• Bret Rumbeck

Battling Through Adversity: How Garoppolo's Performance Showed his Ability to Lead

Image Credit: 49ers


This is an Excellent Mission, Worthy of My Best Efforts

San Francisco 49ers’ tight end Jordan Reed had an interesting comment in his short post-game interview on Sunday. It’s gone overlooked in the sporting press, but it’s worth a read.

Q: Jordan, Jimmy (Garoppolo) played quite a bit of the game with his ankle injury. Did you notice any difference with him in the huddle? Did he seem like he was just going to battle through it?

Reed: Honestly, I didn’t even know he was injured at all. He didn’t make it known to me or anyone else, I don’t think, in the huddle. He never winced or anything like that. He always kept his composure. So, when I heard he was going out, I was kind of confused. But I’m glad it’s a small thing. He’ll bounce right back.

Reed’s comment about quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo not making his injury known to his men struck an old word of wisdom: There’s a chain of command. Gripes go up, not down. Always up. I don’t gripe to you. I don’t gripe in front of you.

A football huddle is an exclusive players-only club. Eleven men have a few brief seconds to gather themselves, hear the plays, the snap count, and then head to the line. It’s not a place for nonsense or idle talk. Tight end George Kittle might chat a bit, but he knows when it’s time to silence himself.

The 49ers needed a win on Sunday, even if it was against the talent-sucking New York Jets. Everyone had something to prove, but none more than Garoppolo.

For seven months, the football world ranted and pointed the finger at Garoppolo’s Super Bowl performance. That’s our world – even in a team sport, only one man lost a big game.

Flash forward 32 weeks, and Garoppolo walked into an empty stadium with something to prove. He trounced Arizona through the air last season, and it was time to do it again. This time, he’d silence the television tough-guys and the Twitter experts.

We know the result of that game and the near-toxic fallout that rained over Garoppolo.

He missed Dante Pettis!

He didn’t see Kittle wide open!

He looked rusty and indecisive! (Those were my words.)

So, while every game in the NFL is a must-win, the 49ers needed to look good, beating a perennial losing football franchise.

On the 49ers’ second possession of the game, the offense faced a third-and-8 from their 22-yard line.

Garoppolo took the snap from a gun formation and took a short drop to gather his feet. He read the route progressions on the right side of the field, but New York Jets defensive end Quinnen Williams beat left guard Laken Tomlinson. Williams stayed low and clipped Garoppolo’s right foot, resulting in a high ankle sprain.

The last thing anyone needed to hear was Garoppolo complaining about a low hit from Williams.

There’s enough grumbling after a quarterback sack – who missed an assignment, what was the look, where was the stunt, what was the coverage. There’s a short amount of time to get that information shared and ironed out for the next play; it’s the quarterback’s job to settle the men down, offer a word of praise, and deliver the next play.

Garoppolo is allowed to be frustrated and in pain, but he cannot share it with the men around him.

Gripes about a missed block never go down and are never shared in the huddle.

Football is not a sport for the fake tough and the phony brave – and the ten men running the field with Garoppolo can easily sniff out a fraud.

There’s a reason someone like Matt Barkley isn’t in the NFL leading an offense. Garoppolo might miss a read or overthrow a receiver, but he inspires confidence. Barkley couldn’t convince anyone to follow him into the kiddie pool on a hot summer day, let alone sixty minutes of fire and brimstone.

The Minnesota Vikings embarrassed Joe Montana in the 1987 divisional round, so much that Walsh benched Montana in the third quarter of the game.

None of the 49er legends sit around with a cold beer discussing all of Montana’s faults from that game. Twitter isn’t exploding with frosty takes about that game. Montana, despite his flaws, will always be considered the gold standard of quarterbacking.

The problem that fans and television “experts” have is we live in an instant-gratification, need-to-see-tangible-proof world. One cannot see leadership – it is an invisible force that is feast or famine for professional sports teams. Sure, the camera can show a quarterback reviewing a play on a Surface with his receiver or talking to his line about a protection.

But that’s not leadership – that’s part of the job.

The 49ers can trade Garoppolo away at the end of the season for someone who finds Pettis on a deep comeback route. That’s awesome, and hell, it might even break Pettis out of whatever weird situation he’s currently in with the team.

But if that quarterback lacks the poise and leadership, Garoppolo displayed on Sunday, that 49er team isn’t making it through the playoffs.


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