Jeff Garcia saw his NFL career winding down and few choices when he went job hunting during the offseason.
Still, the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback wanted his next _ and possibly last _ career stop to meet at least one criteria: To be something special.
His short stint with the Philadelphia Eagles this season has been all of that, and more.
The 36-year-old, well-traveled Garcia, playing in place of injured star and team leader Donovan McNabb, has the Eagles qualified for the playoffs and within a victory of the NFC East division title. Another product of Garcia's stellar play is the knowledge his employment prospects for next season have improved, too.
"I did realize that I'm coming to the end of my career and that's why it was a major factor for me to get with a team that could compete on a weekly basis, to hopefully be part of something special," Garcia said on Wednesday as the Eagles prepared for their regular-season finale against the Atlanta Falcons.
"This is a special time in my life, in my career, where I want to make the most of every single opportunity that I have."
Signed as a backup, the plan was to have Garcia carry a clipboard and help young players during his time with the Eagles. Instead, he was thrust into the starting lineup when McNabb went down with a season-ending knee injury in mid-November.
In a strange twist, Garcia's career and the Eagles' playoff hopes were reborn together.
In the weeks since McNabb's injury, Garcia has been masterful, completing 62 percent of his passes (115-for-185) for 1,280 yards with just two interceptions. And, most important, he has led the Eagles to four straight wins, a 9-6 record and an unlikely playoff berth.
"This team has gone through somewhat of a roller-coaster ride throughout the season," he said. "I think we are hitting a high point just at the right time, being able to finish off strong like we have over the past four weeks with wins, putting us in the position where we can compete for a division title.
"It's just a great transformation by this team, great dedication by the team to overcome the obstacle that was presented in front of us. Now we are in the position where we can control anything and everything within ourselves. "
The finest years of Garcia's career came with the San Francisco 49ers from 1999-2003. He completed 63.3 percent of his passes (355-for-561) for 4,278 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions in 2000. He averaged 3,720 yards and 28 touchdowns from 2000-02.
But his production dropped sharply after leaving the 49ers for forgettable one-year stints on the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. He threw for 1,731 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 starts for the Browns in 2004, and had 937 yards passing and three TDs in five starts for the Lions last year.
Through it all, Garcia's confidence never wavered. In fact, the hard times have made the good times all that more enjoyable.
"I think whenever you've gone through the experiences like I have playing the game of football, you really value the positive times," he said.
Predictably, Garcia's success coming on the heels of McNabb's struggles has some fans talking about a quarterback controversy. But Garcia, who becomes a free agent after the season, will have none of it.
Like a dutiful backup, he defers to McNabb's hold on the spot.
"He's not necessarily threatened by his position, but more so looking at the accomplishments of the team," Garcia said of McNabb. "This is his position; I have a temporary hold on it."
Eagles coach Andy Reid agrees.
"Donovan is one of Jeff's biggest fans," Reid said. "He's in here every day, encouraging people and being Donovan. He's pulling for the team. I don't think he is going to worry about the other thing. He knows he is going to work like crazy and get himself back and ready to go."
Garcia says he's not preoccupied with either a return to the Eagles as a backup to McNabb or seeking a starting spot with another team.
"It's not something that I'm too concerned with," he said. "I feel that I will have employment somewhere next year and I hope that it is here in Philadelphia."