Well, it’s nearly official at this point. Jimmy Garoppolo delivered what appeared to be a final farewell to the 49ers fanbase, and the time has likely come to say goodbye to one of the most polarizing players ever to put on a 49ers uniform.
I think there’s been enough debate about Garoppolo and his play, so I decided to reflect on some of the happier moments we all had the pleasure of experiencing along the way during Garoppolo’s run in San Francisco over the last few seasons.
5. Touchdown as time expires vs. Seattle - Week 12, 2017
I’ve been trying very hard to gain some perspective while reflecting on where this team was when the Garoppolo era officially began on Halloween night in 2017. They were a 0-8 on the season, coming off of back-to-back losing seasons that saw them go 7-25 over that span.
It was a very dark time for the 49ers organization and fanbase. And suddenly, that changed. I remember feeling a sense of optimism for the first time in years when I got the notification that the 49ers made a move to acquire a franchise signal-caller.
Funny enough, I remember EXACTLY where I was and what I was doing when the news broke that the 49ers had traded a second-round pick to the New England Patriots in exchange for Garoppolo. Usually, that type of precise recollection on my end is reserved for the most monumental, earth-shaking moments in sports. But at the time, THAT is what this trade felt like.
My beloved 49ers, long deprived of a franchise quarterback (save for the Kaepernick years), managed to land the player that the greatest coach of all time hand-picked to replace the greatest quarterback of all time? For only a second-round pick to boot? I was PUMPED. I and many other 49ers fans couldn’t wait to see Garoppolo hit the field, and that wish was finally granted during the final possession in a Week 12 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Now it’s important to remember that Garoppolo entered this game with about a minute left while the 49ers trailed Seattle 24-6. The game was well out of reach at that point, but it felt like something special was happening when Garoppolo stepped on that field. Sure enough, Garoppolo converted a 4th & 5 with a pass to Aldrick Robinson before ultimately finishing the game with a touchdown pass to Louis Murphy as the clock hit :00 and the game concluded.
I could see how someone from the outside looking in might not think that a garbage time last-minute touchdown in a game that was already decided is all that impactful. But at that moment, it provided something that the 49ers and the fanbase collectively had been lacking for years. HOPE. It gave a level of optimism that hadn’t been felt since Jim Harbaugh roamed the sidelines at Levi’s Stadium. For the first time in years, it felt like there was light at the end of the tunnel.
I do think this late-game debut occurring against the Seahawks was kind of poetic in a way, as Seattle was wrapping up its ninth consecutive victory over the 49ers when Garoppolo stepped onto that field. At that moment, it appeared like the 49ers finally had an answer to counter their hated divisional rival, who had turned a once heated rivalry into a lopsided affair in Seattle’s favor. The 49ers finally had THEIR guy, and it felt damn good.
4. Spiking the ball in the end zone vs. the Rams -Week 6, 2019
This moment holds tremendous significance because it was a pivotal turning point in a game that FINALLY got the 49ers some serious credibility under this current regime. Going into Los Angeles and beating the defending conference champions on their home field was the first true test for the upstart 49ers, who were on their way to a conference title of their own.
Faced with a 3rd & 1 just outside the Rams goal line, Garoppolo punched it across into the end zone with a QB sneak, which became a staple during his time in San Francisco. Garoppolo ended up converting EVERY single QB sneak on 3rd or 4th down with one or fewer yards to go during his time in San Francisco. And after this one, he threw down the football with an emphatic spike, one that loudly proclaimed that the 49ers WERE HERE and were to be taken seriously.
That touchdown gave the 49ers a lead they would never relinquish against a team that had a stranglehold on the NFC West-leading into that season. The pure elation behind that touchdown celebration was the defining moment in a game that saw a passing of the torch during that 2019 season. It sent a message that these underdog 49ers that started 4-0 prior to this game weren’t just a feel-good story. They were contenders.
3. Pancaking Anthony Barr vs. Vikings - Divisional Round, 2019
This one probably is number one on my own personal list of favorite Jimmy Garoppolo moments. In the first 49ers playoff game in over five years, Garoppolo ends up putting Anthony Barr, an All-Pro linebacker, on his back on an end-around carry by Deebo Samuel. Now on the surface, it may seem comical to laugh about it. And let’s be honest, watching your starting quarterback throw a legitimate block on a linebacker does carry an objective amount of hilarity.
