The Deification and Demonization of Stephen Garcia
Stephen Garcia. Touted High School recruit. Trouble-prone college football player. Embattled Steve Spurrier quarterback. This has been the story of His Brah-ness as long as the Florida native has been on the USC campus, but these tags paint a picture that was then as it is now: incomplete and unfair. We are all familiar with the first chapter; Garcia chooses to play football at USC, becoming an instant star in a star-heavy recruiting class. Gamecock fans rejoice that Spurrier now has the talent he needs, across the field and particularly at the QB position, to challenge for an SEC title. Garcia elects to enroll early, get aquainted with the university and the football team, and get ahead of the curve on his path to what could only be greatness. Carolina’s future had never looked brighter, and Garcia seemed poised to deliver. Then things started to happen.
Garcia began a pattern of behavior that landed him in trouble over and again, sometimes involving pettiness and a bad attitude, usually involving beer. His early arrival on campus, time that was meant to accelerate his development, was wasted. Suspension after suspension prohibited practice time, and Garcia seemed to be on a one-man mission to prove that idle hands were indeed the devil’s workshop. This second chapter of Garcia’s story reads in part like a Lindsay Lohan tabliod story, run-ins with the local police, vandalism and some crazy incident involving a fire extinguisher, all soaked in booze and enacted with a seeming sense of entitlement usually seen only in Hollywood starlets. A single look at Garcia’s mugshot, shown above, told you all you needed to know about how badly he felt about his behavior.
Still, Gamecock fans were no strangers to the idea of the wild, untamed quarterback. Steve Tanneyhill had imprinted himself on our psyche years before, and we aren’t a fan base that will begrudge a winning QB a drink or two, especially if it’s in celebration of victory. But the victories weren’t rolling in as quickly as we hoped. In fact, Garcia was showing a propensity to maddening inconistent play, play that was certainly not up to the Demigod status bequeathed upon him by Gamecock fans on signing day. The love/hate dynamic that Carolina fans have today with Garcia was developing, and it was quickly tilting away from love.
And wouldn’t you know, right at the moment the Gamecock faithful decided they’d had about enough of Stephen Garcia, at the moment it seemed that any upside to his time at USC would never be worth the emarrassment to the university, or worth the games that were lost in whole or in part because of his lack of development and commitment; THAT was the moment that Garcia began to produce. That was the moment that we began to realize that he was producing all along.
Garcia is a big kid, and has developed a reputation as a muscular runner, and here’s some tape to prove it:
Any Gamecock can remember big runs by Garcia against Arkansas, Alabama, Southern Miss, Florida and Georgia. His legs and size are enough to make him a rushing threat, if not quite of the caliber of a Tim Tebow, then certainly at least in the same category. I’ll bet Will Hill would agree with me. Twelve career rushing touchdowns didn’t happen by themselves.
Garcia’s passing stats have been gaudy. 6,753 career passing yards. 43 touchdowns. A guaranteed spot in the top three all-time USC quarterbacks. This alone should have earned him the undying love of the USC faithful, but he’s augmented his prestige with a 2010 QB rating of 148.7, among the highest of any returning SEC quarterback. That’s right, folks, we have one of the best QBs in the SEC. He’s won against every team in the SEC East, led us to our only victory over a #1 ranked team (and a #4 team to boot), and has never lost to Clemson, but still we wonder if the kid has what it takes. Why?
Certainly, Garcia’s play in the last season, though outstanding, was far from perfect. The aforementioned muscular rushing he provides comes with streaks of fumblitis, most memorably against Auburn, costing the Gamecocks a game that would change the landscape of 2010’s college football season. No matter how many coaches talk to him, he still won’t stop putting his head down to run. No matter how many sacks he takes, he still cant seem to grasp the concept of throwing the ball away. His passing accuracy remains suspect, and he still forces the ball on occasion, leading to unnessecary interceptions. Still, these are qualities that are embraced and loved by fans of, say, Brett Favre, who see them as idiosyncratic consequences of a hard-charging playmaker. Garcia doesn’t draw the same kind of love from his fanbase. Why?
I suspect the answer lies with the initial expectations placed on his head. Gamecock fans, it must be remembered, crave victory. They yearn, THIRST for it, the way that only fans who have lived for so long without it can. When the starving man in the desert sees an oasis in the disance, he imagines a pool of relief that is both cool, deep and wide, and curses his cruel gods when he finds just a stony well that will only yield water after time and toil. Such is the thirst that Garcia efforts must slake, and small sips won’t get the job done.
One season remains, and the final chapter of Stephen Garcia’s oddyssey is not yet written. His play this year will be supported by a stout running game (led by Marcus Lattimore) and incredible recieving corps (led by Alshon Jefferey) and a defense with enough playmakers (Gilmore, Taylor, Ingram, Robertson, Paulk) to get the job done. I suspect 2011 will be remembered as one of USC’s best. I suspect it will be Garcia’s best. I suspect that ten years after he has gone, Carolina fans will remember his time at Carolina fondly, and long for the return of a Quarterback just like him.