FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- While David Garrard was retired this summer, he stayed in shape by running and playing flag football with his wife, Mary, who quarterbacks a Florida women’s team called the Iron Maidens.
In their yard, Garrard would play quarterback and she would run routes, then the roles would switch. After a few months of this, Garrard started to notice that his knees -- which had been so swollen he’d left the New York Jets a few months earlier -- felt pretty good.
“I was running a lot of routes for her, and that’s what told me I could still play,” Garrard said, “because I was doing a lot of cutting out there. When you run receiver routes you’re cutting all the time, and I never had any setbacks.”
And that’s how Garrard got to thinking about giving Jets general manager John Idzik a call.
"I think the first thing I thought when he left was, 'Man, the Jets just stole my go-to receiver,'" Mary said.
The Jets signed Garrard to the active roster on Monday, cutting backup quarterback Brady Quinn to make space, in part because Garrard still has an impressive arm and can mentor rookie quarterback Geno Smith. But Garrard said he is ready if he needs to go in a game.
“Not just [to be] a mentor, but to be ready if my number is ever called,” he said.
How did the 35-year-old quarterback, who spent nine seasons in Jacksonville, go from a point of so much pain in his knees that he had to give up his spot as a potential starting quarterback to being game-ready? After he left the Jets, Garrard found that the rest he could give him knees did more good than all the training he had pursued to get in game shape.
“I feel great now,” Garrard said. “A few months ago I wasn’t feeling so good. I was trying to do everything that I could to hurry up and get back into the league. When you’re out there on the streets you feel like the game is going by and [there] might never be a chance for you to get back in. And so you work hard, you do everything you can to finally get that workout to finally get on a team, even if you’re sacrificing rest for yourself when you need it. I just knew at that time it wasn’t working, my knee was not getting healthier.”
Sundays out of the league were tough. He’d watch teams and feel like there had to be a way he could still contribute. Plenty of friends were unwillingly retired and trying to get back in the league, so Garrard knew a return was a long shot. But Idzik gave him a chance when he called this month.
“I didn’t want to turn 50,” Garrard said, “and look back and say, ‘What if I just called somebody? What if I just reached out?’”
Mary understood where he was coming from, even if she didn’t relish giving up her other half when it came to the day-to-day of raising their three kids, including two under the age of 2.
“The other part of me was so proud,” Mary said, “because now he has a chance to end it the way he wanted to. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him this excited about a season.”
She can relate. Mary missed her last two flag-football seasons with pregnancies. This January, she’ll rejoin the Iron Maidens as quarterback. There are 18 teams in the Ancient City Sports Ladies Flag Football League she plays in, with a Sugar division and a more-competitive Spice division. The Maidens, of course, compete in Spice.
Garrard offers advice, and when he gets a little too esoteric Mary stops him and says, “Let’s stick with our basic route tree.”
That rhythm has worked out well for the family; one season ends and another begins.
Garrard will be back home soon enough to run routes for his wife, but in the meantime, he is on the Jets' practice field, taking advantage of a second chance no one saw coming.
“It’s still weird to be here right now,” Garrard said. “Honestly, I was retired.”