There was a time in football when Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens were hoping to usher in a new era of winning for the San Francisco 49ers much like Joe Montana and Jerry Rice had years earlier. Coming in as the replacement for Steve Young, Garcia had a lot of pressure on him entering the NFL.
Unfortunately, he was never quite able to get the team where they wanted. To make things worse, Garcia had an antagonist on the other side of his passes, too.
The Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens experiment
Owens got to see the end of Steve Young’s career up close and personal. Although he was not yet the star that he would eventually become, Owens was able to see an all-time great work on a day in, day out basis.
Perhaps, he took this for granted. When Young went down after just three games in 1999, it marked a new era. Out was the old guard and in was a 29-year-old Garcia who had never appeared in an NFL game before that.
The team was off to a rocky start from the get-go. Under Garcia, the 49ers went just 2-8 in games in which he started. Though not entirely Garcia’s fault, he was just as prone to throw an interception as he was to throw a touchdown.
By the second year, however, things looked a little better. Garcia was hitting opponents and threw 4,278 yards for 31 touchdowns to go with only 10 interceptions. The team was 6-10 on the year.
Hope for the 49ers
This success coincided with Owens’ own breaking-out party. Now an ace in the offense, Owens caught a career-high 1,451 yards and received his first of five All-Pro honors.
The 49ers weren’t perfect, but they were on the path to being something special. Over the next two years, Garcia and Owens helped lead the team to 12-4 and 10-6 records, respectively.
In 2003, however, they regressed to their losing ways, with Garcia’s production going down with the team. This caused a toxic relationship to form between him and Owens, and it often got more personal than jabs about his game.
Terrell Owens vs. Jeff Garcia
Owens was never one to bite his tongue. As much as he was known for his gazelle-like grace and speed, he was also known for getting in trouble. His antics haunted him nearly every place he went.
As a result, his relationships with former teammates are often toxic. ESPN highlighted several instances of Owens getting out-of-pocket in a 2004 piece.
In an interview with Bryant Gumbel, Owens claimed that he would have better stats if he had a better quarterback. After leaving the 49ers, however, Owens went above and beyond football and into Garcia’s sexuality in an interview with Playboy.
“Like my boy tells me,” Owens told the magazine. ” ‘If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.”
Even in 2020, the sporting world has a complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community, but in 2004 this was even clearer. While rumors sprouted up about the quarterback’s sexuality, they never went past whispers in the media. Owens later walked back and claimed he wasn’t sure.
Burying the hatchet
In a recent television appearance before a 49ers game against the Raiders, Garcia spoke about Owens. While he could have used the time to rehash the old argument, instead he praised Owens’ “beast-like” mentality and ability to run the ball. Garcia went on to say how lucky he was to have a player like Owens and claimed that the good times outweighed the bad.
In a podcast with Bay Area reporter Matt Maiocco, Garcia doubled down on his support for his teammate’s bid to the Hall of Fame while acknowledging their issues.
“Personality and off-the-field reputation put aside, he was one of the most feared players at his position and was highly productive despite all of the extra attention and defensive game-planning that came his way to disrupt his performance.”
Whether Garcia fully forgives Owens or not, he seems to understand that Owens operates differently and isn’t going to continue something from nearly two decades.
The mere fact that he was able to express praise shows that he’s willing to be the bigger man. To Owens’ credit, Garcia claims that the Hall of Famer called to apologize. With a little self-reflection, once can only hope that Owens can continue this brand of self-reflection.
All stats courtesy of ProFootball Reference