Happily ever after, so far, for 49ers and Jimmy Garoppolo

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MIAMI — This is a love story.

At first it was just an arranged marriage. A shocking one. Jimmy Garoppolo thought he was the heir apparent to Tom Brady on the New England Patriots, thought he’d replace Brady at some point soon and become the face of the best organization in American sports. Then one day the Patriots traded Garoppolo to the winless 49ers, just like that. Goodbye, Jimmy. Good luck in Santa Clara. We’re divorcing you.

What a freaking comedown, right?

“Yeah, kind of, I guess,” Garoppolo said as he blushed and gave a diplomatic smile. “At first I felt just about every emotion you could feel. I was excited, confused, sad.”

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called Garoppolo to tell him the news. “Coach was always very honest with me,” said Garoppolo, who still to this day refers to Belichick as “Coach,” while the 49ers’ Kyle Shanahan is just “Kyle.”

Garoppolo continued: “That’s the main thing I really appreciated about Coach — when he called, there was no beating around the bush. It was right to the point. He said he appreciated everything, and I said the same to him. The guy taught me so much about the pro game and the ins and outs of it. I appreciate everything he did for me, all those coaches in New England. My time there was good.”

Even now, Garoppolo sounds a tiny bit wistful when he speaks about his previous team.

He didn’t know what to make of the 49ers at first. They were the anti-Patriots in lots of ways. The 49ers were 0-8 when he joined the team. A few weeks later, they won their first game with C.J. Beathard at quarterback and improved their record to 1-9. They celebrated as if they had won the Super Bowl. The Patriots never would celebrate one measly regular-season victory.

“It was different to me, I’m not going to lie,” Garoppolo admitted. “It seemed like a normal regular-season game. I remember we were throwing water in the locker room afterward, boom boxes were going, everything. It was the accumulation of that whole year, everything those guys had been through. It was real. Everyone was very honest and real and genuine. That’s where it all starts, and I think that’s what makes us a good team.”

Garoppolo became the starting quarterback two weeks later, and won the 49ers’ final five games of the season. That’s when he knew the marriage with Shanahan might survive.

“You could see there were pieces in place,” Garoppolo said. “It seemed like it was 80% rookies on the roster, so you could see it was young. And guys were getting better and better during the eight games I was there. It’s pretty crazy we got here to the Super Bowl, but you can ask anyone on this team, everyone had a feeling.”

Talk about a feeling — Shanahan had mixed feelings when the 49ers traded for Garoppolo.

The 49ers didn’t propose the trade — the Patriots did. The 49ers just accepted it, and Shanahan was reluctant at first because he wanted Kirk Cousins, a decidedly different style of quarterback than Garoppolo. Shanahan coached Cousins in Washington and was smitten with him.

Cousins is an intellectual quarterback, one of the smartest in the NFL. He’s like a coach, meaning he and Shanahan speak the exact same language. When Cousins makes a good play or a bad play, he knows exactly why it happened and what the defense was doing.

Garoppolo is not that kind of quarterback.

“It definitely takes a certain intelligence level (to play quarterback),” Shanahan said, “but that’s not everything. Sometimes you get guys who are so smart, they just can’t play the game when they’re in the pocket. And then you get some guys who are very smooth out there and can react.”

Garoppolo is the second type of quarterback — the smooth one. The natural. Not to say he isn’t intelligent, because he is.

Here’s how he feels at the line of scrimmage: “Focused. Relaxed. A little bit of both at the same time. You could be looking at five different things, trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together. And another play could be a little more stressful on your mind. Every play is a little different.”

Garoppolo may not put the puzzle together correctly every time, or know every little detail of what’s going on around him. But when the action starts, he makes the right play more often than not. He’s a man of action, not an overthinker.

Shanahan didn’t know he liked that kind of quarterback until he met Garoppolo. Shanahan grew to appreciate him.

“There’s no BS to Jimmy,” Shanahan said. “You don’t have to play any games with him, you don’t have to sit there and tell him how much you care about him — he knows that. We’re good. We’re all right. I coach him hard when I need to. Every day is kind of the same. Jimmy is very hard on himself. He likes you to get on him, because I think it helps him focus, just like it does for me. I think our personalities match up well and we bring out the best in each other.”

It’s a love story after all.

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