The Oakland Tribune

Comeback sparks Walsh to sing Garcia's praises
January 06, 2003
Comeback sparks Walsh

By Roger Phillips STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco 49ers team consultant Bill Walsh, the architect of the franchise's success in the 1980s and 1990s, admitted a thought crossed his mind when the New York Giants took a huge lead Sunday.

"When are we going to Hawaii?" he said he was thinking.

Walsh underestimated the 49ers, who rallied from a 24-point deficit to advance in the playoffs with a 39-38 win. And the reason for the dramatic rally, he said, was the quarterback he helped unearth from the Canadian Football League in 1998.

"Jeff Garcia is the key," Walsh said. "That's the key to our success. And it had to be. I said he had to make 250 passing yards. He had to make that today to win."

Garcia passed for 331 yards and three touchdowns. In the second half, he ran and passed the 49ers back from the brink of oblivion.

Asked if this was the 49ers' greatest comeback, Walsh said, "It has to be as good as anything. We've had games where the stakes were higher: Super Bowls, conference championships. But this ranks as high as you can rank a game, any game, anywhere, anytime. The composure of the entire team, coaches, everyone else, even when we were down 38-14, that composure was there."

Mainly, though, he pointed to Garcia.

"Our guy just took the game over, which he can do," Walsh said. "He's a brilliant player. We talk about Michael Vick. All I hear about is Michael Vick. He will be a Hall of Fame player himself. But (Garcia), right now, may be the best quarterback in football."

Will Garcia someday be enshrined in Canton, Ohio?

Said Walsh, "When he wins a world championship, he'll be a Hall of Fame player."

INJURY REPORT: The 49ers have some healing to do before Sunday's visit to Tampa Bay. Left tackle Derrick Deese left the game early when his chronically sore left ankle flared up. He was replaced by Matt Willig, and coach Steve Mariucci called Deese's injury "a big concern."

Right guard Ron Stone departed briefly with a sprained ankle but returned. He's probable. Rookie Kyle Kosier filled in when Stone was hurt.

Also, free safety Zack Bronson departed in the third quarter when his left foot became sore. Bronson was playing for the first time since breaking the foot in Seattle on Oct.14.

Additionally, linebacker Derek Smith is probable with an ankle injury and kicker Jeff Chandler sprained his left ankle before the game. He iced it for 20 minutes, then played. The only other option was punter Bill LaFleur, who hadn't kicked since high school.

Cornerback Jason Webster, who sprained his left ankle in the regular-season finale at St. Louis last Monday, did not play. He was replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Mike Rumph.

CLOSE CALLS: Cornerback Ahmed Plummer appeared to intercept a pass intended for Amani Toomer in the closing seconds. Instead, it was ruled an incomplete pass.

Asked if there was a video review of the play, referee Ron Winter said, "It was reviewed. They looked at it and obviously agreed with the ruling on the play."

Of the call on the play, Winter said, "The ruling on the field was that the player did not have control of the ball as he hit the ground."

On the game's last play, the Giants' botched field goal, New York was called for an ineligible receiver downfield. Winter was asked whether the 49ers might have been guilty on the play of pass interference, but said there was no interference because the receiver was ineligible.

TRASH TALK: Owens said he listened to an unprecedented amount of trash talk Sunday from the Giants, much of it from safety Shaun Williams.

"They talked trash the whole game," Owens said. "I seldom said anything much at all until toward the end."

Of Williams, he said, "I never heard somebody talk and call me so many names in a ballgame. But I knew that was what they were going to do. I just kept my head and kept my composure. ... We got the last laugh."

On the topic of trash talk, Owens was asked if he was ready for next week's meeting with Tampa Bay's Warren Sapp.

Owens said, "I'm not even going to try to compete with him."

If there were a sign these are happier days for Owens as a 49er, it may have been this: The red leather suit he wore after the game, which included gold trim.

BUTT KICKED: In a sense, center Jeremy Newberry's prediction came true: The 49ers beat the Giants. But they didn't quite meet his forecast of a butt-kicking.

"I wasn't trying to purposely disrespect the New York Giants," Newberry said. "They have a great team. I just have confidence in my own team."

After Sunday's game, Newberry issued his forecast for Tampa Bay.

"I'm confident every week," he said. "I think we're going to go out and win that ballgame, too. I have the same approach to every game. I've been telling people all along that once this team starts playing well together, there isn't anybody that is going to beat us."

The 49ers think they might have been provided some bulletin-board material by Tampa Bay receiver Keyshawn Johnson.

Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich expressed some postgame discontent with a comment by Johnson on ESPN's pregame show Sunday. Asked if there was a preference between playing the 49ers or the Giants, Johnson said the Bucs might prefer to play the 49ers because they will have a longer flight to Florida.

SHOCKEY APOLOGIZES TO KIDS: After the game, Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey had two young 49ers fans brought into the New York locker room. He had thrown a cup of ice into the stands in the first quarter, and it missed the targeted hecklers and hit the kids. He signed two footballs for them and apologized, saying, "That (stuff) ain't supposed to happen."

"Obviously, I didn't mean to hit kids," Shockey said later. "That was a mishap on my part."

Shockey had 52 yards receiving in the first half and only 16 in the second half.

When asked about the Giants' missed opportunities late, Shockey said: "It's football. (It) ain't always going to go your way. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it."

STRAHAN UNDRESSES REPORTER: Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, held to two tackles and no sacks, was not about to give 49ers tackle Scott Gragg any credit.

"He had a tight end and (running back) Garrison Hearst helping him against me," he said to a reporter. "Don't ask me stupid questions when you don't know nothing about football. How many sacks do you have?"

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