No one can honestly blame 49er Quarterback Jeff Garcia if he should look at all his worst NFL skeptics and critics, and lash out and say: “I told you so.” He has without a doubt chased away the never-ending barrage of questions regarding his ability to pick up where Steve Young left off.

No one could have imagined that a little known Canadian Football quarterback could come in and run the powerful high octane offense of the 49er’s, and at the same time earn himself a trip to last season’s NFL Pro Bowl. His tenure in the Canadian Football League meant little to those that played in the NFL.

Many professional football experts and former players doubted that this was the quarterback of the future after struggling through a murky (4-12) season in 1999. As the 2000 season came to an end even though the 49er defense scratched and clawed to find it’s own identity. Jeff Garcia took them to a (6-10) season and broke Joe Montana and Steve Young’s record in passing yardage. Coupled with an earned trip to the Pro Bowl along with two other teammates.

Jeff Garcia’s right arm became his greatest asset as he produced team-record 4,278- passing yards and 31 touchdown passes. His feet were just as amazing, they were responsible for generating a 5.8-yard rushing average and allowed him to regularly avoid pass rushers (he was sacked only 24 times in 561 pass attempts).

I have always been a stout Jeff Garcia supporter even back in 1999 when all the darkness was closing in around him, and as he struggled to find his passing arsenal all around him. He was a victim of Steve Young’s sudden exit from the playing field leaving the ship to be captained by a raw quarterback still striving to understand everything the West Coast Offense had to throw at him. I was there as others were when the quarterback controversy brewed when back-up quarterback Rick Mirer came in and Garcia was benched early in the season.

Jeff has seen and dealt with the good, the bad and the ugly all through his two years as a 49er. He has been under intense scrutiny and manipulation from those around him, as he enters his third season the future seems so much more bright.

When he thinks about all the talk that had been said and all the negativity that was thrown at him from all different angles, this is what he has to say: “That thought definitely has come up within me,” the San Francisco 49er’s quarterback said. But I’m not that type of person. I think I try to prove myself by actions on the field and carry myself as a gentleman off the field. There’s a lot of self-gratification in just being able to do it with my actions and not have to say it much with my words.”

The bright spotlights from on high will bear down on Jeff Garcia this season after a successful 2000 season. He will be expected to post the same if not better overall numbers to escape further sarcasm. Accomplishments in the past especially within the NFL are quickly discarded for the numbers of the present. Front office personnel, the coaching staff and fans alike will anticipate real success right from opening kickoff.

When he was asked have you had a chance to reflect on last year? He replied: “In a way I have. You know. I feel really positive about a lot of things that happened with this team last year. But more importantly I see so much more room for improvement and that really excites me.”

Garcia realizes that the reality of last season means little as to what will happen on the field this season. However the 49er’s have grown up a lot and matured in every area, with key additions via this year’s draft they are continuing their quest for excellence.

“It’s not about getting (to the Pro Bowl) one time, but it’s about making a continuous thing,” he said. “It’s always been my drive to overcome certain obstacles or negativity that have been thrown my way. I know that there have always been people who have doubted my abilities or whatever.”

“But I know what I’m capable of and I feel very strongly about what I’m capable of doing. And I realize there are ways to improve every time I’m out on the field. That’s where my focus is. Until I get close to being perfect as I can be I’m never satisfied. That’s just my drive.”

Accomplishments are milestones of success to Jeff Garcia; he is always trying to top the very last one he had already done. Making the Pro Bowl for the very first time in his lifetime was one of those. Jeff has always approached each and every game with the utmost urgency and attention to every detail.

Just one week before the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, he virtually camped out at the 49er’s training facility as he always does to review videotape of all of their games last season. He analyzed every aspect of his own performance, in the areas in which he excelled and those that needed work.

Every off-season he is there at the training facility every day dedicating his life to the leadership and direction of this sleeping powerhouse of an offense. He realizes the importance and the situation that has arisen, and that is for the 49er’s to build upon what they have achieved so far.

Jeff Garcia showed extraordinary pose and confidence, as he was able to read and predict defenses better than some of his critics believed. The assumptions were made when he struggled in place of the career ending injury Steve Young suffered early in the 1999 season. Garcia continued to show signs of that struggling in the early stages of the 2000 season, but made the adjustments necessary to come out of it.

