Garcia, Owens carve their niche
January 06, 2003
THEY WERE spectacular on the 49ers' first offensive play, 76 yards from Garcia to Owens, a touchdown, an explosion, an unforgettable play. But by the end of Sunday's playoff game, it was forgotten.
Well, maybe not forgotten, but as mundane as a 76-yard touchdown pass can be.
You can rack up great statistics and produce lovely highlight reels in the first quarter, but that's not when you become the new Montana-and-Clark, the latest Montana-and-Rice, the next Young-and-Rice. You cannot become San Francisco legends in the first quarter.
For that, Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens needed to be spectacular in the second half, explosive in the final minutes. They needed to erase a 24-point deficit and revive a dying season. And like their vaunted predecessors in scarlet and gold, they needed each other.
They scored another touchdown together, the one that cut the Giants' lead to 38-22, the one that put paddles on their team's chest and jolted it back into the game. Then they converted a 3rd-and-5 early in the fourth quarter. Finally, they converted a 3rd-and-6 just before the two-minute warning. That was the real sparkler of the afternoon. It traveled all of 7 yards.
It was just enough, just like the final score, 39-38 49ers.
These two have been great for three years now. Owens has been a superstar. Garcia has been a delightful surprise. They have made the Pro Bowl and broken records. On Sunday, they became something more. They grew into real icons, the kind that, by all rights, should have skipped a generation or two in this city.
Garcia, in particular, proved himself. He had further to go, because Owens already had done the impossible for the 49ers, with a catch against the insufferable Packers four years ago. Sunday's win over the Giants gave Garcia the credential that had been missing, gave him the full glamour of a 49ers quarterback.
Watching him in the second half was like witnessing a birth. He never looked frantic, not on the 4th-and-1 pass to Tai Streets, not on two critical 2-point conversions. It was as if Garcia knew: Yes, he might have to endure hard labor, but in the end, something wonderful was coming.
"He was smart, he was poised," his coach, Steve Mariucci said, "and during the timeouts, he was calm, and he was collected."
Even in the final seconds, in the madness of a Giants field-goal attempt that led to a bad snap, a desperate passing attempt and a deluge of yellow flags that seemed to signal a devastating pass-interference penalty against the 49ers, Garcia didn't panic.
"I knew because of the chaos taking place that there had to be linemen downfield," he said, and his assumption was as accurate as his right arm.
The hyper-emotional Owens was fairly composed, too. On his second touchdown, cutting the Giants' lead to 18, he didn't dance or grab pompons or dig a pen out of his sock. He simply undid his chin strap. He did it forcefully, expressively, because that's his way. He tugged hard at the snaps, as if he were releasing all of his frustration.
He also made a small motion, his fingers simulating a yapping mouth, in the direction of Giants safety Shaun Williams. He said later that Williams had been spewing trash all day, telling Owens to look at the scoreboard as New York kept piling up points and plowing under the 49ers.
"I've never heard somebody curse somebody out so much," Owens said. "I just kept walking back to the huddle. I think I got the last laugh."
When Streets scored the winning touchdown, Owens congratulated his teammate, then walked over to the part of the end zone where Williams had fallen. Owens leaned over and pointed to the sides of his own head. Williams jumped up and knocked over Owens, punching away. They both drew penalties, Owens for taunting, Williams for the punches, offsetting each other.
A few seconds later, Williams started another fight after Owens delivered a late hit. Again, there were offsetting penalties, but Williams was ejected. Owens got away with unsportsmanlike conduct and unnecessary roughness because he got under Williams' skin.
Owens was a happy, mellow man in the interview room. Dressed in a baggy, red leather suit, he explained what had motivated him to make the first halftime speech of his NFL career. He'd heard that a newspaper story had referred to most of the playoff teams as contenders, but labeled the 49ers "pretenders."
"My speech at halftime was 'Pretenders or Contenders,' " he said.
On the sideline later, he offered up some sage advice to Garcia. "I said there's going to be a point where they double-team me, and you should give Tai and J.J. (Stokes) and E.J. (Eric Johnson) the opportunity to make some plays,' " said the receiver who followed up last season's playoff loss by complaining that he hadn't seen enough passes.
Garcia, in turn, said he felt that he had shortchanged Owens in the first half, seeing dangerous coverage where there was acceptable risk. "I think maybe I was over-reading," the quarterback said, "and I finally realized: 'You have to get the ball into his hands.' "
Hearing them talk that way was like reading "The Gift of the Magi." Such generosity, such camaraderie, such respect. Everything about them grew a little larger on Sunday.
Garcia was asked whether he thought he had joined the ranks of Young and Montana with this huge comeback. "As far as legacies go," he said, "I'm still trying to find my way out of the hole sometimes."
On Sunday, he found a lot of things. He found Streets on a 4th-and-1 and Eric Johnson on third down, all by himself. Above all, he found Owens and Owens and Owens again. The two of them haven't found a legacy yet, but they found the route to one, right through the heart of the New York Giants.
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