When you first size up Jeff Garcia, there's not much to size up. When you see him on the practice field, you walk away fairly unimpressed. When you watch him share snaps with other Pro Bowl quarterbacks, you think, "This guy doesn't belong."
As 49ers coach Steve Mariucci testified, "Everything you just said is true."
|Jeff Garcia and the Niners can take the NFC West lead with a win on Sunday.|
Then you watch Garcia play the game. You watch him make play after play. You watch him get his team out of trouble. You watch him win. And I don't think the 49ers would win without him. That is why he's my MVP at midseason.
Sure, the same case can be made for any player in my top five -- the Raiders' Rich Gannon, the Jets' Curtis Martin, the Steelers' Jerome Bettis and the Packers' Brett Favre.
But of all the first-half performances, Garcia's stands a little taller. The 49ers have had five come-from-behind victories. Garcia has passed for almost 2,000 yards and 17 TDs (vs. seven interceptions). He has run for 214 yards and three TDs.
He is playing with torn cartilage in a knee. He is throwing with a chronically sore elbow. But here are the 49ers -- with youth and enough uncertainty at running back that Mariucci admits he entered this season with little confidence -- standing at 6-2 and just one game behind the Rams in the NFC West.
True, Garrison Hearst has emerged at running back to ease the void left by Charlie Garner's departure. Yes, Terrell Owens is arguably the best receiver in football. Garcia benefits from both players, but both those players benefit from Garcia's ability to make plays.
"I think he's the toughest guy to defend in the league," said Keith Brooking, the Falcons' standout middle linebacker. "He will stand in the pocket, take hits all day, make the tough throws. You think you're getting to him, knocking him around, and then he's making more plays, bigger plays, running and throwing, as the game goes on."
Brooking, himself a rising star, knows the heartbreak of Garcia's prowess. Twice, the quarterback led the 49ers to overtime wins against the Falcons.
Garcia also has become the team's bona fide leader, a quality that merits extra credit in light of the tension between Mariucci and Owens. Guard Ray Brown said, "He's the buffer for both of those guys."
Garcia's story has been chronicled. Like a Doug Flutie, or a Kurt Warner, he's the quarterback nobody wanted. Despite accumulating more than 7,000 yards in total offense at San Jose State, he spent five years in the CFL before Mariucci and Bill Walsh gave him a shot as a backup to Steve Young.
"I can tell you why nobody signed him -- and he worked out for a lot of teams," said Mariucci. "He's not going to wow you in a one-hour workout. He's 6-foot, he's 188 pounds, his arm -- how good is it? What you never see, if you have blinders on, is all the other stuff that makes him a winner. But you had to take the shot to bring him in to more or less discover that stuff."
Much has been made about Garcia's statistics -- better than Joe Montana and Steve Young at identical stages in the 49ers' offense. That's not fair to Montana or Young. Garcia is not Montana, and he's not Young. But he does have some similarities to the Hall of Famer (Montana) and future Hall of Famer (Young).
||What you never see, if you have blinders on, is all the other stuff that makes him a winner. But you had to take the shot to bring him in to more or less discover that stuff. ”
||— 49ers coach Steve Mariucci on Jeff Garcia
"He's a tremendously competitive person, like those guys," said Mariucci. "He's obviously a closer parallel to Steve because he makes plays with his arm and his legs. He's got mobility, he's athletic, he's always making plays when the thing breaks down. And, like Steve, he's really, really smart."
Garcia has something else in common with Young. At 31 years old, he is playing in the NFL as a single man.
"He's not married, but he is married to football," said Mariucci. "He works his ass off. He's a gym rat. He's always here, at the complex. Nobody will ever outwork this guy."
You have to turn to Walsh for comparisons to Montana. The former GM and coach of the 49ers remains a daily presence in the organization and himself marveled at the team's good fortune as he explained to the San Francisco Chronicle's Ira Miller this week.
"Just like Joe Montana, how would you ever know how resilient he is, the punishment he can take, and still keep his poise, his presence, his focus?" said Walsh. "If I would have suggested (Garcia) was going to be one of the best quarterbacks in football, they would have taken me away."
If someone had suggested Garcia would be the league's MVP -- or even an MVP candidate -- I would have had them taken away.
I hear somebody coming.
FIRST HALF AWARDSMVP: Jeff Garcia, San Francisco 49ers. Honorable mention: Rich Gannon (Raiders), Curtis Martin (Jets), Jerome Bettis (Steelers), Brett Favre (Packers).
Offensive player: Curtis Martin, New York Jets. Honorable mention: Bettis, Garcia, Favre, Terrell Owens (49ers), Rod Smith (Broncos), Ahman Green (Packers).
Defensive player: Michael Strahan, New York Giants. Honorable mention: Rodney Harrison (Chargers), Keith Brooking (Falcons), Zach Thomas (Dolphins), Ray Lewis (Ravens), Brian Urlacher (Bears).
Coach of the Year: Dick Jauron, Chicago Bears. I like what Arizona coach Dave McGinnis said, "Here's a guy -- dead man walking -- and he just keeps on coaching." Honorable mention: Bill Belichick (Patriots), Steve Mariucci (49ers), Butch Davis (Browns), Mike Sherman (Packers), Bill Cowher (Steelers), Herm Edwards (Jets), Mike Martz (Rams), Mike Riley (Chargers), Dave Wannstedt (Dolphins) and Jon Gruden (Raiders).
Offensive coordinator (non-head coach): Mike Mularkey (Steelers). Honorable mention: Norv Turner (Chargers), Chan Gailey (Dolphins), Charlie Weis (Patriots), Tom Rossley (Packers), John Shoop (Bears), Bruce Arians (Browns).
Defensive coordinator (non-head coach): Ron Zook, Pittsburgh Steelers. Honorable mention: Ed Donatell (Packers), Greg Blache (Bears), Foge Fazio (Browns), Jim Johnson (Eagles).
Offensive rookie: LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers. Honorable mention: Anthony Thomas (Bears), Chris Chambers (Dolphins), Alge Crumpler (Falcons).
Defensive rookie: Kendrell Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers. Honorable mention: Shaun Rogers (Lions), Justin Smith (Bengals), Nate Clements (Bills), Anthony Henry (Browns) and Gerard Warren (Browns).
Comeback player: Garrison Hearst, San Francisco 49ers. Honorable mention: Jimmy Smith (Jaguars), Gilbert Brown (Packers), Tony Banks (Redskins).
Underrated player: Mark Bruener, Pittsburgh Steelers. Honorable mention: John Parrella (Chargers), William Henderson (Packers), Fred Beasley (49ers), Marco Rivera (Packers).
Surprise player: Tom Brady, New England Patriots. Honorable mention: Priest Holmes (Chiefs), David Boston (Cardinals), Laveranues Coles (Jets), Trung Canidate (Rams), Jamir Miller (Browns).
Disappointing player: Randy Moss, Minnesota Vikings. Honorable mention: Warren Sapp (Bucs), Trent Green (Chiefs), Elvis Grbac (Ravens), Jake Plummer (Cardinals), Aaron Brooks (Saints), Kevin Carter (Titans), Eddie George (Titans), Peter Warrick (Bengals).
Gone, forgotten: Jeff George, ex-Washington Redskins. Honorable mention: Eddie Kennison (ex-Broncos), Cade McNown (Dolphins).
Impact injuries: Ed McCaffrey, Denver Broncos. Honorable mention: Edgerrin James (Colts), Jamal Lewis (Ravens), Sam Cowart (Bills), Tony Boselli (Jaguars) and Fred Taylor (Jaguars).