A Rider fan asks: Where does Jeff Garcia fit in Stampeders QB history?

We always used our voucher-for-ticket passes to nab seats in the stadium’s west-side upper-deck, in its 200-numbered sections; back then, that’s where the loud, rowdy boozers housed themselves.

Despite their bellowing chants, that birds-eye vantage point, I thought, gave me a unique perspective on the games.

It was from those metal-clad benches that I admired the Stamps’ gunslinger.

Then, he was gone for the NFL, sandwiched in Calgary Stampeders’ history between quarterbacks Doug Flutie (before), and Dave Dickenson, Henry Burris, and Bo Levi Mitchell (after).

Where does Garcia fit into that mix?

I mean, the basics are fairly well known: He was a quarterback for the Calgary Stampeders from 1994 to the end of the 1998 season; he took over full-time duties in 1995; he led the Stamps to a Grey Cup win in 1998.

He then left for the National Football League and built a respectable four-season stint as the San Francisco 49ers’ starting quarterback (mostly); he later found regular season and playoff success with the Philadelphia Eagles and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But that still doesn’t answer the bigger question: What might have been had Garcia chosen to stay in the CFL beyond those five seasons?

It’s been on my mind a lot because of Garcia’s return to Calgary for Monday’s Labour Day Classic slugfest between the Stamps and their Edmonton rivals.

Unlike the wily, slippery Flutie, Garcia was an accurate passer who had no problem running the ball despite whatever heavy hit awaited him.

He seemed to possess the perfect combination of both traits — smooth passing and hard-nosed running.

This was at a time when I hated the Stamps. If Flutie wasn’t evading Bobby Jurasin and the Riders’ defensive line, Kelvin Anderson was pounding the ball past their linebackers; meanwhile, Allen Pitts was torching the Riders’ defensive backs.

And those ugly red jerseys weren’t helping anyone.

Yet, to me, it seemed Garcia was the always-cool-under-pressure player other CFLers should aspire to be, especially given his unique skill set.

Then just like that, he was gone after the 1998 season, fresh off the Stamps’ 26-24 Grey Cup win over Joe Montford and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

Long-time Stampeders play-by-play radio man Mark Stephen summarizes it best.

“The last play, he was a member of the Calgary Stampeders. They won the Grey Cup in Winnipeg. Dave Dickenson holding for a Mark McLoughlin field goal.

“It was all set up by a magnificent drive, the Stampeders coming down 80 yards (led by Garcia) to set up that field goal,” Stephen said.

In his mind, Garcia was “part of a quarterback machine that was churning out high-end quarterbacks.”

And yet, he left for the league, the colloquial name given to the NFL.

I can’t fault Garcia for pursuing a chance to return to his home state and play for an NFL club there.

And I suppose the higher paycheques NFL players stand to earn are a big draw, too.

“It’s pretty hard to deny your dreams there. It’s just like guys who grow up here wanting to play for the Stampeders, or for the Roughriders in Regina,” Stephen said.

Fair point.

And it is true that Henry Burris returned to the CFL after failing to get on with the NFL’s Chicago Bears.

But I’d argue Burris is better for it because of his return north of the border. (See the 2008 Grey Cup, and his pass in overtime to Ernest Jackson in the 2016 Grey Cup.)

So what of Garcia?

I’m disappointed he didn’t give this league and Canada’s version of football a longer go of it; I suspect he’d have more than a few Grey Cup rings to show off now, along with a few passing records to brag about.

But I’m also thankful — thankful that CFL fans like me had a chance to see Garcia play some of his best football, despite how short a stint he had in the league.

Thanks, Jeff. I tip my green and white hat to you, sir.

And welcome back to Canada; perhaps you’d consider a coaching new gig one province over.

– Evan Radford grew up in Saskatchewan and is, therefore, a Riders fans. He’s currently a reporter for StarMetro in Calgary.

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