What was most compelling was the fact that Garcia could quickly brush away a bad decision or a bad throw, and move on to the very next play. That in itself helped reduce many negative plays to a minimum.

There was one weakness that wrecked some havoc with Garcia in the fact he occasionally stayed glued to a play that was called even when the defensive alignment suggested to him that he should make adjustments.

I was most proud with Garcia’s ability to always make each and every play count for something; he did have his share of mistakes and failed throws. But he always adapted and came back with the same determination as when he first started. He showed a measure of competitiveness that resembled his mentor in Steve Young.

“I really believe that the point of the game where I need to improve, or continue to improve upon, is getting out of a play that could be disastrous and checking into possibly a better play,” Garcia said. “And those are the things that I’m going to work on this year.”

Garcia’s commitment to his physical being and his endurance are well recorded in his number of visits in the weight room, he spent many hours there much more than he did before and during the 1999 season. Garcia came out with solid durability as he posted remarkable numbers in the 2000 campaign.

“I’ve always been one who has been at the top as far as conditioning goes,” he said. “But I really felt I stepped it up a notch last season and took it to a new level and think that just helped me stay healthy throughout the season. I never felt banged up. I was recovering quickly after games. I felt good and strong throughout all 21 games (counting the pre-season).”

When you look at Jeff Garcia and wonder where all his football experience came from and how he was able to adapt so quickly, all you need to look at is his five seasons with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League (1994-1998).
They were a major part of his success on this side of the border. Just the certain experience of playing games and encountering a wide variety of circumstances, good and bad, did plenty to prepare him for the challenges he has had to face over the past season and a half.

“As much as I thought I could have been down here years ago, that experience in the Canadian Football League helped me get to the point where I am today,” said Garcia, who was the Most Valuable Player of the Canadian Football League’s 1998 Grey Cup. “It’s irreplaceable. You just understand the game that much more. And you’ve been able to make decisions on the field and be in tough situations in games.”

Certainly anyone can try and understand the ever-increasing responsibilities of a professional quarterback; they are the barometers of the team. Jeff Garcia is well aware of all the eyes that are upon him, and how he must once again deliver on that experience. He is a workaholic on and off the field, and radiates an aura of immense loyalty and commitment to making his team a playoff contender.

“Last year, I became more confident week in and week out. I just had that much more experience within the system, and with that came confidence. I was confident in my teammates around me. They were showing the confidence in me, and we were working together well as a team, especially as an offensive unit. And we were doing a lot of positive things out there on the field.”

One can just imagine how frustrated the offense must have been, to see points that were just recorded on the scoreboard to suddenly see the opposition come back and top that score time and time again. The 49er defense was in a state of learn by mistakes as they started as many as eight rookies at one time. The undermining of the offense at the hands of the ever-learning defense never effected the offense to just call it quits.

The defensive lapses that took place last season were enough to frustrate and send anyone in to tidal fits. However Jeff Garcia tried his best to put the blinders on and tell himself that this was a developing stage, the defense would be miles ahead next season from where it was today.

“We’re in this together as a team,” Garcia said. “I think it’s important to maintain a positive attitude and maintain mental toughness while you’re out there, especially if you’re going through some struggles or some down points during a game.”

The experience last year had to be as humbling as his baptism of fire in 1999, Jeff was able to filter out all the bad media attention, the shouts from the stands on the radio declaring that the 49er’s stink. He was able to adopt a mental frame of mind that urged him to stand up and take this team into a new dimension.

“We realized that our defense was young and we were going to need to put up some points in order to win some games. We had a few tough losses, but I think there were a lot of very competitive games and competitive moments on the field. And I think there were a lot of positive things to look forward to in the future.”

What Jeff Garcia has done this past season is anything short of remarkable; he played in all 16 games in 2000 after watching half of the previous season from the sidelines. Despite his lack of experience, he posted amazing numbers (4,278 passing yards and 31 touchdowns). Further, he added 414 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. All of which earned him a trip to the Pro Bowl.

The hype that surrounds any player after such great marks was not there for Jeff Garcia, you would think he would be able to reach headlines as often as the other quarterbacks in the NFL that are characteristically famous in the spotlight. Quarterbacks such as Kurt Warner, Daunte Culpepper and Peyton Manning. However he has battled his way into bragging rights in hanging within the top 10.

You cannot step out onto the playing field and post those kind of numbers if you do not know what you are doing, to say Garcia does not possess talent and football savvy is out of this world. He deserves the same attention as all the elite quarterbacks. And he will have that with one more spectacular season.

