THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Jared Goff was a 7-year-old playing Pop Warner football, torn between two jersey numbers: 12 or 16?
"My dad was saying, 'Oh, Joe Montana is 16,'" Goff, now the Los Angeles Rams' second-year quarterback, recalled earlier this week. "I had no idea. I was 7, and I was like, 'All right, I'll wear 16.' And just never left it. Then as time went on, I obviously learned about Joe Montana, and it made it even more special."
Goff was born and raised in Novato, California, in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. His father, former major league catcher Jerry Goff, turned him into an ardent 49ers fan and taught him all about Montana. On Thursday night, when his Rams face the 49ers on the road, Goff will finally get an opportunity to start a regular-season game at Levi's Stadium, home to the team he grew up rooting for.
Goff never got that chance last year, while inactive for the Monday Night Football opener of his rookie season.
He no longer cares to look back.
"You guys keep wanting to talk about last year, man," Goff said. "We're done with that. We're on to this year. Last year was a whole different deal, and this year is exciting."
Different, indeed. Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, entered the NFL as a raw 21-year-old and didn't start his first game until Week 11. He lost all seven of his starts, putting up a 22.2 Total QBR that ranked as the NFL's worst. But now he's operating under a scheme that is a lot more friendly for the quarterback. His offensive line is better, particularly on his blind side, and his receiving corps is significantly more talented.
Goff himself is older, wiser. It showed in the first two games of 2017, while he completed 36 of 54 passes for 530 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Goff is averaging 9.91 yards per attempt, which ranks second in the NFL and stands as the highest by a Rams passer through his first two team games since Hall of Famer Kurt Warner in 2000, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Last year, Goff averaged 5.31 yards per attempt, the worst among 33 quarterbacks with at least 200 passes. But Goff was a lot better in his first game this season (21-of-29 passing for 306 yards against the short-handed Colts) than he was in his second (15-of-25 passing for 224 yards against the aggressive Redskins). He ended the latter game with an interception, the start of what could've been a game-tying drive.
"If there's ever a week to have a short memory," Goff said, "it's this one."
The 49ers' defensive line features Arik Armstead, DeForest Buckner and Solomon Thomas, three former Pac-12 players Goff is very familiar with from his time at Cal.
"I've been hit by them in the past, so hopefully I don't get hit by them in the future," Goff said. "This week especially."
Goff's Cal Bears host USC on Saturday, and Goff said the trash talk has already begun in his locker room. Goff won't be able to attend that game, however. He'll be back in Southern California by then, either rejoicing a win or lamenting a loss. Levi's Stadium will be packed with his family and friends, but Goff doesn't think much of it. Through his college days, he became accustomed to playing in front of them all.
Still, though, it's the Niners -- in their stadium, with that number.
"It'll be big," said Goff, who still hasn't had a chance to meet Montana. "It’ll be cool. It’ll be fun for myself just being home and probably seeing a lot of people. But at the same time, it’s just like any other game. I’m going to go out there and do the best I can to hopefully get a win.”