Garcia's game to watch

ERIC FRANCIS, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:56 AM ET

MONTREAL -- Jeff Garcia has two goals in mind Sunday.

The first is to make short work of the Detroit Lions so he can make a quick escape from the city in which his career hit a low point.

The second is to punctuate the two-and-a-half hour flight back to Tampa Bay by dashing into a local pub to watch and cheer on his Calgary Stampeders.

It may be 10 years since Garcia led the Stamps to their fourth Grey Cup title, but the skinny kid from the Garlic Capital of the world still keeps in touch with Henry Burris and the team that made his lucrative NFL career possible.

"I'm going to have to find a place to catch the game," said Garcia from his car in Tampa Bay where his wife, former Playboy Playmate Carmella DeCesare, is trying to stop their six-month old daughter Presley from crying.

"It's the 10-year anniversary of the last Grey Cup I played in and to win it would be a great way to cap off the year. I'm excited for Hank, Huff and George Cortez -- let 'em know I'll be pulling for them."

While Garcia wouldn't fathom trying to take credit for developing Henry Burris as the club's third-string rookie in 1998, the 38-year-old Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback does lay claim to forging the nickname his old teammate is known for around the league.

"I tagged him as 'Happy Hank' because he was always grinning from ear-to-ear and was very respectful -- it was always a 'yes sir, no sir' type deal," laughed Garcia of the moniker that quickly morphed into 'Smilin' Hank.'

"I knew back then he had a live arm and could move around well, and I thought from a mental standpoint he had a certain charisma that would allow him to learn and have success on the field. Hank and I got along real well that year -- he's a great kid and hopefully I was helpful enough to help him learn and grow in that league."

Hoping to continue a trend that has seen Calgary quarterbacks named game MVP in the last three Stamp Grey Cup wins, Burris said the biggest lesson Garcia taught him stemmed from his attitude.

"He was such a fiery competitor," said Burris, who texts regularly with Garcia and flew the NFL star into Calgary two years ago for Burris' all-star weekend fundraiser.

"People said he did certain things against the norm than you'd expect to have success, but he always played with passion and sold out every game."

Having seen highlights of the Stamps West final win on ESPN, Garcia admitted to being confused to see Edmonton playing in the East final. Otherwise, he stays on top of the CFL and many of the friends he made there.

"Those years in Calgary I established some of the best relationships in my life," said Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler whose five-year stint in Calgary led to a contract with San Francisco in 1999 for his first of five NFL stops.

"Any time I see guys from the CFL, it's always great -- it's kinda like our little fraternity. We keep tabs on one another."

Thankful of the revolutionary five- and six-receiver sets John Hufnagel instituted to help Garcia flourish in Calgary, the two had dinner in Indianapolis years back before an NFL meeting.

Cortez, who also ran Calgary's offence during Garcia's stay, stayed in even closer touch.

"When he went to (the University of California) and I was in San Francisco, we'd talk on the phone now and then, and he'd always send a good luck call," said Garcia, whose Bucs are 7-3 in a season in which Tampa will host the Super Bowl.

"They helped continue to develop me to the point I'm at today."

And that's why he'll be cheering for the Stamps from some hole in the wall bar that offers up a rare CFL feed.

"I'll find the game no matter what I have to do," promised Garcia.

"I need to support my boys."

The way they supported him.


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