Jason Garrett knows holiday heroics
Cowboys interim coach had memorable performance in '94 Thanksgiving game
IRVING, Texas -- For a few moments during his Monday news conference, Dallas Cowboys interim coach Jason Garrett's face turned roughly the same shade as his red hair.
He clearly wasn't comfortable answering so many questions about a game that happened 16 years ago. But when you see Garrett during Thanksgiving week, it's hard not to flash back to his spectacular performance as a fill-in against the Green Bay Packers in 1994.
That 42-31 win, when third-stringer Garrett outdueled a young gunslinger named Brett Favre, ranks up there with the miraculous, mad-bombing, Clint Longley-led comeback against the Washington Redskins in 1974 as the Cowboys' most memorable Thanksgiving games. Not that you'll get Garrett to admit that.
"I'm not so sure anybody really remembers that game," said Garrett, who was too busy preparing for Thursday's visit from the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints to stroll too far down memory lane. "Don't break out the film."
There aren't many current Cowboys who recalled their coach's finest moment as an NFL quarterback. Receivers Roy Williams and Dez Bryant, a couple of Texas natives who claim to have been big Cowboys fans while growing up, offered blank stares when asked about that game.
Jon Kitna, the 38-year-old backup quarterback who has starred during Garrett's 2-0 start as a head coach, was one of the few Cowboys with memories of watching the game.
"I remember it was almost perfect," Kitna said.
For a little more than a quarter, at least.
It certainly didn't start out that way. Garrett, who was pushed into the spotlight because of thumb injuries to Troy Aikman and backup Rodney Peete, had his first throw of the afternoon intercepted by Packers cornerback Terrell Buckley. The Cowboys sputtered for the first two quarters and went into halftime trailing 17-6.
"All of the sudden, he just went nuts," said Cowboys secondary coach Dave Campo, who was the team's defensive coordinator at the time.
The Cowboys scored touchdowns on the first five drives after halftime en route to a franchise-record 36 points in the second half. Garrett, who made only nine starts during his 13-year NFL career, completed 7-of-8 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns during the five-score spree.
Garrett finished the game with 311 passing yards, going from a little-known third-stringer who had stints in the World League and CFL before getting a shot with the Cowboys to a cult hero.
"It was amazing. I thought Troy had lost his job," joked Barry Switzer, the head coach of that team. "Seriously, we beat a great Green Bay team and Jason was phenomenal. It was totally unexpected. But Jason was obviously prepared mentally."
Added Jim Garrett, Jason's father and a Cowboys scout during that era: "He got every bit of use of his ability that anybody could individually in such a tight spot. He really did."
Garrett readily acknowledges that he had a lot of help from a supporting cast that was the core of the Cowboys' '90s dynasty and featured a pair of Hall of Famers.
Emmitt Smith rushed for 133 yards and two touchdowns and added 95 receiving yards, 68 of which came after catching a swing pass. Michael Irvin caught three balls for 64 yards and a score and allowed Alvin Harper to get single coverage on a 45-yard touchdown.
"Probably more than anything else, it was a great reminder of the importance of team," Garrett said. "The guys I was fortunate to play with and play for during that time, it was a special group. It was a special group.
"It was the most significant playing time that I had to kind of contribute and be a part of it, and I'll never forget just how much they rallied around this guy who probably wasn't good enough, to be honest with you. They kind of rallied around it and just played great. It was a fun day."