QB Jason Garrett went to a fourth Super Bowl with the Giants after picking up three rings with the Dallas Cowboys
It is a debate that may be waged forever: Nature vs. nurture.
How much of a child's development comes courtesy of his genetic imprint, and how much is the product of his environment?
Obviously, it is some combination of the two, but which is the greater ingredient in the mix?
For one Jason Garrett, new Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, the percentages are basically irrelevant. His natural abilities dovetailed perfectly with his family environment, and the result has been a quietly charmed life. Football is in his blood, one might say, and it got there through both nature and nurture.
Jason, son of long-time football coach Jim Garrett, is one of eight Garrett siblings, including four brothers, two of whom, John and Judd, have coached in the NFL. As kids, the Garrett boys were a team unto themselves, fully immersed in sports throughout the year and always looking for a game in the neighborhood. Jason played football, baseball and basketball throughout grade school and high school, and when another genetic windfall landed him at Princeton, he continued to play football and baseball while getting his Ivy League diploma.
"We grew up with sports in general," said Garrett, a 12th-year veteran who comes to the Bucs after four seasons with the New York Giants and seven in Dallas. "Sports were always a big part of our lives. We've just been fortunate to be able to continue to play and coach. It's been a great life and I feel fortunate to be able to do this as long as I have."
Garrett may have a deep vocabulary from his Princeton days, but the word that falls from his lips most often is 'fortunate.'
One can understand why. He has played on four Super Bowl teams and has three championship rings from his Cowboy years…right place at the right time, he'll tell you. He married a fellow Princeton student, Brill, and the couple has forged many wonderful community bonds through charitable work throughout the years. To Garrett, that's the good fortune of an NFL resume opening doors. He's played for dozens of outstanding coaches, soaking up a wealth of free information for the coaching career that may very well follow his playing days. Yes, all very fortunate.
But the Buccaneers weren't looking for a good luck charm when they surveyed the free agent QB market in March, looking for several new parts to fit in with incumbent starter Brad Johnson and promising second-year man Chris Simms. The team picked up former Dolphin Brian Griese, a more high-profile candidate for the roster, on March 19. Four days before that, the Bucs signed Garrett, who has spent a majority of his career as a number-three man but is 6-3 all-time as an NFL starter.
The Bucs were looking for someone who could learn a system fast and implement it confidently and conscientiously. Despite his obvious modesty, Garrett will agree that he possesses the right work ethic and team-first attitude to fill such a role.
"I've played on some fantastic teams in Dallas and New York," he said. "Did I do anything to deserve it? Absolutely not. I was fortunate to be a part of those things, and I tried to contribute in any way I could. I tried to make the environment there better for everybody, and that's been something I've tried to do everywhere I've gone. You step back and you try to take a team perspective on things and just try to be a contributor each and every day. I take pride in that."
Garrett owns an excellent career passer rating of 83.2 and has succeeded in several short stints as a starter. That he has thrown just 294 career passes – for comparison, Johnson tossed 570 passes last year – does lend that rating less weight. However, the scattered nature of Garrett's accomplishments also speaks to his strength – over a dozen years in the league, he has always been ready when called upon.
He has done that, in effect, by taking what nature gave him and nurturing it. The best example of that was his first half-dozen years in Dallas (1992-97, the first season of which he spent on the practice squad), during which he played in a total of 10 games and threw 72 passes. It was, nonetheless, an extremely productive period for Garrett, a span upon which his NFL career has been built. He spent the time learning everything he could from Jimmy Johnson, Norv Turner and, especially, Troy Aikman.
"Troy was just an amazing guy, an amazing example of how to do your job day-in and day-out," said Garrett. "And he did it as well as anybody.
"I learned so much from him. That's what I've tried to do throughout my career – learn it, soak it up and try to become a better player each and every day. It's great to be around Brad, and it's great to be around Brian and Chris as well. You can learn a ton from those guys."
Presumably, Garrett could teach Griese and Simms a few things, as well. As long as it's about football, that is, and not, say, rocket science. Garrett is an intelligent man and, as a Princeton grad, a bit of a novelty to some of his teammates, but he doesn't have the infinite pool of world knowledge that some expect.
"In my first year out of college, I was with the Saints and Bobby Hebert was one of the quarterbacks – just a really wonderful guy and a great guy to be around to learn the game from," said Garrett, touching again on his favorite theme. "But he had this notion that I knew the answer to every question. So he was always asking me questions in crossword puzzles and so on, and I would say, 'I really don't know.' He asked me once, 'The Seven Wonders of the World, what are they?'"
Garrett came up with two or three, but not enough to please Hebert, who called him overrated. Garrett agreed with a laugh.
"I feel incredibly fortunate to have gone to Princeton," he said. "I learned so much there, about academics, about life, about football. But sometimes I think you do get a little overrated."
Hebert will be glad to know that on this Thursday, the last day of the second week of the Bucs' voluntary offseason training program, Garrett did have his nose in the books. Of course, in this case, it was two packed binders, both thicker than most phone books, filled with information on Jon Gruden's offense. Garrett spent several hours in one of the team's smaller meeting rooms pouring over the offense with three other 2004 newcomers – Griese, fullback Greg Comella and tight end Dave Moore.
No coach was present, but the players made a lot of progress on their own. It was a collaborative effort, with no clear leader of the proceedings, but their just might have been a coach-in-waiting in the room.
Garrett admits he may try to follow in his father and brothers' footsteps when his playing days are over.
"It's always been an interest of mine," he said, regarding a coaching career. "I've always tried to pick my coaches' brains and think about the game maybe more completely because I have an interest in coaching. I got some great advice a long time ago about just watching and listening as much as you can when you're around great people.
"And that's absolutely a huge draw to this place. I've known so many guys who have played or coach with Coach Gruden, and they rave about him. That's including guys on this team right now and others who were in Oakland or other places with him. Being around those kinds of people, if you keep your eyes and ears open you can learn a ton."
Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Garrett's in no hurry to close the current chapter in his professional life; he'd like a crack at a fifth Super Bowl appearance as a player. That may require beating out one or more of his passing teammates in training camp, but Garrett is focused on his own development in the Bucs' system.
"One of the things I've tried to do throughout my career is not really worry about the depth chart," he said. "What I'm trying to do is spend extra time in getting into this book and understanding what we're trying to do in this offense. I'm trying to get myself ready to play as well as I can. I think, more than anything else, you compete with yourself. You want to put your best performance out there on a daily basis and be a consistent performer."