The Tampa Bay Buccaneers get no love. They won the NFC South but no one seemed to notice. They have no Pro Bowl players. They have no prime time games. The leader of that team, appropriately enough, is Jeff Garcia, who wears his persecution complex like a wool blanket. It’s what keeps him warm at night. Whether it’s that he’s too small, too old or has too weak of an arm, Garcia has always had detractors and always has been able to use that negative energy to fuel his game. Now Garcia is leading his merry band of overlooked and underloved Bucs into San Francisco Sunday, and more importantly, into the playoffs in January.
There is no doubt that a lot of ink will be spilled this week wondering what would have happened had Garcia stuck around after the 2003 season and remained in San Francisco to help rebuild the 49ers. With a quality QB already in the stable, so the thinking goes, the 49ers could have used their resources elsewhere – say, for instance, on receiver Braylon Edwards in the 2005 draft. It’s obvious that nearly four years after Garcia was unceremoniously dumped, the 49ers still haven’t solved the most important position on the field.
But I wonder if that fantasy would be quite as sweet as some believe. Remember, Garcia was part of a huge roster dump, one that included bitter rival Terrell Owens, but also several veterans and team leaders like Derrick Deese and Garrison Hearst. Would Garcia have been able to survive with Arnaz Battle and Brandon Lloyd as his wideouts any better than Tim Rattay did? The offensive styles also didn’t suit Garcia’s strengths. He is flourishing in Tampa Bay because that system – and coach Jon Gruden – are tailor-made for him. Dennis Erickson’s system in 2004, and Norv Turner’s in 2006, call for far more downfield passing, which is not Garcia’s forte. There’s also reason to believe that Garcia would have suffered from the revolving-door offensive coordinator problems, although perhaps not to the extent a less experienced player might.
Garcia ran into rough patches in Detroit and Cleveland because his surrounding cast was poor and because those systems weren’t right for him. Gruden today admitted he wanted Garcia as early as 2004, but at the time the Bucs, like the 49ers, were in dire salary-cap straits. Gruden recalled a scene early in 2004 when Garcia called him on his cell phone while Gruden was watching a minor league hockey game. Garcia wanted to play in Tampa Bay and Gruden badly wanted him there. He just couldn’t pay him. “I told him we can offer him a whopping $400 to sign, and he took the $5 million to go to Cleveland,” Gruden joked.
Now Garcia and Gruden finally are together and the relationship is benefitting both men. Would Garcia be in the same spot – playoff bound – had he remained in San Francisco? It’s likely that scenario would have been no better than his stints in Cleveland and Detroit.
The 49ers handed out their team awards today, and it’s no surprise that Bryant Young got the most prestigious honor, the Len Eshmont Award. Young has gotten the honor – given to the most inspirational player – a team-record eight times, including each of the last four seasons. Young leads the team in sacks this year and likely will be playing his final home game on Sunday.
Nate Clements and Patrick Willis are co-winners of the Bill Walsh Award, which is voted on by coaches and given to the team MVP.
Eric Heitmann won the Bobb McKittrick Award given to the player who best represents courage, intensity and sacrifice.
Jeff Ulbrich won the Matt Hazeltine/Iron Man Award, given for durability and dedication.
-- Matt Barrows