The big question that hangs around though is what about his surrounding cast of players? Terrell Owens is still around and one of the best receivers in the game, but the rest of the offense has been depleted. Jerry Rice was let go and signed with the Raiders. That move was most acceptable with regards to his age and his contract.

The situation with running back Charlie Garner was in most words unexplainable. Much like Garcia, Garner had a surprising season that resulted in a trip to the Pro Bowl. Following the season Garner told the 49er’s he wanted to return for a decent price. Amazingly the franchise gave Charlie the cold-shoulder and d he decided to sign with the Black and Silver across the Bay.

Garners price seemed to out of range and Bill Walsh questioned his durability to handle a full schedule, even though Garner had accomplished so much. And was an important wheel in the production of this offense.

As a result, San Francisco will enter 2001 with career-underachiever J.J. Stokes starting opposite of Owens, and a trio of running backs, all with major question marks, battling for the starting role.

Stokes seems to be the key in the hole so to speak as his ability to make a difference could have a deciding factor on Garcia having another great season or not. The enigmatic receiver was a star at UCLA, but his game has slowly dipped ever since.
I have confidence that he can get the job done but his actions on the field will have to serve as the deciding factor. He has been in battle with third string receiver Tai Streets for the opposite side of Owens, Streets has really made an impact so far.

The training camp battle at running back between Paul Smith, Garrison Hearst and Kevan Barlow will also be heated and should benefit Garcia. He does not need just one guy to step in and play great, he only needs the three of them to keep opposing defenses honest in keeping their eyes n them.

In another good gesture of good will Jeff Garcia made a visit just recently to Juvenile Hall’s Mt. McKinley School, where the excitement from both the teenagers and the adult staff there was overwhelming. Garcia made the visit on Friday, June 15th as banners hung in the hallways and the gymnasium saying: “Welcome Jeff Garcia.”

As Jeff was introduced and took center stage in front of a packed gym, dressed in khaki shorts and a white shirt. He told the youths that were gathered there that he was thankful for the opportunity to show them that, despite his status as a professional football player, he had life experiences the students could relate to.

“We’ve all had to deal with adversity in our lives. There’s a lot of people out there who didn’t believe I could do it,” Garcia said of his ascension from the Canadian Football League to the NFL.

His determination and self-confidence in himself was what helped him to succeed he replied. It was always an inner battle within him as he read the headlines and took pot shots as not being able to fill the big shoes of both Joe Montana and Steve Young.

“I’m not satisfied with just what I’ve done today. I’m always trying to get better and always trying to get over hurdles that have been put in front of me. I had a goal: to be the best possible football player that I could be. And I went out there to do that.”

At Gilroy High School, Gavilan Community College (where his father was coach and athletic director), San Jose State University and the professional ranks; Garcia said he went out and met the standards he set for himself and not what others had set for him.

Even though he had to deal with some of the same types of adversities as most of the young people that were in the gym, he said he dealt with pain of losing family members, which was difficult to overcome.

“You can make a difference in your life. If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you, too.”
His grandfather and father were both driving forces in his life. Garcia said he’s grateful to his grandfather, a one-time professional football player, who has been around him throughout his life. He added that his father was able to overcome adversity to get an education after coming to this country from Mexico.

All his life as mentioned earlier Garcia has had to live with the Steve Young halo over his head, one student asked him again how it felt stepping into the shoes of the legendary quarterback: “I wasn’t trying to be Steve Young,” Garcia maintained. “I was only trying to be myself. I was trying to go out there and keep as focused as possible: having success on the field, doing it my way, and ignoring all the negativity out there.”

He has battled the negative media attention for some time now and it continues to torment him from time to time. He has had to call upon those reserves deep down inside that got him to where he is today.

“People kind of look at me as a temporary quarterback to replace Steve Young,” said Garcia. “I’m capable of holding this job, not just now but for the next five years.”

When Garcia was asked as to which quarterback he admired while growing up he answered, “Joe Montana, Ken Stabler and Jim Plunkett.” Another student asked “if you didn’t play football, what would you do? Garcia became stumped but came through with an answer.

“I would like to mix business with sports: sports marketing or getting into a broadcast booth,” said Garcia, who earned a business marketing degree at San Jose State. “It’s something I’m going to have to think about soon.”

