How Jason Garrett helped save the Cowboys season in 1998

21 Sep 1998: Quarterback Jason Garrett #17 of the Dallas Cowboys prepares to throw a pass during a game against the New York Giants at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Cowboys defeated the Giants 34-7. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello /A
21 Sep 1998: Quarterback Jason Garrett #17 of the Dallas Cowboys prepares to throw a pass during a game against the New York Giants at the Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Cowboys defeated the Giants 34-7. Mandatory Credit: Al Bello /A /

On Friday, the New York Giants hired former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to be their offensive coordinator. Over 20 years ago against the Giants, Garrett helped save the Cowboys season.

September 21st, 1998. A year in which a small company called Google was founded, St.Louis Cardinals first baseman Mark McGwire breaks the MLB home run record and NASA probe Voyager 1 becomes the most distant man-made object in the Solar System. And, a 32-year-old Jason Garrett heads into only his 3rd start as a quarterback in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys despite having only thrown 91 passes in his entire NFL career.

To put how few that is for a career in perspective, Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe once threw 91 passes in a 5 and half quarter span only four years before Garrett made his start. But now Garrett faced a pivotal week 4 matchup against a division rival that could set the tone for the season. A start against Tiki Barber and the 1-2 New York Giants.

Now the Giants were not exactly the Broncos in 1998, but they did have a lot of pieces, including Barber, Amani Toomer, hall of famer Michael Strahan and Jessie Armstead, even if they were in “quarterback hell,” an area they arguably would not emerge from until the drafting of Eli Manning in 2004. So the Giants were not supposed to be a total pushover, but I digress.

So why was Garrett here?

The short version is that franchise quarterback Troy Aikman had fractured his left collarbone in the 2nd quarter the week before against the Denver Broncos after scrambling to pick up a first down and Garrett had to take over for the rest of the afternoon.

He did admirably in Aikman’s absence, completing 14-of-19 for 119 yards and the leading Dallas on three field-goal drives, partially on the back of a 29-year-old Emmitt Smith. It was not nearly enough, however, as the 1998 eventual Super Bowl champion Broncos offensive machine was too much for the Cowboys and Denver won 42-23.

The “freak injury” as Aikman claimed it was, would put him out of commission for several weeks and put the Cowboys season in danger. Even then-Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey uninspiringly said “‘I hate to use the word devastating,” to describe Aikman’s injury. So Garrett had to saddle up and ride at the helm of the Cowboys offense the next few weeks, but there’s more. You knew it was coming, the long version.

The long version encaptures Garrett’s journey from white-collar beginnings to a decidedly blue-collar team, the Dallas Cowboys. The former Cowboys head coach and quarterback, ironically, spent his childhood just 50 miles from Giants Stadium and played his high school football at the University School in Ohio. Current New England Patriots Director of Player Personnel Nick Caserio and brothers Judd and John are alums of the same school.

After excelling in high school academically, but not quite excelling enough athletically, Garrett held to little to no offers from college teams coming out of high school. With the help of his grades and his father’s Ivy League connections, Garrett went to Princeton University and started immediately at quarterback, throwing for just under 1,000 yards and leading the Tigers to a 4-5 record in his freshman season.

Shortly after though, Garrett’s father Jim, a longtime coach in NFL(including stints with the Giants), took a job as the head coach of Columbia University and brought sons Jason and John along.

In a shining example of nepotism, Jason and John started at quarterback and running back respectively with their father at head coach and proceeded to go 0-10 in 1985, losing every game by double digits except one. The 0-10 season also featured a 31-0 drubbing at the hands of Garrett’s former team Princeton and assault allegations against Jason’s father Jim by two players.

Having seemingly learned their lesson, the Garretts headed back to Princeton, with Jason having to sit out a season due to being ineligible as a transfer. Jason would have astounding success at quarterback for the Tigers the next year, becoming team captain and leading Princeton to a 6-4 record in 1988 and then winning Ivy League Player of the Year along with a share of the Ivy League Championship in 1989.

The next few years would not be as kind to Jason Garrett. Garrett would not be drafted but would earn on spot on Jim Mora’s New Orleans Saints practice squad in 1989 before being cut before the season in 1990.  After that, Garrett would not touch an NFL uniform until 1992, a full two-year gap, with stops in the CFL with the Ottawa Rough Riders and the World League’s San Antonio Riders(seems like Garrett has a thing for teams relating at all to men riding horses).

Also, Garrett has a football card of him with the Riders and was the team’s first quarterback and also it’s 2nd-to-last quarterback, as the team folded in 1992. I am beyond certain you wanted to know that.

Anyways, Garrett would get his next football-playing chance (yet again) because of his father Jim Garrett, for the Dallas Cowboys in 1992, as Jim was a scout for them at the time and held some influence over Jerry Jones. Fast forward six years and we are back again, with Garrett, in Giants Stadium, in front of 78,000 people, on Monday Night Football.

The first quarter was pretty monotonous, with neither team even managing to cross midfield the entire quarter. The Giants lined up to punt after a checkdown on 3rd-and-22 by Giants quarterback Danny Kanell that only gained three yards, and…Deion Sanders happened:

“Neon” Deion put the Cowboys on the board first but this certainly would not be the end of his impact on the day. A 36-yard


from Kanell to wide receiver Amani Toomer would even the score at 7 later in the second quarter. Garrett would answer with what would be the longest completion in his NFL career as the numbers ran down to the end of the second quarter.

The strike to Billy Davis (know him? I don’t, but I do know that completion accounted for just under 9% of his career receiving yardage output) gave the Cowboys the lead going into the half. This strike may well have been the turning point in the Cowboys entire season. After the long completion, Dallas would score 17 unanswered points, with help of a Deion pick-six and a 55-yard catch by Sanders as well. That put Deion at 226 all-purpose yards for the day and two touchdowns off a punt and interception return.

The completion helped give Dallas their first win post-Aikman injury and Garrett would start the next four games, with a 2-2 record. The Cowboys would go onto a 10-6 record with Aikman back and would lose in the wildcard round to Arizona Cardinals. After his five-game start streak in 1998, Garrett would only start two more games in the next six years of his career, including four seasons with the Giants.

22 years later, Garrett is back with the team that helped launch one of the proudest moments of his career, the New York Giants. Just like Garrett saved the Cowboys offense in 1998, he is tasked to do the same thing with the Giants offense. This time, he has to help Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley get to the playoffs, as he did all those years ago with Dallas.

Whether he can get the job done is up to debate, but Jason Garrett did once step up when his team needed him all those years ago, and will finally get the opportunity to help the other team that helped make him relevant in 1998.