NEW YORK – So what was Tom Brady's potential replacement like as a child?
"He was adorable," said Jimmy Garoppolo's father, Tony.
Brady can never be truly replaced in New England, but Bill Belichick placed a call Friday night to a 22-year-old quarterback from Tony Romo's old school who at least looks the part. Garoppolo has the blend of sweetness and seriousness that has enchanted Brady fans for years. One of his elementary school teachers said he was so nice and trustworthy he could grow up to be a priest.
He might have to pray hard, though. Coming after Brady, who still has years left though he'll be 37 next season, will be tougher in New England than coming after Derek Jeter will be in New York. Garoppolo, drafted by the Pats late in the second round on Friday, has a similar crisp release and the matinee looks, but he'll also need the kind of sixth sense that has separated Brady from every other quarterback in history save a handful. Belichick asked Garoppolo on the phone, "Do you want to be a Patriot?" The answer was an enthusiastic yes, and he called backing up Brady "a great opportunity" even though playing Aaron Rodgers to Tom Terrific's Brett Favre is something that would make many quarterbacks squeamish.
"He wants the pressure," Tony said of his son. "He wants to be expected to do a lot."
Jimmy Garoppolo's earliest memory of Brady is when he drove the Pats down the field in the 2001 Super Bowl to set up Adam Vinatieri's title-winning kick. Garoppolo was 9 at the time. While Brady was cementing his legend in Foxboro, Garoppolo was playing high school ball and getting only four offers from FCS schools. He chose Eastern Illinois in part because he felt the coaching staff was honest with him and other schools were telling him lies. Four games into his freshman season, what was supposed to be a redshirt year turned into a starter's job and Garoppolo got obliterated.
"It was pretty rough," he said.
Soon, though, he was breaking Romo's career records for passing yards and touchdowns. His decision to attend the East-West Shrine Game and the Senior Bowl paid off huge, as an unheard-of passer suddenly became a hot name in draft talks. He held his pro day at nearby Northwestern because Eastern Illinois doesn't have an indoor facility and his stock skyrocketed again. Garoppolo signed with Tom Brady's agent, and now he's Tom Brady's teammate.
"Jimmy always liked following him and liked his style," said Tony, who has that unmistakable "Da Bears" Chicago-area accent. "We were Bears fans but we've changed colors real quick. If we were to pick someone to follow, he's perfect."
There is an edge to Jimmy Garoppolo, though, much like there's an edge to Brady. Tony Garoppolo is an electrician, while Jimmy's mother, Denise, is a chef. The work ethic has been passed down to their four boys, and like Brady with his athletic older sisters, Garoppolo learned from his older brothers how to compete. When he was in seventh grade, and the local football rules prohibited anyone heavier than 165 pounds from participating, Jimmy maintained a strict diet to keep his weight at 165 on the dot.
"A lot of peanut butter," Denise said.
When he got to Eastern Illinois, he roomed with five defensive players. And clearly he could stand in the pocket and take a hit, which happened a lot during his two-win freshman season. Jim Harbaugh, who came to scout Garoppolo during his pro day, quickly noticed the quarterback had "some fire." But he's got some ice, too. On Friday night, he said the trait he loved most about Brady was his "poise in the pocket."
Garoppolo will have to have more than poise in the pocket to get one of the biggest jobs in sports in a few years. But he gets to learn from one of the most poised athletes in NFL history – another guy from a Midwest school who didn't get drafted that high. There are far worse situations to be in.
Garoppolo was the final player to hold a press conference here at Radio City on Friday night. There weren't many reporters left to grill him, so many of the seats were filled by Garoppolo's three brothers, his parents and a bunch of his teammates who came from Eastern Illinois to cheer him on. When Garoppolo finished answering all the questions, his contingent cheered rowdily as if he'd thrown a touchdown pass. He laughed from the dais as he stood up.
His career as Tom Brady's possible heir was off to an adorable start.