After the speech Garcia went out and threw some passes with threw students outside, they were elated to have caught a pass from Jeff Garcia. Garcia then met with 20 students from the Summit Center, a residential treatment program for formerly incarcerated juveniles, after the assembly. He had photos taken with each student and later joined them for a barbecue luncheon and a game of basketball.

Jeff served as a role model for these students and juveniles that have had brushes with the law; he was an inspiration for all of them as he told them his life stories and future expectations. Jeff encouraged all of them to look for the positives out of life and not to dwell on the negatives. He was a welcomed sight to theses young adults and I hope that they will be better for it, I know that I would be.

Now there has been a lot of talk of Jeff Garcia holding out of training camp because he has not received a contract for the long-term even though he had one spectacular season.

Both sides have publicly admitted and are confident that a long-term deal can be worked out, but it could become sticky as the training camp date draws near.

The problem: Garcia, rightfully, would like a long-term commitment that includes a hefty signing bonus; however, the 49er’s are virtually out of cap room to provide him any significant up-front money.

This distraction has General Manager Terry Donahue a little concerned, as he has been involved with trying to solve this impending decision, and bring it to a conclusion soon.

“I don’t think you want to do it as a practice, but I think, let’s use Jeff’s case, if it goes into the season a little bit, it isn’t going to go there because people want it to go there,” Donahue said. “It’s going to go there because of the circumstances and situation. As long as we eventually get it resolved, who cares? You’d rather get it resolved in October than in January. Do you want to spend time during the year negotiating? No, you want a player concentrating on football and not his contract. But sometimes the circumstances are such that you can’t help it.”

The 49er’s tendered Garcia at $389,000 in February to retain their exclusive negotiating rights to the two-year veteran. He was scheduled to earn just $312,500 last season, but the 49er’s rewarded him with an incentives package that ultimately paid him $2.95 million, all but his base salary counting on this year’s cap.

Basing that on what he earned last season, the $2.95 million figure would appear to be a starting point in negotiations this summer, but the 49er’s are about $2.3 million under the cap and they might need every bit of that money to sign their eight draft picks.

Even with all this hype Jeff still remains confident that the franchise will work out something and that he will be rewarded what he is really worth. Part of what makes the situation sticky also is that the team must decide the level of commitment it wants to make to Garcia who is 31-years old.

There have been some questions as to his holding up against so much pounding, already there are questions as to his success last season in people saying: How much of what he did last season was made possible by the offense or the players around him? How much of a drop-off would there be if the quarterbacks behind him were thrust into action?

There has been some jockeying around on both sides that a deal can be done to avoid a holdout by Jeff Garcia from training camp, although it seems unlikely that Garcia would take that route anyhow.

“The 49er’s want to better my situation and they’re going to open the door to hopefully negotiate something new,” said Garcia. “I’m going to try to take care of all the things I can handle on the field and hopefully my agent and the general manager of the 49er’s can take care of what needs to be done off the field.”

Steve Baker Garcia’s agent said he is in regular contact with John McVay, 49er’s director of football operations. Baker said he expected negotiations to pick up with General Manager Terry Donahue returning from vacation.

“In my conversations with the 49er’s, it’s been my impression we’re both equally committed to getting a deal done before camp,” Baker said.

The average frontline NFL quarterback is drawing an average annual salary of $5-6 million and the 49er’s, who also must sign an eight-member draft class, are just $2.5 million under the $67.4 million cap. What seems likely is an interim deal to be structured until more cap room is made later on in the season.

“We could continue talking from there,” Baker said. “We haven’t even really looked at a holdout as a realistic option. Jeff has worked very hard to get to where he is with the 49er’s. He’s excited about this season and he understands the importance of being in camp from Day One.”

I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a deal done for Jeff Garcia, he has demonstrated to so many and myself that he is very capable of leading the 49er’s right into the decade. He is a quarterback that has focus and immense determination with a spirit I have seen in many productive veteran quarterbacks, that is equal to none.

Jeff Garcia is the future of this franchise all the skeptics and critics can stand aside; it is Jeff Garcia that will be left standing in the final moment of victory. All he needs is the weapons at his disposal to get the job done, and a competent running game to diminish the pressure he will be facing on a constant basis.

Give him an inch and he will take you a mile is what he will do for you, this team needs him to build around and to prosper, other quarterback candidates are not an option but are insurance this must be what we accept.