Rita Carvalho started the project in February 2022 thinking she was making a one-month commitment at most — Garoppolo had been widely expected to leave the 49ers in the offseason. Then he returned to the team in a surprise last-minute deal. Carvalho kept the bit going for over 400 days as Garoppolo played through the season with the team, winning the hearts of 49ers fans and some of the team’s star players.
On Monday, Carvalho posted the final drawing in her series, her 404th. Now she can finally put her digital pen down — and look forward to a full-time career as an artist, one launched by a viral stunt and a football fandom thousands of miles from home.
“I don’t even live there,” Carvalho told The Washington Post. “I’m from another country, and people just received me with open arms and supported what I do. I get to do what I love every day, and it’s because of them. So I’m very grateful for it.”
Carvalho, who lives in the seaside city of Porto, Portugal, knew little about American football two years ago. But she knew she wanted to be an artist. She studied fashion and interior design in college and was inspired by digital art she saw online drawn using the graphics app Procreate. When she graduated, she bought an iPad and a stylus. She just needed something to draw.
Around the same time, her boyfriend Filipe Sousa, a 49ers fan, introduced her to football. Sousa, searching for a way to hook Carvalho, told her about the team’s then-starting quarterback and suggested she root for Garoppolo.
“He thought I would like Jimmy because he was so handsome,” Carvalho laughed.
She started following the Niners at the end of the 2021 season, when Garoppolo led the team to the conference championship game. In February 2022, Sousa relayed the news to Carvalho that the quarterback was expected to leave the 49ers in the offseason, either by trade or release, with understudy Trey Lance waiting in the wings. She posted a sketch of Garoppolo on the 49ers fan subreddit thanking him for his time on the team under the name “Rita Oak.”
A commenter suggested she continue drawing Garoppolo every day until he was traded, a reference to a baseball fan’s December pledge to draw star outfielder Mike Trout every day until that year’s Major League Baseball lockout ended.
“I was like, ‘Okay, I can do that,’” Carvalho said. “I think it’ll be fun, and people will be entertained. It’s kind of just giving them a reason to smile during the offseason.”
That offseason passed without news of a trade. Carvalho continued to crank out her drawings, which she said took anywhere between one to five hours to complete. She and Sousa brainstormed ideas together, and Carvalho sketched Garoppolo in football scenes, memes and movie posters, sometimes roping in teammates like tight end George Kittle or fullback Kyle Juszczyk.
As the series grew, the football world began to take notice. Kittle changed his Twitter profile picture to one of Carvalho’s caricatures. A bemused Garoppolo gave her a shout-out when a reporter asked him about the drawings.
“It’s really cool, the uniqueness to it,” Garoppolo said in July. “Hopefully we’ll see how many more you’ve got to draw.”
In August, with the 2022 preseason already underway, the 49ers announced Garoppolo’s return for another year as a backup. Carvalho was at the mall when the news broke, and her phone flooded with messages asking if she’d continue. She announced her answer the next day with a drawing of Garoppolo in the place of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort in “The Wolf of Wall Street” scene in which he announces: “I’m not leaving! … The show goes on!”
Carvalho said she’s glad she did. Toward the end of San Francisco’s roller coaster season — in which Garoppolo surprisingly returned as a starter to lead a playoff push before suffering a season-ending injury — she was sponsored by a whiskey company to fly to the Bay Area for the first time and attend her first 49ers game at Levi’s Stadium.
On Monday, news came that Garoppolo — now a free agent — was expected to sign with the Las Vegas Raiders. Carvalho had planned her final drawing in the series well in advance: Garoppolo in the place of “The Shawshank Redemption” character Andy DuFresne celebrating his freedom in the rain. When she hit send on the final post on Monday, she said she felt emotional.
“It was a part of my day,” she laughed. “It’s kind of weird not doing it every day anymore.”
Carvalho is using her newfound spare time to plan her next act. The viral fame of her 49ers stunt has made her goal of being a full-time artist possible, she said. She already sells merchandise with her vast catalogue of sketches printed on mugs and clothing, and she said she’s planning to release a coffee-table book of the entire series, something fans on the 49ers subreddit have long clamored for. She’s brainstorming ideas for future collaborations, like drawing player cards for the 49ers or branching out to other sports and teams. She’s sticking with the 49ers as a fan, she assured, though she’ll root for Garoppolo on the Raiders, too.
Her dream? To draw the player graphics some networks use on their football broadcasts when announcing a touchdown.
“Every time we’re watching a game and a new illustration comes up, my boyfriend’s like, ‘Someday, that’s going to be us,’” Carvalho said.
Carvalho has one surprise left for 49ers fans: a drawing the organization commissioned from her a year ago when Garoppolo was expected to be traded. They shelved it after Garoppolo returned, but the team told her they plan to publish it on their social media accounts soon, Carvalho said. It would be the first time her art appears on an official NFL account — and far from the last, she hopes.
“It’s everything,” Carvalho said. “Just people seeing like ‘Okay, she really is an official artist.’”