Garcia’s Star Shines For Dragons In Long Island
UNIONDALE, NY - Picture this. There are three seconds left before halftime. The score is tied and the ball is on the opposing team’s 11-yard line.
In the NFL, the field goal unit would be trotting onto the field for the easy three point try. But this is not the NFL.
In the Arena Football League, they go for it.
The New York Dragons were in that exact situation during their game against the Nashville Kats on February 19. With the game tied at 28, quarterback Aaron Garcia connected with offensive specialist Kevin Swayne as the buzzer sounded to put New York in front 35-28. The gutsy call is routine in the AFL.
“It was a great feeling, but the greatest part was that coach [Weylan Harding] had faith in us,” Garcia explained after the Dragons 62-49 win. “He put the ball in our hands and allowed us to make a play. And, we came through.”
Buzzer beaters and exciting moments are commonplace for the 34-year-old quarterback. He is closing in on 650-career touchdown passes, the most ever for a professional football passer in history. Even with all those records and accolades, Garcia is only concerned about the next play.
“I am trying to prove that I can still do the things I have done in the past,” he said. “I will think about the records when I retire, when I’m sitting with my son and lying to him about what I did.”
No one can blame Garcia for thinking that way. On the 50-yard AFL field, the moment players begin to get comfortable is the moment that the other teams scores. So they always need to be on their toes and ready for action.
“That was the first lesson I learned,” he recalled. “I threw my first touchdown [in 1995 with the Arizona Rattlers] and patted myself on the back. Then, the other team went out and scored. A lead can change at any time.
“That touchdown pass and winning the starting job there were my most memorable moments, because that led to everything else that happened,” he said.
After a year in the desert, the quarterback came east to play with the Connecticut Coyotes and New Jersey Red-Dogs and eventually moved on to the Dragons’ precursor, the Iowa Barnstormers in 1998.
When Islanders’ owner Charles Wang purchased the Iowa franchise and moved it to Long Island, Garcia’s career took off. In 2001 he threw for a career high 104 TDs, tossed another 100 in 2003 and 91 last season. Only in 2002, when he was signed by the San Francisco 49ers in the spring and limited to five games, did he fail to approach these numbers.
“When I did get to the 49ers, every thing seemed a lot slower and I could see better because of the spread out field,” Garcia said. “The hardest thing about the 49ers was learning the different handoff and run schemes.”
At 6’1”, Garcia is a bit undersized for the NFL, but the all out offense of the Arena League gives him different ways to compensate for his size.
“The field is just so crowded [in the AFL],” Garcia said. “I’m not real tall, so you have to find lanes; you have to run through guys to make plays.”
When the ball is in the “Red Zone,” the pressure is even greater. “You can’t not score (in the ‘Red Zone’),” Garcia said. “You can’t be happy not turning the ball over and kicking field goals; you have to score touchdowns.”
Getting into the endzone is what made the quarterback so effective in the AFL. His next touchdown pass will be the 650th of his AFL career. That number has brought comparisons to NFL great Dan Marino. But for Garcia, it’s not always good.
“I find it a compliment because I respect Dan Marino for what he did. But, I haven’t won a ring and that part of it, I don’t want to be known for,” the quarterback explained. “Any other comparison to Dan Marino I will take, but I want to win a ring.”
With two wins in three games, Garcia feels that the Dragons have a chance for their first Arena Bowl Championship. Even with all the offensive numbers, the Long Island star wants to complete his career with a ring. If he should get that chance, it’s almost certain that there will be exciting plays and a last second touchdown.