Work in Sports
San Francisco's Garcia tops among '99 rookie QBs
By B. Duane Cross, CNNSI.com
ATLANTA -- While Akili, Cade, Daunte, Donovan and Tim were striking a pose at the podium -- their first moments of glory after being first-round draft choices -- another quarterback was preparing for what would be his NFL rookie season, too.
And while Smith, McNown, Culpepper, McNabb and Couch were living large on their big-dollar, first-round contracts, another quarterback was learning the system of legends.
In the 18 months since April 1999, the Fab Five have suffered the usual growing pains associated with stepping from college campuses onto the NFL stage. On the other hand, San Francisco's Jeff Garcia has settled into the starting job very nicely, thank you.
An undrafted free agent out of San Jose State, Garcia honed his skills north of the border, where he was a four-time CFL All-Star. In 1998, he led the Calgary Stampeders to the Grey Cup championship.
Garcia spent five seasons in Canada, so while on one level it is unfair to lump him into the Class of '99 rookies, for the sake of argument it's interesting to compare the numbers (chart below).
Assuming the starter's job after Steve Young was sidelined with a concussion last season, Garcia played in 13 games. He completed 225 of 375 passes for 2,544 yards, 11 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
After Young announced his retirement during the summer of 2000, Garcia inherited the starter's job. Lurking over his shoulder were the two QBs the 49ers drafted in 2000 -- Giovanni Carmazzi and Tim Rattay -- and journeyman Rick Mirer, signed to provide depth.
The Niners dropped the season opener against Atlanta, and lost the next week to Carolina. Mirer replaced Garcia against the Panthers and completed 10 of 20 passes for 126 yards and the team's lone passing TD. And a bayside quarterback controversy began brewing.
"I'm not in the position to make [personnel] decisions," Garcia said at the time. "I'm just the person that it's going to have an effect upon. I've done my best to stay positive. Often, what I think isn't what helps everything else move forward."
As columnist Ray Ratto noted, San Francisco does quarterback controversies the way the Vatican does pointy hats and organ music. If truth be told, Garcia-Mirer pales in significance with Montana-Young, DeBerg-Montana, Brodie-Spurrier, Brodie-Mira, Brodie-Kilmer, Brodie-Tittle and even Albert-Tittle.
To Mirer's credit, he tried to downplay the talk. "It's awful early to start talking that way," he said, even though he is the beneficiary of precisely that kind of talk. "I expect people will talk about it, but I'm not really that anxious to talk about it. I've been through this before."
Since the Carolina game, the 49ers are 2-2 and Garcia has two career-high four-TD games to his credit. He also leads the NFL with 15 TD passes and is second (tied with Denver's Brian Griese) with a 105.1 QB rating.
As for the Fab Five, they have combined for 30 TD passes, with Culpepper and McNabb leading the way with eight apiece. The highest-rated QB among the group is Culpepper (94.1).
Garcia has all but laid to rest the Garcia-Mirer talk.
"The best thing I can do," Garcia said, "is put certain things aside and not allow them to affect me mentally."