Jimmy Garoppolo won’t beat Patrick Mahomes in Super Bowl 2020 throwing only eight passes.
He will be The Other Quarterback when his 49ers meet the Chiefs in Miami on Feb. 2.
But the men who coached him on his way up won’t be betting against him beating Mahomes Sweet Mahomes.
“The bigger the game, the bigger Jimmy gets,” Doug Millsaps told The Post. “And it’s not about Jimmy either. It’s not about ego, it’s not about the bright lights. It’s about finding a way to win, and making himself and everybody else better around him.”
Millsaps coached Garoppolo and his three brothers at Rolling Meadows (Ill.) High School. John Lynch, the 49ers GM, knew the backstory when he gave Millsaps a hug at the start of this playoff run.
“Thank you very much,” Millsaps remembers Lynch telling him.
“ ‘No,’ ” said Millsaps, “ ‘thank you — you’re the ones that were smart enough to go get him.’
“He said, ‘No, you’re the one smart enough to turn him into a quarterback.’ ”
Indeed he was.
“He wore No. 29, he was an outside linebacker and a running back,” Millsaps said. “He didn’t want to play quarterback. So what I would do is I’d go down and play catch with all the freshmen just to get to know ’em a little bit. So I’m playing catch with Jimmy, and all of a sudden here comes the ball out of his hand. I said, ‘Why are you wearing 29?’ He said, ‘Well, I’m a running back and outside linebacker.
“ ‘No, I think you’re a quarterback.’ ”
Garoppolo was the starting quarterback by his junior year.
“Coach [Bill] Belichick told me one time, ‘We wouldn’t have maybe won the Super Bowl without Jimmy being our scout [team] quarterback,” Millsaps said. “ ‘He can react and create so many different looks for us. He’s an outside linebacker playing quarterback, and you just don’t find that in the NFL.’ ”
It is difficult to believe looking back that Millsaps had to beg Northwestern to offer Garoppolo a scholarship.
“Everyone else wanted to project him as an outside linebacker, a free safety, a corner — everybody wanted him as something else,” Millsaps said.
Garoppolo wound up at Eastern Illinois, Tony Romo’s old school, and took off as a junior when Dino Babers, now the Syracuse coach, was hired.
“He’s one of those guys that not only does he see a lot, but he listens,” Babers told The Post. “And he’s gone through a lot of experiences. His first two years in college were not good. I would step on a ledge to say that a lot of people had doubts about him. And then when you think about coming into the league with the New England Patriots, and being the highest draft pick they’ve ever had as a quarterback from Belichick, and then not playing and sitting behind a Hall of Famer like Tom Brady, he learned a lot, he watched. He sees and he listens, he sees and he listens.”
Garoppolo is 23-5 as a starter, and what the 49ers love about him is he can beat Drew Brees (48-46 in New Orleans) in a shootout one week (349 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) and virtually sit in a rocking chair and stay out of the way in an NFC Championship game whipping of the Packers.
Babers arrived in 2012 and it didn’t take long for Jimmy G to master Babers’ uptempo offense.
“In our offense, we have a lot of ways to call plays and there’s a lot of ways to dictate plays,” Babers said. “And eventually there comes a time where you turn it over to the quarterback, and he kinda becomes what Peyton Manning was for the Indianapolis Colts, where you can call a lot of it at the line of scrimmage. By the time we got to the [Illinois State] game [in Week 3], I said, ‘This guy is ready to call it all.’ And I was talking to coaches on the offensive staff, and asking them, ‘What do you think?’ And there were pros and cons, but when you get an opportunity where someone has the ability to do it athletically and the smarts to do it intelligently, and they go about their business — he was such a gym rat, he was always watching tape, always wanting to know about the defenses and the structures — that when you give someone that much knowledge, the fastest way to dissect a defense is to allow him to do it at the line of scrimmage, and that was the very first game where we said, ‘OK, Jimmy, if you see this, you see that, you see this, sic ’em.’
“And if you go back and check the score of that game, boy, he sure in the hell knew what that word meant. … We really took off after there.”
Eastern Illinois lost to a ranked Illinois State team, but Garoppolo threw for 387 yards and two touchdowns in a 54-51 double-overtime loss.
Garoppolo’s brothers live in San Francisco now. He has five close friends from high school who attend most of his games. A working class family’s humble son.
“Jimmy was such a gym rat, he was such a cool guy,” Babers said. “And he didn’t even have a car in college. He literally had to walk … everywhere. I can still remember a story his strength coach told me where his senior year we had lost in the quarterfinals, and a week later, the whole stadium, the whole town’s empty and he’s in the locker room with two bags filling up all his EIU stuff, and he’s toting it through town like Santa Claus. And here is the starting quarterback, and he’ll set all kinds of records, and the strength coach stopped and gave him a ride, he was so excited about getting the ride that he didn’t have to walk back through town with two Santa-type green grocery bags for the EIU stuff.
“And then we see him on TV coming to a game, he still has that EIU backpack just to remember where he comes from. It really kinda tells you what kind of person you’re dealing with.”
Garoppolo sounds too good to be true.
“His mom and dad remind me of Ozzie and Harriet,” Babers said. “Just the absolute perfect family. I spoke to his dad twice in two years when he was the starting quarterback. He threw for 4,000 [3,923] yards [as a junior] and 5,000 [5,080] yards [with 55 TDs and one INT as a senior]. And I only saw the dad basically twice. One time after a game his junior year, he was walking through the parking lot and basically, he just introduced himself to me. I stopped to talk to him and he says, ‘Coach, I know you’re busy, I just wanted to introduce myself to you.’ And then he walks through the rest of the parking lot.”
Millsaps watched Garoppolo play at EIU as often as possible.
“He was so entertaining that I made a point of making sure I got there to watch him,” Millsaps said. “Plus it’s one of my most favorite families of all time.”
Millsaps was at the NFC Championship game and he will be in Miami for Garoppolo versus Mahomes.
“I got to see him in Houston as a backup to Tom Brady in the Super Bowl,” Millsaps said, “and that was really something special.”
Joe Montana was Joe Cool in the Super Bowl. Here comes Jimmy Cool.
For more on the NFL playoffs, listen to the latest episode of the “Gang’s All Here” podcast: