MOBILE, Ala. — Jimmy Garoppolo stood near midfield at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., this week, surrounded by reporters, agents and NFL personnel.
All they wanted to ask him about was Tony Romo, the former record-setting Eastern Illinois quarterback now leading the Dallas Cowboys.
After all, Garoppolo just finished his career at Eastern as the record-breaking quarterback dead set on some day guiding an NFL team.
But there’s a different former Eastern quarterback Garoppolo would like to shake hands with.
“Hopefully I’ll get to meet coach (Sean) Payton one day and we’ll talk about the records and everything and joke about it,” Garoppolo said.
Yes, the records plural.
Whatever records Romo didn’t own from his time in Charleston, Ill., Payton did.
And now they’re Garoppolo’s, this year’s Walter Payton Award winner, the FBS equivalent of the Heisman.
Total offense in a season? Check – Garoppolo twice broke Payton’s 1984 record of 3,661 yards, his 4,729 yards this past season the most ever.
Passing yards in a season? Check - Garoppolo’s 4,729 yards this past season bested Payton’s 1984 total of 3,843.
Passes completed in a season? Check – Garoppolo’s 337 in 2013 topped Payton’s 270 in 1984.
Touchdowns in a season? Check – Garoppolo’s 51 this year were 19 more than Romo’s 2002 total.
Passing attempts in a season? Check – Garoppolo tossed the ball 540 times in 2012, more than Payton’s 494 in 1985.
Then there are the career records Garoppolo broke – total offense (12,835 to Payton’s 10,298), passing yards (12,118 to Payton’s 10,655), passing attempts (1,618 to Payton’s 1,408), passing completions (1,009 to Payton’s 756) and touchdown passes (116 to Romo’s 85).
Now Garoppolo is fighting to get into the NFL as a small school quarterback. He was invited to the Senior Bowl only after Alabama’s AJ McCarron withdrew from the game.
“The opportunity, it was an easy decision to come here,” Garoppolo said. “The best players are here and you want to go up against the best players and be compared to the best players.”
Garoppolo said the Saints met with him "a bunch" already this offseason at the East-West Shrine Game.
It was there that he continued to make a name for himself, earning the Most Outstanding Offensive player after going 9-for-14 for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Still, he continues to get questions about Romo no matter where he goes. It was cool at first, he said, and no matter what, it’s flattering.
“Now I just kind of expect it,” Garoppolo said. “It’s fun. It’s a great comparison. He’s a very successful NFL quarterback. That’s what I’m trying to be. It’s nice to have that comparison.”