LOS ANGELES — Long after that awful final possession. Hours after the Niners squandered their chance at the Super Bowl. Deep in the bowels of SoFi Stadium, where the concrete corridors housed both winners and losers.
That’s where you could find the human side of football.
In a sport that more often dehumanizes, that’s where you can see the mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, wives and girlfriends of the San Francisco 49ers, waiting for their loved ones to emerge. Win or lose, your family is always there for you.
There was the Kittle clan, huddling up to offer their solace from heartbreak. It was a beautiful scene, with the whole family gathering for a group hug and a quick cheer. Nick Bosa limped up, like most every football player does after battle. He was immediately engulfed by the Kittles. These young men may have lost a big game, but they survived to fight another day. Mothers appreciate that more than you know.
Off to the side, Jimmy Garoppolo stood in the hall, wearing a smart checkered suit, tilting a rolling suitcase to the side. He didn’t have any family waiting for him. He looked just as much the banker as the quarterback, preparing to fly home from another business trip. And, to be frank, this was a business trip for all of them.
The NFL is a brutal enterprise that cares little for sentiment or schmaltz. As nice as it is to find pockets of humanity deep below these billion-dollar buildings, you’re never far from the cold, harsh realities of the NFL.
This was likely Garoppolo’s last business trip for 49ers, Inc.
The embattled quarterback has been mired in speculation and scrutiny since the team traded half the farm to move up in the draft and take Trey Lance with the No. 3 pick last April.
The fans clamored for the rookie to play. The media parsed out Garoppolo’s every move, openly speculating whether he’d lost his touch. It was really a circus, especially early on this season, reaching a crescendo after the team fell to 3-5. You’d think Garoppolo had robbed a bank.
Instead, he never lost his cool, rallied the team around him and got four points away from the Super Bowl. In the process, he likely made himself millions in future contracts.
But the one he has with the Niners has only one more year on it. The team would have to pay him $27 million to stay. If they trade him or release him, they’d only be on the hook for about $1.4 million. That’s a huge swing, and a financial game-changer for a team trying to work magic in the NFL’s salary-cap system.
Instead of paying Garoppolo, the team is expected to let him go and use that money to sign emerging superstar Deebo Samuel to a fat extension. Bosa also needs to get paid. And the team needs to bring in new talent, as every squad does, every offseason. The Niners need Jimmy’s money for operational flexibility.
That leaves Garoppolo the odd man out. His teammates love him. The fans respect him. The team appreciates what he did since signing in 2019.
But the league has no room for sentiment. Jimmy Garoppolo is a goner. And he knows it.
Asked how he dealt with the drama all season long, he smiled his Jimmy smile and said, “I don’t know. Lot of good people around me. Lot of good people in this organization. Surround yourself with good people and things will take care of themselves.”
Asked if he felt the emotions of the moment after the game, he grew serious.
“They hit pretty hard in the locker room. I think these next couple of days, they’ll settle in a bit. It’s one of these things,” said Garoppolo. “You have to think about the good things. We’ll see what happens in the coming days and weeks.”
Good luck, Jimmy. Let’s remember the good times.