May 27, 2010 in Sports

Ex-Coug Garcia, with no desire to retire, returns to area

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jacksonville Sharks photos photo

Jacksonville Sharks quarterback Aaron Garcia, a former Washington State Cougar, still plays Arena Football at age 39. Jacksonville Sharks photos
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

If your salary is insane, then you’re crazy to retire. This truth is purportedly behind the notion of soft-throwing left-handers pitching shutouts at age 47, doddering heavyweights who won’t leave the ring and other do-not-go-gentle examples of ever-extending careers in professional sports.

What, then, do we make of Aaron Garcia?

Pushing 40 and 20 months into a reluctant retirement, he took what amounted to a 90 percent pay cut to play in the reconstituted version of the Arena Football League, with no delusions that it will lead to some bigger payoff.

A grand a game. Aaron Garcia gets to finish his career on his terms, and the new AFL gets some much-needed credibility at a bargain price.

Oh, and the Jackson- ville Sharks get a quarter- back with a Ph.D. in the indoor game – who completes a full circle of sorts back to the Inland Northwest on Saturday when the Sharks meet the Spokane Shock in a game of some weightiness.

“The long way back,” he said this week.

He nearly took a shortcut. In the winter talent scramble, the Shock made a run at signing Garcia – along with any number of clubs who coveted the AFL savvy he accumulated in 15 years before the owners pulled on the old league.

“I was very close to going to Spokane,” he said. “I was excited – and a little apprehensive – about maybe finishing my career there, but I had some good conversations with coach (Rob) Keefe, and Steve Emtman was a big part of that.

“But a couple of things happened. I’m used to calling my own plays and I wasn’t sure how that dynamic would work up there, and when everything was said and done Jacksonville was maybe a little better fit for me.”

The apprehension? Well, Aaron Garcia has some history up here.

It is 20 years gone now, but he was a principal in one of the most bizarre, contentious and ham-fisted episodes of situational management in the funhouse that is Washington State University football. For those who don’t go back that far, Garcia led the Pac-10 in passing as redshirt freshman in 1989 in relief of injured starter Brad Gossen. A year later, coach Mike Price brought in a pretty fair freshman named Drew Bledsoe and leapfrogged him over the two veterans – though not before fomenting a rift on the roster and sanctioning the calamity of rotating them series-to-series in a game against USC.

Garcia did not accept his fate stoically, transferred out and acknowledged his differences with Price – and his own impatience.

“I wish it would have turned out different up there, and I’m proud to have been a quarterback at a school where there have been so many great quarterbacks,” Garcia said. “I still very much root for the Cougs, especially now that Paul Wulff (a former teammate) is the coach.”

But if nothing else, the Wazzu episode had to have fueled some of the drive that turned Garcia into an AFL institution.

“I always knew he was a good player,” said Sharks offensive coordinator Chris Siegfried, the former Shock head coach who jumped from Spokane into the AFL, “but in 2007 we went up to play them and it was his first game coming off (injured reserve).

“He came out there and wasn’t even 100 percent, still limping around, and he was on another level of any quarterback I’ve ever seen.”

It’s remarkable how many graybeard AFL quarterbacks have been resurrected in the new league – John Dutton, Raymond Philyaw, Chris Friesen and Garcia, who recently threw his 900th AFL touchdown pass. It’s a quarterback’s league and it rewards those who “understand the nuances that make you successful in this game,” he said.

On the other hand, Garcia also noted instances in which former AFL players “maybe came back thinking we were going to run the show and didn’t prepare themselves in the way we had in the past.

“We’re at Alabama, our only loss, and they onside kick us five times and ran the ball 10 or 12 times,” Garcia said. “(Lineman) Henry Taylor came back to the bench saying, ‘Those guys play harder for $400 than guys playing for what we were making in the old league.’ ”

And that’s what Garcia holds to: He isn’t playing in the scaled-down AFL for the money.

“I didn’t want my career to end because some owners felt they were losing too much money,” he said. “I didn’t want anybody telling me, ‘You’re done with football.’ I’ve been situations like that before – with Mike Price at Washington State, and trying to keep my career going after that, and a couple of years ago when I tore up my leg.

“I’m not sure what it’ll actually be that gets me to hang them up, but I knew that wasn’t it.”

It’s only a grand a game, but there’s also the psychic salary. With all that, he’d be crazy to retire.


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