However, this was more than just a funny sequence that would be played back in the film room to a gleeful audience of players and coaches later that week. This play embodied the grittiness that defined these 49ers teams over the last couple of seasons. You’d have to imagine that kind of effort from not only the quarterback but the highest-paid player on the team would fire up the rest of the 49ers players.
Lucky for us, we don’t have to deal with hypotheticals because there was a Mic’d Up segment that caught a handful of players and coaches cheerfully asking one another if they just saw Garoppolo pancake Barr. One exchange, in particular, will always put a smile on my face as star tight end George Kittle approached Garoppolo on the sideline during a timeout.
Kittle: “you throw a block?”
Kittle: “No, you didn’t.”
Garoppolo: “Hard. No joke, I put him (Barr) on his ass.”
Kittle: “I love you.”
Garoppolo: “I know.”
These are the kind of moments that make me understand why Garoppolo was so revered by his teammates. At the end of the day, he was one of them, just another player looking to make an impact in any way he could to help his team pull out a victory. Garoppolo had this to say after that game in regards to the block.
“Sometimes, you have to remember you’re not just a quarterback. You’re a football player.”
This kind of selflessness should not be overlooked, and I think ultimately defines why Garoppolo, the person is so beloved by those who took the field with him and why his peers were always eager and willing to go to bat for Garoppolo the quarterback.
2. Game tying Drive in Los Angeles - Week 18, 2021
They were trailing by seven, on the road. There are no timeouts left, and you have to 88 yards in less than a minute and a half to give your team a chance to tie the game and keep your postseason hopes alive. Seems nearly impossible, right? According to Next Gen Stats win probability model, the Rams had a 99.6% chance of winning this game before this drive started.
As Garoppolo entered that huddle, there was a good chance it would be the last time he ever took the field with a group of players he had gone to battle with for nearly half a decade. It would be understandable to allow emotion and nerves to overcome anyone in that instance. Oh yeah, by the way, Garoppolo was going to have to do all of this with a torn ligament in his thumb. All good things eventually have to come to an end, right?
Not this time, not on Garopolo’s watch. On 1st & 10 from his own 12-yard line, Garoppolo threw a strike to Brandon Aiyuk for a 21 yard gain. This play was so important, as history has shown the success of any two-minute drill is heavily dependent on that very first play getting positive yardage. Garoppolo and Aiyuk got them a chunk of 20 plus to start this one.
After a check down to Jauan Jennings for five yards came the play that defined this heroic comeback. Garoppolo took a shot down the right sideline to Deebo Samuel, threading the needle just beyond the outstretched arm of superstar defensive back Jalen Ramsey. Garoppolo was able to get Ramsey to bite on the shallow out route by George Kittle before seizing the opportunity to fire the ball into the window he has just created.
Garoppolo ended up hitting Samuel for what turned out to be a 43 yard gain, putting the 49ers' offense on the Rams 19 yard line with 35 seconds left. less than a minute earlier, the season was on life support, staring at the need for a miracle drive to keep it alive. Now the 49ers were well within striking distance, with plenty of chances to take shots at the end zone and get this must-win game into overtime.
Following an offsides penalty on Leonard Floyd, the 49ers were staring at a 1st & 5 from the Rams 14 yard line. Garoppolo took a shot for Samuel, but the ball was a bit high and sailed over his wideouts head. Then we saw Garoppolo do something he did so many times during his tenure with the 49ers. He shook off the previous throw without losing an ounce of confidence before delivering a game-tying touchdown on a throw over the middle to Jennings.
Garoppolo and the 49ers' offense had done the unthinkable. They were left for dead just a few minutes earlier and somehow found a way to deliver when they needed it most. Regardless of how you feel about Garoppolo or his time in San Francisco, you would have a hard time arguing that there wasn’t something special about that drive. The 49ers ended up winning the game in overtime, clinching a spot in a postseason that left us with some lifetime memories.
Remember that Next Gen Stats win probability model I mentioned? The 49ers had the lowest win probability of any team to ultimately win that game since Next Gen Stats started tracking this data (since 2016). To put this into context, at just a 0.4% chance to win based on this model, the 49ers defied greater odds than the New England Patriots did when they roared back from a 28-3 deficit in Super Bowl LI.
