Jeff Garcia is making the grade

Oct 1, 2000 at 12:00 AM

The life after San Francisco 49er Quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young has come to a head. Who is the next budding superstar to lead a dynasty now demoted to a rebuilding and often called one-step above a new expansion team.

It is Canadian Football Superstar Jeff Garcia born in Gilroy, California and a graduate of San Jose State he joined the 49er’s when signed on (02-16-99) as a free agent. Jeff Garcia spent five years with the Canadian Football League leading the Calgary Stampeders to the 1998 Grey Cup Championship while earning MVP honors.

He finished his CFL career with 16,449 passing yards and 111 touchdowns, completed 61.7% of his passes also rushed for 2,370 yards.

He was in all essence 49er material as a gifted and accurate mobile quarterback one that 49er General Manager Bill Walsh decided to give a shot to was. His elusiveness is well documented his ability to avoid a sack also equally impressive, his ability to make something happen out of nothing was a positive and throwing on the run while being chased a sight to behold.

Jeff Garcia came into the 49er franchise to provide an insurance policy to then All-Pro legend Steve Young; he ultimately won the back-up position with little competition and was living a dream to learn the ropes behind the superstar leader of the 49er offensive monster Steve Young.

Little did he realize that he would be thrust into the starting role in a mere instant as Quarterback Steve Young suffered the most severe concussion that would ultimately force him to end his career just as the 1999 season got underway.

So in comes a young and budding savior with tremendous shoes to fill and mountain-tops of expectations, Jeff Garcia weathered the storm well he had his struggling moments being benched eventually and replaced by then QB Steve Stenstrom and after his failure came back to take the reins in the fourth quarter of the remaining season and performed brilliantly in four games he passed for over 300 yards and had a 77.9% overall quarterback rating.

For a first gig in the NFL, this is not so bad. Garcia is in an offense that suits his talents. He has an outstanding supporting cast on offense. And, perhaps best of all, he has to deal with zero expectations. If Garcia leads the team to seven victories this season, it will have to be considered a success.

However many 49er fans have doubts as to how Jeff will do, some even want immediate change feeling we need more of a veteran leader to steer this franchise in the right direction, saying someone from the CFL does not cut the mustard.

I am totally against such an idea, Garcia proved a lot to me last year in the immediate presence that he is growing and learning a offense that develops his instincts and his style of versatility that will only enhance the west-coast offense in his type of playmaking.

“I expect more consistency (because of) the fact he’s better prepared, more practiced, been here longer and knows more about what were doing,” Mariucci said. “He’s got a good year under his belt, and so that should lend itself to more consistency. That’s what were looking for out of the position.”

“He knows the job is his and we have to make his job easier for him,” Rice said. “We have to make plays for him when the ball’s in the air.”

In comes the 2000 season a season we all knew would be rough and one with the sense that a playoff run would be virtually non-feasible. Lots of weight has been applied to Jeff Garcia as he will and has taken the weight and put it on his shoulders, as a true quarterback does in the NFL.

In their first loss to Atlanta Garcia completed 23 passes, threw for three touchdowns, and guided them on four scoring drives. He compiled a quarterback rating of 100.8%, fourth highest of any quarterback on that day.

Still there were rumblings about his performance. He didn’t spot open receivers, he missed passes, and he threw a devastating bone-headed interception that was returned for a touchdown.

Why do we berate someone that is essentially still adjusting to the whole picture of playing in the NFL? Garcia deserves the same understanding and patience that even Indianapolis Quarterback Peyton Manning was given in his first year. Even though he has CFL experience the tempo and speed of the game is vastly different.

Should Garcia throw one interception for every three touchdown passes, no one would complain. If his quarterback rating were more than 100 this season, that would be outstanding.

Everyone knows what the real loss in Atlanta was all about it was about a game with no pass rush to Quarterback Chris Chandler, and his outstanding passing completions to his receivers against a sponge-like rookie 49er secondary.

Garcia being a losing quarterback, he comes under the magnifying glass with intense scrutiny where all his poor decisions are unmercifully examined. Even after all of this his mistakes are not all that bad.

Shortly after this game Quarterback Jeff Garcia was bashed on Bay Area radio call-in shows after throwing just one interception, even though it was a costly one resulting in a touchdown.

The fan reaction to this game was so negative and overwhelming that Garcia’s father, Bob, a long-time junior college football coach, called into the radio program to speak his mind. Jeff later talked to his father pleading with him not to ever say anything again, due to the fact he must go this alone, silent moral support was all he expected from his dad.

Jeff Garcia has found his primary target as of late and that is Fullback Fred Beasley. They already have combined together for multiple touchdowns, however it disturbs me that Tight End Greg Clark is not being used to his fullest potential either.

He needs to be more of a integral part of the game plan especially with a fierce pass rush, he is able to become the safety valve Garcia needs to look more at, Beasley is an outstanding running back/fullback but Clark needs to make most of the receptions in short and intermediate areas.

