They were standing on the winner’s podium after the NFC title game, confetti decorating their shoulders and Levi’s Stadium abuzz, when Jimmy Garoppolo saw John Lynch.
The San Francisco 49ers’ quarterback embraced the team’s general manager and then uttered something delightfully odd and abundantly telling.
“How cool was that?” Lynch recalled Garoppolo saying. “We only threw it eight times!”
Here was a Super Bowl-bound quarterback, a team leader, reveling in how little he had just done to put his team in that Super Bowl.
Players at Garoppolo’s position long have been cited for throwing their teams to championships. No quarterback, however, has been celebrated for handing off his team to a title.
Among all the reasons the 49ers are in Super Bowl LIV — a productive running game, a relentless defensive front, a steely ability to win tight games — they believe their unselfishness also has brought them here.
“We’ve got a bunch of guys playing for each other, period,” defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “That’s the key ingredient. … Doesn’t matter who gets the stats or anything. We’re just trying to go out there and win football games.”
It isn’t just team-first at this point for the 49ers, it’s team-only.
After his minimalist six-for-eight performance in the playoff victory over the Green Bay Packers, Garoppolo characterized the occasion as “a fun night.”
Lynch described All-Pro tight end George Kittle as “one of the most incredible football players I’ve ever seen,” and Kittle had caught just one pass.
Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, a key in-season addition, posed for selfies and danced with his teammates. He hadn’t caught a pass.
“No one’s hesitated,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “No one really worries about it. I’ve never had one meeting this year with one player saying, ‘Hey, I need the ball more’ or ‘We need to do this.’ Everybody has just been on a mission to try to win each game.”
After he was acquired in an October trade with the Denver Broncos, Sanders had two 100-yard receiving games and scored three touchdowns. He was targeted as many as nine times twice. But in the playoffs, he has only two receptions and three targets.
Sanders said he has zero concerns about those numbers.
“I’m not upset with that,” he said. “I told myself, ‘If I’m not going to get the ball, I might as well go out there and be a bully.’ I kind of turned into a bully. I started to enjoy blocking. Sometimes, I actually like that aspect of it.
“When they brought me over here, they knew what is in my heart. They know I’m going to be an incredible teammate and I am going to do whatever I have to do to help this team win.”
Patrick Mahomes, a third-year pro, is a youngster in the Kansas City Chiefs quarterbacks room that also features 11th-year pro Matt Moore and 10th-year pro Chad Henne.
“It’s really helped me be able to recognize coverages, diagnose stuff quickly on the field,” Mahomes, the NFL most valuable player in 2018, said Thursday. “Watching film with all these guys … has really helped me out a ton.
“I mean just really being out there, seeing blitzes I may not have seen before but they have and they’re able to help me with that stuff.”
Mahomes, 24, said the quarterbacks’ differences in age — Moore is 35, Henne 34 — does show up in humorous ways sometimes. For example, Mahomes said he and practice squad quarterback Kyle Shurmur, 23, once made a reference related to cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.
“They had no idea what it was,” Mahomes said, “and it was just because they were the grandpas of the room. They like talking about other things that we don’t quite understand, so I went back and watched movies like ‘Top Gun’ and ‘[National Lampoon’s] Christmas Vacation’ so I could understand some of the references they were saying in the room.”
Occasionally, the film study dates even further, Moore said.
“Chad and I will quote movies from even before our generation like ‘Caddyshack,’ ” Moore said. “Pat’s like, ‘What?’ I don’t know what that is.’ We’ll make him go watch it so he can come back and talk to us about it.
“It’s only on pop culture stuff. On football stuff, man, that kid is advanced as they come. He’s teaching me stuff.”
No sentimental journey
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said he was “humbled” by the outpouring of well wishes he has received from the NFL community and fans as he prepares for his second Super Bowl appearance in his 21nd season as a head coach.
“It’s not about one person at all,” Reid said.
Reid led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl XXXIX in the 2004 season, but lost to the New England Patriots. Sixteen years later, the 61-year-old Reid is back in the Super Bowl. And he has nine grandchildren.
“They keep me young and at the same time make me feel old,” he said. “It’s kind of like sweet and sour pork.”
The Chiefs advanced to the Super Bowl after overcoming a 24-0 deficit in a divisional-round victory over the Houston Texans, and a 10-0 deficit in the AFC title game against the Tennessee Titans.
“It’s hard on the heart,” Reid said of falling behind early. “You don’t want too many of those. I’m working on that.
“That’s not the position we want to be in. But if we’re there, we know how to take care of it and work through it.”