MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The expression “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat” may fit nowhere better than the National Football League’s championship game.
A team that wins the contest is given all the spoils of a great champion on sport’s biggest stage. A team that loses is left with despair and the weight of history in which the participants will never quite shake.
For Arlington Heights native Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers, it’s the latter, as he deals with the pain that 54 other teams have had when dreams of a Super Bowl title disappear in confetti as they walked off the field at Hard Rock Stadium.
“It’s tough. Never had this feeling before, so it’s kinda an unreal feeling, but it is what it is,” said the quarterback, and his walk-off the turf is a painful as the others thanks to the circumstances of the defeat.
The former Rolling Meadows High School and Eastern Illinois quarterback overcame a first half deficit to scored 17 unanswered points to grab a 20-10 lead heading into the fourth quarter. But that wouldn’t hold as the Chiefs’ offense finally found their stride while San Francisco’s attack began to slow.
After Kansas City took the lead, Garoppolo had a shot to hit an open Emmanuel Sanders down the middle near the endzone but overthrew him on the post route. A sack on fourth down near midfield would end that drive, and after the Chiefs added another score, Garoppolo was picked by Kendall Fuller to seal the game.
Garoppolo was 3-for-11 for 36 yards and an interception in the final 15 minutes.
“Nothing felt different, we just didn’t make the plays we normally make,” said Garoppolo of the fourth quarter. “Got to give them some credit; the Chiefs, they’re a good team. They played a helluva game, and they were the better team today.”
It puts a damper on a great season for Garoppolo along with the 49ers, who both had great changes in fortune from 2018. After tearing his ACL early last season, he led the team to a 13-3 record and the NFC’s No. 1 overall seed, completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns compared to 13 interceptions. In the NFC Playoffs, he took on more of a manager role with the offense thanks to San Francisco’s potent ground attack that helped the team to wins over Minnesota and Green Bay.
The latter gave the team their first NFC Championship since the 2012 season and just their second since the 49ers’ Super Bowl win in the 1994 season.
“It’s been wild,” said Garoppolo of the past year. “First full season as a starter, coming back from the ACL. It’s a lot of things wrapped into one. So there are some positives but at the end of the day, it’s all about wins and losses.”
After this one, the task of getting back to this point for redemption will be a tough one, with only five teams returning the year after losing the game. Only the 1972 Dolphins and the 2018 Patriots were able to get a victory after losing the year before, but Garoppolo points to a young core as a reason for hope.
“This is an incredible team, unlike any other team that I’ve been apart of,” said Garoppolo. “I would trade anyone one of those guys for anything.”
Maybe next year this special group and their quarterback can be on the “thrill” side of the big game instead of the “agony” of Sunday night.