Well, that was weird while it lasted, or so you think. But now that the San Francisco 49ers have completed their season, their fanbase can get to the real reason it actually exists as an entity: slagging the quarterback they want gone so they won’t feel bad having slagged him for years. It’s a local tradition unlike any other, except for the fact that all the other fanbases have glommed onto it over time.
It is uncertain when the notion that the backup quarterback is more beloved than the starter actually began, but most historians note that San Francisco was on it back in the early ’60s, when they drafted John Brodie as an eventual alternative to Y.A. Tittle (to this day the only known Yelverton Abraham Anything). Brodie went to Stanford so he was local. Tittle, who was a Texan, had been there since 1952 (having replaced another Stanford quarterback, Frankie Albert), and well, the fans just decided it was time for someone else to put a ring on it. Tittle hadn’t managed that in eight years, but neither had Albert, or for that matter Brodie. Every time, the point was the same. The fans wanted S.E. Someone Else.
It has been this way with every 49ers quarterback with the single exception of Steve Young, who was concussed out in 1999 and replaced with the noted social scientist and football analyst Jeff Garcia. The clipboard is simply mightier than the sword.
So it is now for Jimmy Garoppolo, who has been all but put on the front lawn of a frat house like an old couch that has absorbed as much student vomit as upholstery can hold. But for Garoppolo, he has been blamed for all the evil in the football world since he failed to hit Emmanuel Sanders with an ass-saving touchdown late in the game two Super Bowls ago. In that one, the much-praised 49ers defense gave up three touchdowns in the final six minutes to the now-discredited Patrick Mahomes, but the loss was deemed Garoppolo’s fault, and he has been rendered Superfluous To Needs among the perpetually whiny segment of the fanbase since that moment, and especially since the team traded two, three, or nine draft choices to select North Dakota State’s underdeveloped superduperstar Trey Lance. That choice, and that arm, is the driving force behind the last year of post-Jimmy dreams, even though head coach Kyle Shanahan went to the trouble of re-re-conservatizing his offense to avoid using Lance, whom he clearly deemed unprepared for the immediate rigors of the job.
But let’s briefly review Sunday, in which the 49ers took a 17-7 lead over the Los Angeles Rams going into the fourth quarter but could neither develop their running game nor get a defensive stop at the end—rather a rerun of the Super Bowl Garoppolo was responsible for losing based on one errant throw. They let Aaron Donald be a terrorizing force after six games of neutralizing him, and in general hit E on the last lap of what would have been a stunning upset given where they were in Week 9: 3-5 and Jets-level dead.
Had the 49ers won, the yowls that this was Garoppolo’s final demise come home would have diminished, and had they won the Super Bowl, they would have almost completely died down because Super Bowl winners don’t get decommissioned. And no, don’t bring up Trent Dilfer because he was himself a backup pressed into service, and the defense, one of the best in history, held its opponents to seven yards per game. So it wasn’t even Dilfer’s gig to lose.
Instead, the 49ers fell two steps short of the preposterous ending, and now it is time to resume the chants of “Garoppo-go,” because the prize of a totally untested and untrusted quarterback and Nate Sudfeld as his backup is simply too glittery to delay any longer.
This is not a defense of Garoppolo’s retention, because the obvious factors of him making money on a dying contract plus the apparent Pavlovian need to justify a high draft choice at the cost of all other factors, makes him vulnerable to the front door. In football everyone’s a tool, and the foremen all like browsing Home Depot at lunch hour. Gratitude for services rendered is a sucker’s game.
But before that, there will be the entirely performative preamble, “Jimmy was a good soldier, but…” even though the “but” has been where every previous sentence about him has begun. This is the fanbase’s moment to get what it believes it wants, even though Shanahan has not yet given any indication that he believes Lance is ready for the big chair. Indeed, Shanahan has been profoundly stubborn on the matter of his quarterback, who it needs be said did not lose Sunday’s game as much as a dropped interception by Jaquiski Tartt and a valueless personal foul by Jimmie Ward on successive plays that led to the game-tying field goal. Or for that matter an earlier taunting call on linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair that helped fuel the Rams’ second-half touchdown.
As in that Super Bowl, the defense that carried the 49ers dropped them at the end of the game. What Garoppolo did was fail to save that defense, which I guess is good enough reason to blame him today. He is yesterday’s goods…
…unless of course Lance is still not yet ready to meet Shanahan’s lofty standard, one which includes the entirely nebulous but still valued love-in-the-locker-room factor. His teammates by all accounts think the world and several asteroids of Garoppolo and may find that a conference title and a conference final in three years is insufficient reason to send him to the knackers yard, or Pittsburgh. They would probably get over it in time because they all know that football is no place to reward loyalty, but if Lance isn’t all the things Shanahan thought he’d be on draft night, there will be 49ers-level hell to pay when Lance’s backup is named and installed. Lance has been an excellent soldier about the sitting-and-watching thing, but let’s see how he likes things once he gets the promotion he has been working toward. Because in San Francisco, getting the job is the fastest way to convince people you should lose it.