Before Jimmy Garoppolo became the 49ers‘ franchise quarterback during a five-week span last season that culminated in five straight wins and a shiny new $137.5 million contract, he spent the first 3.5 years of his NFL career as Tom Brady’s backup.
And while he started just two games during that time — and that was only because Brady was suspended to start the 2016 season — the totality of experiences made Garoppolo into the player who reeled off five straight wins for a 49ers outfit that was 1-10 when he took over the starting job last November.
Those experiences included finding competition wherever he could in New England, including after-practice bucket sessions — Garoppolo and Brady would take turns throwing footballs into trash cans set up in the back of the end zone.
“There would be days where one of us would win and you wouldn’t talk to the other for a little while,” Garoppolo told Bleacher Report’s Joon Lee. “We’d be fine the next day, but it was one of the best things for me. We would push each other and we got two Super Bowls out of it. …
“The competitiveness between the two of us was very similar,” Garoppolo continued. “If I’m playing my best friend in one-on-one basketball, if we are both into it, by the end, we are going to hate each other. That’s how it is. All the good competitors have that. We got along, but there were always times where we wanted to kill each other. It was a healthy, competitive relationship.”
Then there was Bill Belichick. The Hall of Fame coach with the Hall of Fame quarterback played no favorites, which didn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the team.
“There was no BS’ing around,” Garoppolo told Lee. “I related to him in that way, as crazy as it sounds. He’s different than he is with the media. He has dry humor — he would say some stuff that was borderline mean. He would put up a lowlight clip every once in a while, and it was always your worst throws from practice. He would put it up there, and you already knew what was about to happen. Any position, there are so many people on the outside hyping you up and saying good things, that everyone needs to be brought back down.”
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio recounts a conversation with Chad Johnson, who played with the Patriots in 2011. During the first meeting of the season, Belichick ripped into Brady for his performance in the team’s playoff loss to the Jets the previous January. The message: No one is above the wrath of the coach, including the star quarterback.
With training camps upon us, the expectations in San Francisco are through the roof. This is a weird thing to say about a team that has won six, two, and five games in each of the last three seasons. But what Garoppolo accomplished in the final weeks of 2017 changed everything. And now he’ll take everything he learned in New England and help the 49ers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013, which also happens to be the last time the team had a winning record.
If recent history is any indication, we’re guessing he’s up to it.