MIAMI — When Jimmy Garoppolo came to Super Bowls past, sure, he technically was part of the festivities with the Patriots. At events like Opening Night, he got the snazzy pullover and hat, he walked out to blaring music, but he strolled around in the anonymity of the shadows. He wasn’t part of the show.
There was no signage pointing him out, no platform for the cameras and microphones that were intent on surrounding him. And the football questions he faced? They were hypothetical horror stories. “What if Tom Brady . . . ?” reporters from New England would ask him, unable to even finish the question without getting choked up.
That’s the role of a good backup quarterback during Super Bowl week: Be heard but not seen (at least when it comes to the game on Sunday).
But Garoppolo has a far different role in this year’s event. It is his image that is plastered on buildings and billboards around this city. It is he who now is the starting quarterback for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV. And in the somewhat familiar setting of Opening Night at Marlins Park on Monday, it was Garoppolo who was at the center of all the attention.
He used to walk among the peasants. On Monday night, he sat on the throne.
“I was just talking with Mike about that,” Garoppolo said, grinning from his podium.
Mike being Michael Irvin, the Hall of Fame wide receiver and NFL Network analyst who cozied up to the quarterback before the rest of the world got a crack at him.
It undoubtedly was the first time Irvin or anyone from NFL Network interviewed Garoppolo at a Super Bowl for a live broadcast.
Perched in his seat, literally on a stage and literally in the spotlight, Garoppolo had a much different view of this Super Bowl. And that’s fine. This one has a much different view of him.
“The last time I was here, it was much different,” he said. “It’s crazy how life goes, man. You just have to roll with it.”
There have been a few quarterbacks who have gotten a Super Bowl ring as a backup and then won one as a starter. Steve Young and Jeff Hostetler did it, but with the same franchise. Garoppolo is looking to do something no other quarterback has ever done: Start and win a Super Bowl after already having won a ring (or in his case two) as a backup with another franchise.
The 49ers traded for him in 2017, sending a second-round pick to New England, and it took some time for Garoppolo to find his footing with his new team. He played only a handful of games in the second half of 2017 and missed almost all of 2018 with a torn ACL. But this year he’s started every game.
Even though he never took a snap this late in any of his previous seasons, he picked up plenty of wisdom and advice and experience from the Patriots that will come in handy.
“I just tried to see things from afar,” Garoppolo said of his time in New England. “Obviously, not being on the field, it’s a little different, but [I saw] the preparation that goes into it, the atmosphere in the locker room, the atmosphere in the whole building, really.”
And, of course, he saw Brady.
Garoppolo said that when they were teammates, he never actually spoke with Brady about how he prepared for playoff games or Super Bowls, but he certainly was around to soak it all in.
“The things that I took away from watching him go through it and everything, just the consistency that he had throughout the entire run,” Garoppolo said. “ . . . I think that just goes into your preparation throughout the week. If you are prepared going into the game, then you’re going to play like that.”
He said he got an unsolicited text from ol’ No. 12 this weekend. “Just good luck and everything like that,” he said. “Just go handle business. It wasn’t too complicated or anything. Just go win.”
Jimmy Garoppolo’s passing opportunities have been limited in the 49ers’ march to the Super Bowl: