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Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

‘A year ago, I was learning how to run again’: Jimmy Garoppolo’s journey to Super Bowl LIV

Jan 31, 2020 at 8:56 AM--

Over 16 months after suffering a season-ending knee injury, Jimmy Garoppolo has his 49ers competing for a Lombardi.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan knew what was happening as his franchise quarterback was down just off to the side of the football field. Jimmy Garoppolo had gambled, trying his best to gain more yards in a ferocious comeback attempt at Arrowhead Stadium.

With his San Francisco 49ers in the red zone, Garoppolo attempted to scramble on the left side of the field but was hit hard by Chiefs cornerback Steven Nelson.

Just like that, his season was over. Garoppolo suffered a torn ACL.

Shanahan didn't have much time to think about it. There was still a game to call. As Garoppolo was carted off the field, the 49ers coach was planning the plays for backup quarterback C.J. Beathard.

But Shanahan had to know that his team's chances of competing that season plummeted that afternoon.

San Francisco ended up losing the game 38-27, but the scoreboard didn't tell the whole picture. Also lost were a whole lot of hopes by fans, who seemingly checked out soon after. They'd be back for the NFL Draft. That shows how important Garoppolo is for the 49ers' success, which is ironic considering all of the criticism the quarterback has endured this season.

Shanahan is 21-5 with Garoppolo at the helm of his offense. He is 4-20 without the quarterback.

It's ironic that the injury occurred against the Kansas City Chiefs. That's the opponent that forced a long and difficult road back. Over 16 months later, Garoppolo will face the Chiefs again — this time, in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

"The knee's come a long way; it definitely has," Garoppolo said on Thursday. "I probably haven't thought about it since about halfway through the year. It's just crazy, going through the entire process. I mean, about a year ago, I was learning how to run again."

Despite the narrative that has been cast on the quarterback, Garoppolo improved as the season progressed. He showed up in big games when asked, and led the offense when he had to take a backseat to guys like Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman. It's probably no coincidence that Garoppolo's play improved the further he distanced himself from that devastating knee injury.

Garoppolo finished the season with 3,978 passing yards, which ranks fourth in franchise history. Only Steve Young and Jeff Garcia rank above him. That's right, not even the great Joe Montana ever passed for as many yards. Although, he came close a couple of times.

Garoppolo's journey has taught him a lot. You can't take anything for granted. That includes being in the Super Bowl.

"When you look back on everything, it really makes you realize how special this moment is," Garoppolo continued. "It's one of those things you can't really take it for granted. You don't know if you're ever going to be back here, so you've got to make it count while you can."

Sixteen months could separate the quarterback from the worst moment of his career to the best. The 49ers have adopted the slogan "From Mobile to Miami," going from coaching the Senior Bowl a year ago to the Super Bowl. Garoppolo has a chance to go from broken to Lombardi.

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