Sad time for Garcia

ERIC FRANCIS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:18 AM ET

Unsure where he'd be today without the help and guidance of Bill Walsh, Jeff Garcia took time out of training camp yesterday to honour the man he saw as a father figure.

Saddened the Hall-of-Fame coach and executive was too ill to attend his wedding in April, the former Stampeders quarterback was devastated to hear Walsh passed away Monday morning following a lengthy battle with leukemia.

"I really missed out on the opportunity to take that chance to see him when I was in Northern California, and that's one thing I regret now that I didn't take the time to see him and personally thank him for all he's done for me," a sombre Garcia told the Sun following yesterday's Tampa Bay Buccaneers training session.

"Last time I touched base with him, I sent him a card and thanked him for his wedding gift and told him how much I appreciated all he's done for me and my family and told him how much I loved him.

"It was a sad day yesterday and a sad day today. Football didn't just lose a great person, but the world itself did because of what he had to offer."

Whether it be via the revolutionary West Coast offence he popularized as 49ers head coach or through his long list of coaching disciples, Walsh gave plenty to the NFL, including a skinny kid from Gilroy, Calif., who will forever be grateful for Walsh's support.

"He was an awesome person who believed in me back when I was coming out of San Jose State," said Garcia, a three-time Pro Bowler in San Francisco who was signed by Walsh following his 1998 Grey Cup win in Calgary.

"He tried to help me get my foot in the door but, at that time, no NFL coaches wanted to give me that chance.

"He wrote letters and did what he could."

Taking Walsh's advice to head north to Calgary, Garcia returned to California five years later when Walsh became the 49ers GM.

"He definitely is a person I owe so much to -- a guy who gave me an opportunity to play in the NFL and became a real friend," said Garcia, who rose to NFL stardom shortly after stepping in as Steve Young's injury replacement.

"I wouldn't say I wouldn't have had that shot, but I think things would have been much different. That same year, the Miami Dolphins offered me a contract, but who knows if my career would've gone in the same direction. Without him in my corner, who knows if I make that team or have the success I had in San Francisco."

Even in the midst of Walsh's fight with cancer, Garcia was able to count heavily on the three-time Super Bowl-winning coach for advice.

"At the start of the free agent season, when I was making the decision as to where I was going to go -- Tampa Bay or Oakland -- I just bounced it off him and asked questions," said Garcia, 37, who was recently named the Bucs' starter.

"I really relied on him and thought an awful lot of his opinion. Kind of like me going to my father and asking questions, I'd ask him the same questions. The football world will miss him ... I'll miss him."


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