Watching Jeff Garcia quarterback the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is a bitter-sweet experience. Garcia is one of the best quarterbacks playing today, and has performed at a high level since Bill Walsh noticed his outstanding playmaking abilities in Canadian football and had the San Francisco 49ers bring him in to replace Steve Young. Even today, at age 38, Garcia makes plays because of his athleticism that other quarterbacks – Tom Brady, Tony Romo, the Mannings, and many others – cannot. Garcia can scramble and ramble with the best, and yet can still pass with pinpoint accuracy.
Just like Joe Montana and Steve Young did before him.
The only problem I have with Jeff Garcia is that he isn’t still playing for the 49ers, and that’s really a problem with the 49ers’ mismanagement. Garcia made the Pro Bowl three of the five years he played for the 49ers, and last year with Tampa Bay. In the previous two seasons he took Philadelphia and Tampa Bay into the playoffs as Wildcards. At Philadelphia he replaced an injured Donovan McNabb, led the Eagles to wins in five of their last six games and an upset of the Giants before losing to the Saints by a field goal in the Division playoffs.
Meanwhile, the hapless 49ers just fired their in-over-his-head coach Mike Nolan. 49ers mismanagement now is a total contrast to the Eddie DeBartolo days of Bill Walsh and George Seifert. The downturn really became apparent when Steve Mariucci was fired after making the playoffs. As 49ers coach, "Mooch" compiled a 60-43 (.583) record, while the 49ers earned playoff berths four times. Mariucci was replaced by Dennis Erickson, and the 49ers began their death spiral. After going 7-9 in 2003, with a good offense led by Garcia and Terrell Owens, but a struggling defense, Garcia was let go and Owens was traded, and in 2004 the 49ers hit rock bottom at 2-14.
I can’t help thinking that if only Jeff Garcia had stayed a 49er, and the 49ers had stuck with Mariucci, all would have been different and much better. As I watched Garcia play the past three seasons, saving the Eagles season in 2006, taking the Buccaneers to the playoffs in 2007, and playing well this season after overcoming an injury, I can’t help thinking that if he had stayed in San Francisco, he would have been well on his way to becoming the third 49er Hall of Fame quarterback in a row.
And the 49ers would still have a place of pride among NFL elite teams.