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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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QB's circuitous path leads back to Gruden
Jeff Garcia didn't impress in 1999. Since then, he has done nothing but.
By STEPHEN F. HOLDER
Published July 22, 2007
TAMPA - Jon Gruden once had Jeff Garcia all to himself.
It was a typically cold, drizzly Northern California morning when the then-Raiders coach evaluated Garcia for his first NFL audition.
How did it go? All Garcia got was a thank you and pat on the back. As for that contract offer he sought from his hometown team? Well, it never came.
"I'm not going to go out there and just light your world on fire," Garcia said of the workout. "Coach Gruden was honest with me when we met a few years later. He said he didn't watch any film on me before my workout. It was a cold, sloppy day, and it was my first experience working out with an NFL team."
Since that day in 1999, Gruden has spent several offseasons in rabid pursuit of Garcia, who has blossomed since arriving in the NFL from the Canadian Football League. Garcia finally hooked up with his longtime admirer by joining the Bucs in March.
But when Gruden made that snap judgment eight years ago on that muddy field, he joined a long list of coaches - from two countries - who failed to recognize Garcia's intangible gifts.
For Garcia, the moment was little more than another chapter in the often frustrating, but ultimately inspiring, story of his life.
Too small (205 pounds soaking wet). Too short (6 feet 1 on a good day). Weak arm. You name it, Garcia has heard it.
In high school, a broken arm that sidelined him his senior year caused the big schools to stop calling. Small ones that did offered scholarships - as a defensive back.
"I had to go play for my dad to play quarterback," said the 37-year-old Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowl selection. His father, Bob, coached Gavilan College, a two-year school in Gilroy, Calif., 70 miles outside of Oakland.
After one season there, offers from four-year universities were scarce.
"We started putting the word out that I wanted to transfer, and San Jose State was one of the few schools that was interested," Garcia said.
And after three seasons there, in which he set a school record for total offense, Garcia got barely a glance from the NFL in the spring of 1994. He resorted to desperate measures, enlisting the help of coaching legend Bill Walsh, then at Stanford.
Walsh had been impressed with Garcia's performances against the Cardinal and in a postseason All-Star game, and he told Garcia that if he ever needed anything to ask.
Seeing how Garcia had nothing else going for him, he figured, "What the heck?"
"He tried," Bob Garcia said of Walsh. "But even Bill Walsh couldn't get anyone to give Jeff a shot. What else can you do?"
When the phone did ring, it wasn't exactly the opportunity of a lifetime. The lone call came from Steve Mariucci, then the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay. He was frank and to the point: Garcia had no shot. The best the Packers could offer was a chance to come to training camp as the fourth quarterback. In other words, run the scout team for a couple of weeks, then pack your bags.
It was such a dead-end scenario, Garcia believed it wiser to take his chances in the Canadian Football League, where he spent the next five seasons.
He went on to win a Grey Cup with Calgary in 1998, but he had a humble start in what's considered an inferior league. When first tendered an offer by Calgary, he was dissatisfied: a two-year deal, the second being a team option.
"I called the coach, who was also the general manager, and said I wanted to sign a one-year deal so I could try out for the NFL the following year," Garcia said.
Wally Buono practically laughed.
Said Garcia: "He paused and said, 'Jeff, let's be serious. You sign for two years or you won't even get a shot in the CFL.' "
Garcia has come full circle, and no one knows it better than Gruden. Late one evening, as Garcia was putting up eye-popping numbers with the 49ers, Gruden made a surprising admission.
"He told me one night at a diner," Bob Garcia recalled, " 'Bobby, I was wrong about Jeff.' "
So were many others. And Garcia wants to continue proving them wrong. That might explain why the guy never lets up.
"Jeff really worked his way to where he is right now," Bucs running back Michael Pittman said.
"Nothing was ever given to Jeff. That's why he works as hard as he does. He's one of the hardest workers I've seen. He's 37 years old, but he acts like he's 20-something. And the great thing is that he's still hungry."
That's part of what has always attracted Gruden. During a spring film session, Gruden was criticizing quarterback Bruce Gradkowski's throw.
"I said, 'Nice throw. What are you doing?' " Gruden recalled.
He then added, " 'Hey, Garcia, where were you when you were a rookie?' He said, 'I was a third-string quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders making 28,000 Canadian dollars.' "
How far has Garcia come?
Over the next two years, he will make at least $7-million and, with contract escalators, as much as $14-million. In American money.
Jeff Garcia's career
1999 (49ers): 2,544 yards, 11 touchdowns.
2000 (49ers): 4,278 yards, 31 touchdowns.
2001 (49ers): 3,538 yards, 32 touchdowns.
2002 (49ers): 3,344 yards, 21 touchdowns.
2003 (49ers): 2,704 yards, 18 touchdowns.
2004 (Browns): 1,731 yards, 10 touchdowns in 11 games (10 starts).
2005 (Lions): 937 yards, three touchdowns in six games (five starts).
2006 (Eagles): 1,309 yards, 10 touchdowns, two interceptions in eight games (six starts).
1994 (Calgary): Played sparingly.
1995 (Calgary): 3,358 yards, 25 touchdowns in 18 games.
1996 (Calgary): 4,225 yards, 25 touchdowns in 18 games and first-team all-CFL.
1997 (Calgary): 4,568 yards, 33 touchdowns in 17 games.
1998 (Calgary): 4,276 yards, 28 touchdowns in 18 games and Grey Cup title.
Freshman (Gavilan): JUCO All-American with 2,038 yards, 18 touchdowns.
Sophomore (San Jose State): 1,519 yards, 12 touchdowns, 61.9 completion percentage (third in nation).
Junior (San Jose State): 2,418 yards, 15 touchdowns.
Senior (San Jose State): 2,608 yards, 21 touchdowns.