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Diane Pucin

Garcia Takes His Place in 49er Line

January 06, 2003|Diane Pucin

SAN FRANCISCO — He's part of it now.

Jeff Garcia is part of 49er history. He has accomplished something special, something extraordinary.

Jeff Garcia has caught the ghosts.

He whispered into the ear of Steve Young, "I can scramble, Steve, like you did," while he was running 14 yards to the touchdown that cut the New York Giants' lead to 38-28, just before Garcia's two-point conversion pass to Terrell Owens made it 38-30.

And maybe he called out to Joe Montana, "I've got an arm and the nerves to pull this off," as he found Tai Streets in the end zone, after scrambling, ducking and brushing away the pursuit of tacklers, found Streets with a minute left in the game on a 13-yard scoring pass play that made the score 39-38 in favor of San Francisco when it had been 38-14 in favor of the Giants not 19 minutes earlier.

Garcia had his moment. He belongs.

Garcia had his miracle. He will be a legend.

Garcia engineered the second-biggest comeback in NFL history, the biggest in the NFC. He did it in the playoffs.

Garcia started running the two-minute drill because he had to, because the fans at 3Com were walking out, single file, heads down, eyes averting the disaster, because he was chasing ghosts and losing sight of them.

Garcia is the 49er quarterback to follow Steve Young and Joe Montana and until Sunday, Garcia wasn't good enough.

He hadn't won a playoff game, he hadn't dragged, by his own will and miracle plays and unstinting fervor, the 49ers from defeat into victory. Not in a game that mattered, which up here, means the playoffs. Always the playoffs.

Now Garcia is good enough. He ran away from tacklers and the past, because he ran toward the end zone, because he scored on a naked bootleg. Garcia is good enough because he found all his receivers: the transcendent Terrell Owens (nine catches, 177 yards, two touchdowns) of course; but also speedy Streets; sneaky J.J. Stokes; steady tight end Eric Johnson.

"I thought it was over," Bob Garcia said.

Bob was dripping sweat and tears, and he couldn't keep all his thoughts together so the words scrambled from end zone to end zone as they left his mouth. Bob Garcia is Jeff's dad. Bob was a coach, in high school and at Gavilan College; and Bob has always been there for Jeff, at Gilroy High, at San Jose State, in Canada when Jeff was playing in the CFL.

And Bob never gives up, not on his son, the one with so much heart. But Sunday, in Section 18, Row 2, Seat 26, up at the top, under the overhang, Bob had given up. "I couldn't see the comeback coming," Bob said. "I just couldn't feel it."

He wanted to. Bob knows his son feels it deeply when comparisons are made.

Bob sees it in his son's eyes. "He knows about the legacies here," Bob said. "He knows what's expected up here. He knows what people think he should do and what they think he hasn't done."

Garcia didn't have The Drive. Joe Montana had The Drive, in Super Bowl XXIII, against the Cincinnati Bengals, when the 49ers were trailing, 16-13, the ball at the 49ers' eight-yard line with 3:10 left. The Drive went 92 yards, 11 plays and ended with a 10-yard pass to John Taylor.

He wasn't part of something like The Catch, when Montana threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the 1981 NFC championship game so the 49ers could win 28-27 and go to the Super Bowl. Clark did the work; Montana still got glory.

Garcia didn't even have the "Redemption Reception," which is what Owens called his 25-yard catch of a Young pass with three seconds left to lift the 49ers past Green Bay, 30-27, in the 1998 NFC wild-card game.

Garcia has gone from no playoff victories to one of the biggest. "It's hard to fathom right now," he said. "I can't even grasp my emotions."

Those emotions are the only thing Garcia didn't grasp for the last 19 minutes of this game.

After a Giants' field goal with 4:27 left in the third quarter made the score 38-14, here's what Garcia did:

Crafted a seven-play, 70-yard drive, took only 2:24 to do it, completed five of six passes for 67 yards including a 26-yard scoring play to Owens. Plus, connected with Owens for the two-point conversion to make the score 38-22.

Led a three-play, 27-yard drive and scored the touchdown on that heady 14-yard run. Then connected with Owens for the two-point conversion to make the score 38-30.

Pushed the 49ers along on a 15-play, 74-yard drive that took 5:26 that ended in a field goal and included a four-yard pass to Streets on a fourth-and-one play that would have ended the season if the pass had been badly thrown.

Dragged the 49ers on a nine-play, 68-yard drive that took only 2:01 and almost didn't last long enough. The score, for a 39-38 lead, came on a 13-yard pass play to Streets, and the only mistake was missing Owens on the two-point try.

"I don't think there is anybody in the league who has done anything better than Jeff Garcia," Bill Walsh said. "I don't think any quarterback in football makes better decisions."

When it mattered, when most of the fans had given up, Garcia didn't make a bad choice. He never lost his composure.

"Jeff did everything right, said everything right, made all the right moves," Stokes said. "He just kept telling us we weren't going to lose. And you know what? I believed him. There was no reason to, but I believed him."

From now on, everybody will.

*

Diane Pucin can be reached at diane.pucin@latimes.com.

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