Jeff Garcia is one of the most remarkable stories to come out of the Bay Area. When he was young, his family suffered immeasurable tragedy and he used football as the driving force to pull his family out of the doldrums. Overlooked and under recruited his entire career, Garcia prevailed and eventually became a star in the NFL. This is Jeff Garcia’s story.
Jeff Garcia was born on February 24, 1970 in Gilroy, California. His childhood was less than idyllic; by the age of eight, two of his siblings had died from horrible accidents. While his parents soon had two more daughters, Garcia felt the weight that grief had brought his family. He made a commitment to the game of football to bring his family some respite during those insufferable times.
He played well at Gilroy High School and played defensive back in the Charlie Wedemeyer All Star Game after graduating in 1988. He didn’t get any offers from any major colleges and traveled to nearby Gavilan College where his dad coached the football team. In his lone season at Gavilan, Garcia passed for 2,038 yards and 18 touchdowns while running for an additional 584 yards and four touchdowns. He earned junior college honorable mention All-American honors after the season and transferred to San Jose State for the 1990 season.
Upon joining the Spartan's football team, Jeff Garcia wasted little time in making a name for himself. Splitting time with Matt Veatch in 1991, Garcia threw for 1,519 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. San Jose State went 6-4-1 that year and the future looked bright with Garcia as the full time starter.
Garcia completed 56.3% of his passes in his first year as the Spartan’s full time starter. He passed for 2,418 yards, 15 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while adding seven touchdowns on the ground for good measure. The Spartans improved to 7-4 in 1992 but never came close to defeating nationally ranked California and Stanford.
Jeff Garcia’s senior year was disappointing, with the Spartans winning just two games. However, not all was lost. Garcia nearly upset a 23rd ranked Stanford squad which was coached by the legendary coach Bill Walsh. Garcia impressed Walsh enough that he unknowingly opened the door to the NFL. He finished his senior season with 2,608 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.
Following his collegiate career, Garcia played in the East-West Shrine Game, winning it for the West. His grandfather, Maurice “Red” Elder, had previously played in the game, making them the first grandfather-grandson duo to play in the East-West Shrine Game. Despite his leadership abilities, Jeff Garcia was not selected in the 1994 NFL Draft and instead migrated to Canada.
Undrafted in the NFL, Jeff Garcia signed with the Calgary Stampeders of the CFL. He learned a lot as Doug Flutie’s backup and exploded in 1995, his first year as the starter. Completing 63.2% of his passes, he passed for 3,358 yard and 25 touchdowns. Equaling his touchdown total from 1995, Garcia threw for 4,225 yards in 1996. He completed 62.5% of his passes for 4,573 yards and 33 touchdowns in 1997.
He led the Stampeders to a Grey Cup championship in 1998 and became a legend in Canada. He completed 62.8% of his passes for 4,276 yards and 28 touchdowns that season and caught the eye of the NFL. At the conclusion of the season, he signed with his hometown team, the San Francisco 49ers. Their new general manager, Bill Walsh, had never forgotten his game against Stanford in 1993 and had implored his new employers to give Garcia a chance. Jeff Garcia was coming home.
After struggling to get the NFL’s attention, Jeff Garcia was finally with the team he rooted for as a child. Backing up Steve Young, Garcia was living the dream. Unfortunately, Young’s career ended just a few games into the season and Garcia was thrown into the fire before he was ready. The 1999 season was a forgettable one. Going 2-8 as a starter, Garcia threw just as many touchdowns as interceptions, 11, but completed a respectable 60% of his passes. The team stumbled to a 4-12 finish and many thought that Jeff Garcia couldn’t make it in the NFL.
He improved greatly in 2000, throwing a franchise record 4,278 yards and 31 touchdowns. As a result of these statistics, Jeff Garcia was invited to his first Pro Bowl. Though the team didn’t make the playoffs that year, they did make the playoffs in 2001. Garcia was invited to the Pro Bowl that year, throwing for 3,538 yards and 32 touchdowns; leading the team to a 12-4 record. However, the team didn’t get past the first round, losing to the Green Bay Packers.
Entering the 2002 season, Jeff Garcia was determined to finally win his first playoff game. After leading the team to a 10-6 record, he led the team against the New York Giants in the Wild Card Round. It was a game for the ages; with the Giants taking a seemingly insurmountable 38-14 lead deep into the third quarter. The 49ers woke up in time to make a late comeback. After a Giants field goal, Garcia threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Terrell Owens, completing a two-point conversion to him shortly after. After the 49ers defense stifled New York’s offense, Garcia led the team down the field again and this time he kept the ball himself, going over the goal line for the touchdown and cutting the deficit to eight. The 49ers were forced to kick a field goal on the ensuing drive but the made up for that with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tai Streets on the next drive to give them a 39-38 lead. The Giants attempted to kick a field goal but there was a bad snap and they couldn’t complete the holder’s pass. Jeff Garcia got his long awaited playoff win.
The 49ers lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers the next week and coach Steve Mariucci was fired shortly after the loss. Though Garcia played reasonably well the following year, the team didn’t make the playoffs and due to the salary cap began to divulge of its once promising roster. Following the 2003 season, both Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens left in free agency, bringing the 49ers into one of their darker periods.
After his time in San Francisco, Jeff Garcia went to the Cleveland Browns for the 2004 season, going 3-7 as a starter. The Browns were going through some hard times in those days and couldn’t afford Garcia’s services; he left after his lone season in Cleveland. His time in Detroit in 2005 was a bust, going 1-4 as a starter, and was released after the season.
He spent one year in Philadelphia and did well under the tutelage of coach Andy Reid. He took over for the injured Donovan McNabb and after a 45-21 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, he led the Eagles to five straight wins and a spot in the playoffs. After defeating the Giants in the Wild Card Round, they lost to the New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round and Garcia left for Tampa Bay at the conclusion of the season.
Garcia played well in 2007, where he completed 63.9% of his passes for 2,440 yards and 13 touchdowns against just four interceptions. He earned an invitation to his fourth and final Pro Bowl and led the team to the playoffs where they would lose to the Giants in the Wild Card Round. He nearly lead the team to the playoffs the following year but, despite throwing for 2,712 yards and 12 touchdowns, he fell short. After being cut by the Oakland Raiders at the end of training camp, he returned to Philadelphia for the 2009 season. He was buried on the depth chart in Philadelphia who had McNabb, Michael Vick and Kevin Kolb all on their payroll. He played the 2010 season with the Omaha Nighthawks of the UFL and was with the Houston Texans at the end of the 2011 season. He retired after the 2011 season and is now a private quarterback tutor.