In the second game with Carolina, having them at home was a bonus considering our winning tradition there, however we soon found out that a tradition was meant to be broken.

Carolina Quarterback Steve Beuerlein picked holes in the 49er secondary, which played very soft zone coverage for three touchdowns and 364 yards passing. The Panthers collected first downs on their first four plays from scrimmage, scored on four of their first five possessions and never looked back.

Here the Quarterback Controversy came to a head as the 49er’s trailed 28-0 at halftime, Garcia was thrown up against a wall forced to play catch-up after the 49er defense was kept on the field, due to time of possession and dissected by veteran QB Steve Beuerleins accurate passing arm to his quality ill covered receivers for huge gains.

The young secondary weakened by the absence of veteran safety Lance Schulters (ankle) and game-day injuries to back-up safety Zack Bronson (stinger) and cornerback Monty Montgomery (calf) played soft and paid the price.

Still it was Garcia’s head everyone called for, Mariucci benched Garcia and started Backup Quarterback nomad Rick Mirer in the start of the fourth quarter, Mirer completed 10 of 20 passes for 126 yards and found his greatest success aiming at forgotten receiver J.J. Stokes. Mirer’s 19-yard completion to Stokes helped set up a 17-yard scoring pass to the big wideout with 11:26 remaining, making it 38-14, Carolina.

Later, a 21-yarder to Stokes led to a 2-yard Beasley touchdown plunge with 1:44 remaining. But even after all this Mirer was still sympathetic to Jeff Garcia’s cause and even though he was thrilled to have a chance to play, he showed vocal support to Jeff.

Mariucci defended his decision that Mirer was brought in to generate a spark, to get the offense going, If he had to do it again he would, however that strong tone would soften as days went by.

Even though this created a controversy we must understand and evaluate why Rick Mirer was so successful being that he was playing against a second-string defense as the Panthers had such a commanding lead they substituted for the first string.

“I don’t feel I’ve played poorly that it deserves a switch,” Garcia said after watching film of San Francisco’s 38-22 loss to Carolina. “I feel that I’ve earned that position, and I don’t think there should be a change; it bothers me that the door was left open.”

Neither quarterback is a stranger to controversy. Garcia was briefly benched in favor of Steve Stenstrom last season, while it has been years since Mirer, the second overall pick in the 1993 draft, had a secure starting job.

“I want to play, but not at somebody else’s expense,” said Mirer. “That can go either way real fast. As much as anything, I have a compassion for what Jeff is going through.”

Going into Game Three Head Coach Steve Mariucci decided to stick with Garcia for all the right reasons, I went through some soul-searching as much I’m sure Mariucci had to after his decision to bring Mirer in that day with Carolina.

I firmly believe that this was damaging in Garcia’s philosophical approach to the game, and that he was mentally distraught with the thoughts of sitting out once again a few games.

“Garcia has given his all for the past year and has earned his position as the starter,” Mariucci said. “We also are pleased with with the play of Rick Mirer, who has shown an ability to run the offense when given the opportunity, but at this time, we feel that Jeff is better prepared to start and play well.”

Into Game Three at the World Super Bowl Champion St. Louis Rams Garcia again defined himself as he completed 21 passes in 34 attempts for 290 yards and three touchdowns. He also has answered the critic’s charges he cannot throw a long ball hooking up with a 38,32 and 23 yard pass completions.

Even though we lost that game 41-24 we were able to contend and stay with them all the way to the fourth quarter, all the players played hard, now all we have to do is start playing smarter.

“I want to win games, and I’m not really going to feel great until I help this team win,” Garcia said. “I think there are positives that took place today. I thought the team fought hard throughout the whole game, but it’s just that in the second half, we didn’t do enough to give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

Game Four at Dallas Garcia comes away with a hero’s welcome as the 49er’s go into Texas Stadium to not only beat their arch old rivals but to renew it and turn up the heat as Wide Receiver Terrell Owens returns a Garcia thrown touchdown to the middle of the field on their star and looks up with arms stretched wide open.

He did it again in the fourth quarter creating an unsportsmanlike hit from safety George Teague in defiance of his public display, and costing us 15 yards.

Jeff Garcia was 16-for-26 passing for 178 yards and four touchdowns, and handed the ball to Running Back Charlie Garner who tore open the Dallas defensive front seven to go 201 yards in this game.

All quarterback controversies aside this is a time of patience and maturity, I believe Jeff Garcia can become a premier athletic quarterback within a certain time frame; we have not allocated that time sufficiently as of yet. He needs and deserves all the support from this 49er franchise from the front office to the coaching staff to the fan-based support in the stands and through the airwaves.

Jeff Garcia is a athlete with a distinct purpose, he does have to stand in shoes of greatness and unbelievable talent from the likes of Joe Montana and Steve Young, no one not even he will be able to fill those enormous feet.

However he is an athlete bent on making this team his own, and has an intense fire within to win and win at all costs, to me that is one heck of a start.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


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