Gilroy’s Jeff Garcia led the Detroit Lions to a 13-10 victory
over his former team, the Cleveland Browns, Sunday.
It wasn’t exactly what you’d call a hero’s welcome Sunday afternoon for Jeff Garcia. Cleveland Browns’ fans instead greeted the Gilroy native with a thunderous sea of boos that “shook the stadium.”
As fate would have it, Garcia’s first regular season appearance in a NFL game, suited up as a Detroit Lion, was against the very team that he played for last season, namely, the Cleveland Browns.
And the fans left no doubt as to how they felt about Garcia’s return, in an opposing jersey. In fact, Morgan Hill’s Wayne Ketcham, in attendance at the game with several other South Valley residents, was an eyewitness to the raucous introduction.
“Amazing! Incredible! It was the most incredible thing to witness. They really gave it to him,” Ketcham recalled. “It was funny because there were a lot of fans still wearing “Garcia, 5” Brown’s jersies. Some had ripped off Garcia and others wore them inside out.
“They were really giving it to him,” Ketcham reported. “But we were quick to defend our hometown boy. After the game we saw some of the same people at the hotel that we were all staying at and they apologetically said they were sorry, that they were just being fans. We just laughed about it.”
While Garcia’s 13-10 victory-winning performance didn’t exactly thrill Cleveland fans it was exactly what the doctor ordered for fans of Garcia here in the Gilroy area as well as Detroit Lion’s fans, that are hoping this is the answer to what has been a disappointing offense to date.
Garcia’s father, Bobby, was unable to make the game but he didn’t miss one second of the action on his television set Sunday afternoon.
“I’ll be honest, I was sitting there on pins and needles. I said a prayer the night before,” the elder Garcia said. “It’s the NFL and they gun for the quarterback. It’s just the way it is. I was just praying he wouldn’t get hurt again.
“As a father I was proud of the things that the NFL panel and the announcers said about him,” Garcia’ father said. “And to do it in Cleveland, it was like he was right back in the hornet’s nest. He played great and he came away with the Big “W.” That’s all that matters.”
In an interview with the Gilroy Dispatch on Monday afternoon Garcia admitted that he took the field with mixed emotions.
“It was really bitter-sweet,” Garcia recalled. “To go back with a new team and get the boo’s. That was an understandable reaction. I’m not playing for them anymore so of course they gave it to me,”
But the boos diminished as the game progressed and when Garcia scored a touchdown on a dive from the 1-yard line Ketcham described the play through his eyes.
“You could have heard a pin drop in that stadium when Jeff scored the touchdown,” Ketcham laughed. “It was the greatest feeling in the world witnessing something like that, especially with someone you know being involved.”
Jeff completely agreed.
“To quiet the crowd, when I scored the touchdown and especially at the end of the game, that’s exactly what I was going for,” Garcia bragged. “I definitely wanted to send them a message of ‘this is what you’re missing out on.'”
In one interview Garcia’s teammate, offensive tackle Jeff Backus, was quoted as saying, “The difference is his (Garcia’s) maturity. He holds everybody accountable. If you mess up, he’ll let you know. And if he messes up, he’ll tell you that he’s to blame. He’s arrogant in a good sort of way.”
“I’ll go along with that comment,” Garcia admitted. “I’m tough on myself, real tough. When I make a mistake I beat myself up over it. I don’t think you can be tough and expect perfection from your teammates if you don’t expect it from yourself first.”
Asked about taking over for Joey Harrington, Garcia said, “Honestly I think that Joey’s had the weight of the world on his shoulders and getting a chance to sit back and watch things for awhile might be the best thing for him. It’ll give him a chance to recollect his composure.”
Garcia’a appearance Sunday was his first action since breaking his ankle during the preseason.
“(The ankle) was a little sore during the second half and I’m a little sore today. It’s the first time I’ve been knocked around in about seven weeks,” Garcia reported. “But I’m looking forward to the week, getting a little rest and then taking all the reps in preparation for Sunday’s big game against the Bears.”
As for Garcia’s status for Sunday, Detroit head coach Steve Mariucci has already confirmed that Garcia will be behind center for the Lions.
“I think as he practices every snap, like a starting quarterback will, it will be smoother and there will be more flow to it. We asked him to do a lot in this game, not only managing his own job, but to help these young receivers. The flow and the rhythm weren’t always there, and that will smoothen out as he practices everyday,” Mariucci said. “We’ve all seen him make those kinds of plays before, the underhand flip and the scramble and run for a touchdown. He has to develop some rhythm with these receivers, whoever they are. We weren’t quite sure who was going to be the quarterback last week so we game planned accordingly to have either or. Now that we know he is going to be there you can set your offensive game plan a little bit to his abilities and have some different thoughts. I think you saw what he gives you in terms of creativity and expanding a play and he’ll just get better as we go with these receivers.”
Mariucci recalled the first time he noticed the former Gilroy star.
“I saw him play at San Jose. He was a Bay area kid from Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world. He didn’t get recruited out of high school either, he didn’t get drafted. He is 188 pounds right now – then, I don’t know what he was. He didn’t have the ‘measurables'” Mariucci recalled. “He worked out for some teams, but Jeff is not necessarily going to wow you in a workout; go back in the pocket seven steps and throw the laser across the field.
“He will shine when it is game time and when he has to play the game. That is when you find out if he can do it our not; not in a workout. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities. He had to wait his turn when Doug Flutie, he was backing up Doug (in the CFL), when Doug Flutie came back to the States, then he got a chance,” Mariucci described. “If they are ever going to do a story about Jeff’s career, it is probably entitled ‘taking advantage of your opportunities,’ because he got a chance to play up there when Doug left and he played well.”
Now that the NFL world knows where the “Garlic Capital the World” is, on Sunday afternoon they’ll see what Gilroy’s own is capable of when he takes center stage for one of the game’s fiercest and most storied rivalries. It’s yet another grand opportunity of which Garcia is ready to take advantage.
As for Garcia, he’s ready to take on the Bears.
It’s a game with first-place ramifications on the line, a fact that most certainly is not escaping Garcia’ noticed.
“We were embarrassed by the way we played them the last time at their place earlier this year,” Garcia was quick to admit. “We didn’t play any facet of the game well.”
Garcia is not only back, he appears more ready and confident than ever.
And rest assured the welcome Garcia will be greeted with Sunday will by a far cry from that which he received in Cleveland.
“I always try to stay upbeat, positive and motivating. That kind of emotion is contagious,” Garcia said. “They’re (Chicago) in our house now and that’s something we’re excited about.”
Detroit at Cleveland
(22-of-34 passes for 210 yards, 1-yard touchdown run)
What Game-Changing Play was the Most Pivotal in the Lions’ 13-10 win over the Browns?
22% K Jason Hanson’s 50-yard field goal in the fourth quarter
21% QB Jeff Garcia’s shovel pass to RB Shawn Bryson for a first down
19% QB Jeff Garcia avoiding a safety and making a 10-yard pass to WR Scottie Vines
19% QB Jeff Garcia’s 1-yard touchdown run in the second quarter
9% DT Dan Wilkenson’s sack in Cleveland’s final drive of the game
Poll is currently posted on Detroit Lions website