
Follow me on Twitter @MarkPotash.