Everything about this last-minute drive personified what makes this sport so great. A team with their backs against the wall, all the odds in the world stacked against them, facing the prospect of going out there together as a unit for the very last time. The outburst of extraordinary joy amongst fans as they watched their beloved squad do the seemingly impossible and keep this roller coaster ride of a season alive when all hope seemed lost.
No matter how we summarize Garoppolo’s time here, one thing that can’t be argued is that he fought until the bitter end and gave this team everything he had in the process. Regardless of how the season ultimately ended, it’s impossible to overlook the fact that the 49ers don’t even get a spot in the playoffs without the heroic last-minute drive engineered by Garoppolo and that 49ers offense. Truthfully, this moment has a strong case for the #1 spot, if not for...
1. “FEELS GREAT BABY” - Week 9, 2019
You had to know this was coming, right? The Garoppolo quote turned catchphrase that defined his 49ers tenure ultimately became a rallying cry of sorts for 49ers players and fans alike during a magical 2019 season. Seriously, think about how many times someone you know who has ties to this team used that saying in one way or another.
As many of you remember, this famous slogan was born during a postgame interview with Erin Andrews, who asked Garoppolo, “8-0, how does that feel?” after the 49ers pulled out a win on Halloween night against the Arizona Cardinals. With zero hesitation and a smile on his face, Garoppolo calmly and cooly responded, “feels great, baby.”
Who could blame Garoppolo for feeling himself a little bit at that moment? He was coming off what I believe was his greatest game EVER as an NFL quarterback and was leading a squad that had gone through half their schedule without losing a game. But back to this game, let’s remember just how special Garoppolo was in this performance.
The 49ers struggled mightily to get the ground game going in this one, recording just 101 yards on 31 carries. The Cardinals gave the 49ers all they could handle in this one before eventually falling by a score of 28-25. It was a game where the 49ers needed their franchise signal-caller to step up and put the team on his back, and Garoppolo not only did that, he delivered a performance for the ages. Here is Garoppolo’s stat line from that game
136.9 passer rating
The stat line alone looks impressive, but it doesn’t do justice to some of the throws Garoppolo hit in this game. Remember that ball to Dante Pettis in the back right corner of the end zone and Pettis doing the thriller celebration after the touchdown (no doubt an homage to the game being played on Halloween night). Or how about the perfectly placed third-down throw on the out route to Emmanuel Sanders, arguably the best ball Garoppolo has ever thrown in his NFL career.
The 49ers were up by three with two minutes remaining and, with the ball in their possession, faced a 3rd & 9 from the Arizona 48 yard line. The 49ers needed to find a way to convert this third down, as their own defense was reeling after the Cardinals had recorded 11 unanswered points in that fourth quarter. They needed to find a way to make a play, and boy did Garoppolo deliver in a huge way.
Garoppolo stepped up to avoid the pressure in the pocket, held the underneath defender with a half-cocked pump fake, and delivered a ball in the flat to Ross Dwelley, who crossed the line to gain and iced the victory for the 49ers. On the surface, it may just seem like a relatively routine throw and catch, but the play as a whole really embodied what anyone could hope to get from their franchise quarterback.
After a performance like that, who wouldn’t be fired up? Garoppolo graciously not only left us with a phenomenal performance, but he also left us with three words that uplifted many a 49ers fan during a run that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. And you know what? Looking back on that 8-0 start after all those years of misery. It did FEEL GREAT, BABY.
On a closing note, I’d like to point out that no matter where you stand in regards to your opinion about Jimmy Garoppolo, the football player, one thing cannot be argued. And that is that the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo, the human being coincided with a colossal turnaround for this 49ers franchise.
Before Garoppolo showed up, the 49ers were a laughing stock that had gone 7-33 over their previous two-plus seasons. Since his arrival, the 49ers have appeared in two NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl and are now viewed among the preeminent franchises in the NFL.
Garoppolo said one of his main goals upon joining the 49ers was to leave the organization in a better spot than when he arrived, which he unequivocally did. It’s uncertain what the future may hold for Garoppolo moving forward, but I think I can speak for the majority of 49ers fans out there when I say, thank you, Jimmy. Thank you for the memories, and thank you for leaving it all out there on the field. Best of luck wherever you may go, you’ll always have a place in the hearts of the 49ers faithful.