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A perfect match? Jimmy Garoppolo and the Bay Area's instant embrace

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It took all of about one minute and seven seconds last season for a large number of Bay Area fans to embrace San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

That's how long it took for Garoppolo to enter the game against the Seattle Seahawks, run for 4 yards, complete a pass for 8 and then evade pressure to throw his first touchdown as a 49er, a 10-yard strike to Louis Murphy.

Now, he’s got a snow leopard named after him.

That three-play sequence on Nov. 26, 2017 capped an 11-point defeat. That part, the Niners’ 10th loss of the season anyway, is mostly inconsequential. But Garoppolo's quick cameo immediately gave Niners fans something they desperately craved: Hope. Hope that the 49ers were on the path back to respectability and that Garoppolo would be the guy to end the team's nearly two-decade search for another franchise quarterback.

In the ensuing months, the Bay Area's love for Garoppolo has been readily apparent despite Garoppolo's attempts to maintain a low profile. And now that Garoppolo has had time to do something other than bury his head in a 49ers playbook, he's taking advantage of the chance to return the love to his new home.

"It’s exciting," Garoppolo said. "… (I'm) really getting to know certain areas of the Bay a lot better. It’s cool. I never got to do that last year. I was pretty much (at the facility) 24 hours a day. It’s nice to get out and experience some of it."

After replacing C.J. Beathard as the starter in December, Garoppolo led the Niners to five straight wins to close last season. That was enough for the Niners to show Garoppolo how much they care about him, in the form of a five-year, $137.5 million contract in February.

The Bay Area's instant love for Garoppolo can be seen and experienced in myriad ways, big and small, from San Francisco to San Jose and points in between. It's also grown exponentially, considering all that's happened since he took his first snap with the team.

To wit, within Garoppolo's first month as the starter, La Rocca's Corner Bar in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco began advertising that Garoppolo would be at their bar looking for a date, a clever effort to capitalize on both Garoppolo's burgeoning popularity and his movie star good looks.

In April, the San Francisco Zoo took things a step further, naming one of its resident snow leopards after the 49ers quarterback. "Jimmy G" the snow leopard followed in the footsteps of a hippopotamus named for former Giants pitcher Brian Wilson in 2011, a rhinoceros named for former 49ers guard Alex Boone in 2013 and a pair of Bongo calves named for the Giants' Madison Bumgarner and Hunter Pence in 2014.

Those other players all had spent at least a couple of seasons with their Bay Area teams before an animal was named after them, but Garoppolo has perhaps the most fitting animal namesake. After all, the snow leopard is known for its rarity, having first been photographed in the wild in 1971. One could argue a franchise quarterback has been equally elusive for the 49ers.

Garoppolo's popularity has extended to some of the Bay Area’s other pro teams. After 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan opened the locker room doors for the San Jose Sharks at a playoff game, Garoppolo said he hoped to get to a game, too. The Sharks wasted little time reaching out to make it happen with defenseman Brent Burns taking to Twitter to invite Garoppolo to a game with the added bonus of a promise of providing Garoppolo with oil for his growing beard.

With left tackle Joe Staley and former Niners lineman Zane Beadles in tow, Garoppolo was the honorary door opener for Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals against the Las Vegas Golden Knights. He even showed up on the scoreboard to fire up the playoff crowd.

"It’s weird," Staley said of constant attention Garoppolo draws. "It honestly is. It’s like ‘Gosh, I don’t even want to hang out with you.’ Because (all the cameras) are everywhere. Everybody is watching him but he’s a good dude.”

Garoppolo's offseason adventures even have other celebrities getting in on the clamor. On May 12, Niners tight end George Kittle had a connection for tickets to a Bellator mixed martial arts event in San Jose and brought Garoppolo, receiver Trent Taylor and Shanahan and his son.

At the event, Garoppolo, Kittle and Shanahan found themselves sitting near 50 Cent and eventually posed for a photo with him, a photo the rapper later sent out to his more than 10 million Twitter followers.

Even movie star Jeremy Renner, a diehard Niners fan, couldn't help but jump on board. At the NBA Finals, Renner told the San Jose Mercury News he hadn't yet met Garoppolo but was looking forward to it.

"Finally we got someone," Renner said. "Finally!"

Of course, with Garoppolo's escalating fame comes an increasing amount of attention when he goes out. Asked during the team's offseason program if he'd spent much time out with Garoppolo, center Weston Richburg joked that he wasn't "high profile" enough to hang out with his quarterback. And with Garoppolo's every move being documented by cameras, a night out can turn into an appearance on TMZ, as it did outside a bar in San Jose following the Bellator event.

While Garoppolo is enjoying settling into his new home, he's also made it clear that he isn't too big on going out and creating a scene. Garoppolo is just as content to spend a night playing the popular video game Fortnite or to watch NBA games somewhere with his teammates.

But still …

"It’s wild," Kittle said. "He likes to have a fun time but he’s super professional and he understands that. So we are also really good in that we usually go out in a big group and we are all about protecting the team. It’s just weird because I have never really experienced that before. You look around the corner and there’s a guy with his camera out and you’re like ‘Oh yeah, Jimmy is over there.’"