MIAMI— You know if the football pride and joy of Illinois isn’t exactly the Chicago Bears right now, it is most likely Arlington Heights’ and Rolling Meadows High School’s very own Jimmy Garoppolo.
Visiting with the San Francisco 49ers quarterback Tuesday morning in Miami, you would have found him all smiles and soaking up everything making it to his profession’s highest mountain top is meant to be.
I asked him if there was ever a time back on the practice fields in Rolling Meadows that he envisioned being here today?
“Yeah I think as a kid I always tried to, I think every athlete just tries to envision being in that moment and how it’s going to play out, but it’s always a little different when you get here.
“Just, I don’t know, you never think it’s actually going to be you in that moment and you in that situation but it’s ... I’m very thankful to be here.”
Did he ever imagine he’d enjoy a moment like this with his hometown Chicago Bears?
“They (Bears) definitely saw some dark years for their quarterbacks but yeah, I honestly grew up running back, safety so I didn’t look at the quarterbacks so much until about high school, really.
“I loved Mike Vick, Brian Dawkins, Ed Reed, all those guys.”
Was Garoppolo ever really close to being a Bear?
Some assume that because he and Ryan Pace are both Eastern Illinois alum, there must have been a chance.
Remember though when the Patriots drafted Garoppolo with the 62nd pick in 2014, Pace was still in New Orleans and Jay Cutler was still the Bears quarterback.
When Pace sent shock waves through the 2017 draft and selected Mitch Trubisky, Bill Belichick was still telling all comers Garoppolo was a Patriot and not available.
It was six months later that Jimmy G. became a 49er.
With Belichick seeing free agency around the corner for Garoppolo, and then realizing that Tom Brady wasn’t going anywhere for a while, there are multiple reports that he reached out to Kyle Shanahan in a desire to send Garoppolo somewhere he could flourish — in the NFC.
Garoppolo didn’t know a lot about the 49ers but he remembered Shanahan.
The 49ers head coach was hired as the offensive coordinator in Cleveland following the 2013 season and during the ’14 pre-draft process, he and rookie head coach Mike Pettine went to the pro day at Northwestern where Garoppolo was anxious to show his wares.
As Jimmy G. remembers it, “Yeah, I didn’t have any receivers to throw to, so I was throwing to just about whoever would catch for me.
“I remember it was a good workout, they worked me pretty good, put me through the gauntlet and everything, and Kyle (Shanahan), he was snagging passes, no gloves needed so it was pretty impressive, bringing him back to his receiver days.”
Garoppolo was a rock star at Eastern, completing 62.8 percent of his passes for 13,156 yards, 118 touchdowns, 51 picks and a 146.3 passer rating.
But Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater went ahead of him in the first round and Derek Carr was the 36th pick of Round 2, where Garoppolo was selected No. 62 overall.
As Garoppolo remembers it, “Coming out of college I always tried to put my finger on it, why was I getting overlooked and why were these guys ranked ahead of me, things like that, but thankfully I got to go to the All Star games, the East-West, the Senior Bowl and those really helped.
“Everyone thinks that at 1AA, the level of competition is way worse. It’s different but it’s still college football.”
Obviously, EIU was good enough and Garoppolo will tell you spending a few years behind Tom Brady didn’t hurt either, and they’ve stayed in touch.
“He ... just a little good luck text and things like that, nothing crazy.
“Tom’s always been great to me whether I had a question, whatever it is, he’s always right there to answer and he’s very honest with me.”
Bears fans will spend some of this week thinking about what might have been but for Garoppolo, right now he feels like things couldn’t have worked out better.
“This is a big part of it, all the media and everything.
“I’ve heard it from Tom, I’ve heard it from other people, you’ve got to have fun with it. It’s, you know you can’t let this stress you out and overwhelm you or anything like that.
“It’s a part of the Super Bowl, it’s a good problem to have.”