Joe Montana, Steve Young and…Jeff Garcia? As one of football’s most illustrious franchises, the San Francisco 49ers would see its potent offense fall into the hands of a redheaded newcomer who had to contend with the greatness of his predecessors. But his greatest struggle would come off the field as he fought to prevent tragedy from ripping his family apart. This week’s edition of Fox Sports Net’s critically-acclaimed documentary series BEYOND THE GLORY profiles San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia on Sunday, June 22 at 5:00 PM.
For many quarterbacks, throwing an interception may seem like the end of the world, but 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia would come to know heartbreak much worse than a missed pass. The grandson of migrant Mexican farm workers, Garcia grew up on farmland in the agricultural community of Gilroy, Calif. with football in his blood. Both his father and grandfather were football coaches and the game would serve as therapy to help him recover from the darkest times of his life.
The eldest of five children, Garcia and his family were a tight knit crew who enjoyed the land they worked on. The future Pro Bowler, however, would lose two siblings before his ninth birthday. While on vacation in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., 6-year-old Jason fell into a river while hiking with Jeff and some friends. His lifeless body would be found hours later in deep water, lodged under a rock. Just as the family was healing, a little over a year following Jason’s death, five-year-old Kimberly fell out of the back of her father’s truck and was killed by an oncoming tractor.
Dark times faced the Garcia family as they tried to piece their lives together following the unbearable tragedies. Jeff turned to football and his father served as both coach and mentor guiding him to a solid junior season in high school. But, as fate would have it, Garcia suffered a broken arm the third game into his senior season sending college scouts looking the other way. Jeff’s father would take his tutelage even further, inviting Jeff to come and play for him at Gavilan Junior College, where he served as head coach. It is here that his football career would take off and thanks to the offense designed by his father, Jeff accepted a full scholarship to nearby San Jose State.
However, NFL coaches failed to realize Garcia’s potential out of college. Disappointed, he looked north of the border and decided to take an offer with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Using Canada as a training ground, Garcia was given a chance at the helm after CFL darling Doug Flutie was injured. He would never look back. He led his team to the Grey Cup, earning the respect of his teammates and fans alike. More importantly, he caught the eye of NFL coaches and executives, especially one he had befriended in college, legendary 49ers coach and newly appointed general manager Bill Walsh.
Throughout his career, Garcia learned to make the most of every opportunity handed to him. He struggled when thrust into the game as a replacement for an injured Steve Young. But his approach to the game was built around his previous heartbreaks and he learned that the football field was the only place to answer critics and face personal demons.
Those interviewed in addition to Garcia include former San Francisco head coach Steve Mariucci, current 49ers consultant Bill Walsh, teammates Derrick Deese and Garrison Hearst, sister Jenee, father Bob, mother Linda and grandfather “Red” Elder.
On entering the game when Steve Young went down with an injury: “I wasn’t going to have the wide-eyed look. I was gonna play like I had been there before. And when I stepped in that huddle, all eyes were on me.”
On the death of his brother and sister: “I really didn’t know how to react. There was just a huge loss, a huge void in my life by losing my brother and then losing my sister. For me personally, at that time in my life I can just remember putting a lot of blame on God and saying ‘Why us? Why this family?'”
On signing with the 49ers: “When I signed that contract, I wanted to share it with the world. I wanted to share it with everybody who had ever had a moment in my life, or shared a moment in my life with me.”
On Jeff dealing with Jason’s death: “He goes, ‘Mom, you know, I never got to say good-bye to Jason.’ That just broke my heart.”
On struggling during his first season as 49ers QB: “He was definitely shaken, crying, upset. He thought, ‘Did I make a bad decision? Can I really play this game? Am I an NFL player?'”
On facing Garcia and San Jose State as head coach of Stanford: “(He) could do things that were really out of the ordinary. He can move, he can avoid, he can find receivers. He had great instincts.”
On Garcia: “Jeff Garcia does not play for the money, although obviously, that’s important. He plays because he loves the game. He wants to play. He wants to succeed. This is an art form for Jeff.”
On the way Garcia plays football: “If you know Jeff and you know his family and you know their background and their history of all the tragedies that they’ve been through, you can realize and understand why throwing an interception is something that he can shake off real fast. It’s not the worst thing that’s ever happened to him. He’s very resilient.”
On the important role Garcia plays on the team: “If we (San Francisco) are going to win a Super Bowl, Jeff Garcia’s going to be the quarterback to take us there. That’s the way we see it.”
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