Jeff Garcia answered when Stampeders opportunity knocked

Former Stampeders quarterback Jeff Garcia. (QMI Agency file photo)

Former Stampeders quarterback Jeff Garcia. (QMI Agency file photo)

ERIC FRANCIS, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:18 PM ET

CALGARY - In a career that spanned 18 years and landed him with seven professional teams, somehow it's a 1994 preseason game against the Sacramento Gold Miners Jeff Garcia remembers as well as any game he ever played.

"There are very few games I can recall my stats from, but that night I was six-for-eight with two touchdowns," said the 42-year-old from his home in Rancho Sante Fe, Ca., of his CFL debut.

"It was tied 14-14 when I came in to start the fourth quarter and we ended up winning 28-14. I only found out earlier this year, while talking to Wally (Buono), that they decided before the game they were planning to cut me after the game. That performance got me my first job as a third stringer, beating out Kelvin Simmons from Troy State."

If not for his dazzling debut, Garcia could just as easily have had his athletic career end like Simmons' did.

Instead, Garcia used the opportunity to jumpstart a career that will culminate with him being honoured on the Stampeders' Wall of Fame Friday night.

Capitalizing first on an injury to Doug Flutie in 1995, doing the same in San Francisco when Steve Young went down in 1999 and Donovan McNabb in 2006, Garcia went on to become one of the most successful CFL grads in recent history. And he did it all by seizing the moment.

"You have to have that one person who believes in you and you have to be prepared to take advantage of your opportunity," said the wiry Garcia, who was known for his toughness as much as his ability to come through in the clutch.

"It makes me think of how fortunate I was."

Signed by the Houston Texans late last season, Garcia still hasn't signed retirement papers and says he's in better shape this year than last, due to twice-weekly workouts with several college prospects. With four young kids at home, he says the only team he'd play for now is San Diego.

Joking about how he'd love to step in and run Dickenson's offence (Friday night), he says thoughts of returning to the CFL were not entertained the last handful of years, as he couldn't fathom uprooting his family.

An entrepreneur who has been part of a fitness chain and a restaurant in Calgary, he's now focusing his time on helping others get into the game he played so passionately.

"I was able to live my dream and I want to help others live theirs," said Garcia, whose Beyond Wealth Sports has two clients on NFL practice rosters.

"I can help them maximize their opportunities, because I've been in their shoes. Wally and I have had more conversations in the last six months than we had the last 13 years, because I'm reconnecting with him and Dave Dickenson and Huff (John Hufnagel) and George Cortez and others around the CFL to see if some of my guys can get a chance in the CFL. They know I was a scrapper who represented myself well while playing with them, and hopefully those connections can help some of my clients."

Picked up at the airport by former teammate Vince Danielsen, Garcia tips his cap to a long list of pals he stays in touch with who helped win the 1998 Grey Cup and land him on McMahon Stadium facade.

"Rocco Romano, Bruce Covernton, Rohn Meyer, Jason Clemett, Jay McNeil and Jamie Crysdale are some of the guys who helped make my time in Calgary so memorable," said Garcia, whose parents are also here for tonight's ceremony.

"To be honoured like this is a highlight in my life. I have always loved Calgary and, while five years here is relatively short, it played such a huge role in my life."

As did that steamy night in Sacramento when a career previously destined to perish was pulled right out of the fire in a 15-minute showcase that ultimately led to Calgary's fourth Grey Cup and a Wall of Fame inductee.

eric.francis@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ericfrancis

Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC's Hockey Night in Canada.


Videos

Photos