Jim Garrett, who left this world on February 9th, 2018 at 87 years old, not only lived the American Dream, he personified it. Eight successful children, 27 healthy grandchildren, married more than 67 years to his incomparable bride, Jane, who was okay with him heading to the batting cage minutes after their wedding because, as Jim said, “Well, I was on a hot streak. I wanted to keep it going. This batting cage was special. You would hit toward the ocean, and they had distances. I kept hitting every ball 225 (feet), and I told her, ‘Hon, I just know I can hit one 250.’
“So, you don’t think I didn’t hear about that over the years? I mean, we eventually got a hotel.”
A couple of summers ago, I visited Garrett in Monmouth Beach, New Jersey, at the house his family called home, no matter his NFL job, for nearly a half century, across the street from one of the most popular ocean-side sand fronts on the Jersey Shore. We had met once previously in Dallas, and also spoken on the phone a half-dozen times or so. I’ve said and written this many times: My two all-time favorite people to interview are Barry Switzer and Jim Garrett.
This was nearly three years after he suffered a massive stroke in September 2012, and while his mind was still as brilliant as ever, the man who ran 2.5 miles every single day for 25 years – yes, never missed a day no matter what – could no longer walk or stand up on his own. After a grueling and often painful six months in hospitals, he returned to the family house where he spent his remaining time sleeping in a hospital bed in the living room.
I asked a few questions that morning; at least I’m pretty sure I did. For the most part, though, I listened in awe of the life he had lived. And I enjoyed the stories, the most wonderfully entertaining, there’s-no-way-that-actually-happened stories one could imagine.
There was the time in high school when Jim and a few of his friends from the Rutherford, New Jersey, neighborhood in which he grew up hitchhiked to Florida for spring training. He started spending his time with the Pittsburgh Pirates, and even caught batting practice one day. Three weeks passed before an uncle was able to track him down and convince him to return home.
Baseball was always Jim’s favorite sport, his beloved New York Yankees his favorite team. I’d be willing to bet that Jim and his son Jason Garrett spoke more the last decade – and they spoke several times a week – about the Yankees than the Cowboys.
However, Jim was 6 feet, 200 pounds coming out of high school and landed a football scholarship at St. Mary’s College in California. He later transferred to Utah State and played a few seasons in the NFL for the New York Giants. His coordinators those seasons were Tom Landry and Vince Lombardi.
Later in life, when Jim was the defensive coordinator for the Giants in the 1970s, they beat Landry’s Cowboys.
“I was afraid to go across the field to shake hands with him, but sure enough, I look up and he’s coming at me, shook my hand, offered congratulations, couldn’t have been any nicer,” Garrett said. “That’s who he was. He wanted to make sure he shook hands with a former player of his. He was the most humble guy you could ever meet, and the most tremendous teacher of the game I’ve ever been around.”
Jim met his wife, previously Jane Lentz, because he broke his leg in six places and dislocated his ankle on the same play while with the Giants. He said the treatment in those days was, ‘Here’s an icepack.’
Back then, players bought their own cleats, so when he was ready to return to the team, he called a family friend’s daughter who worked at Abercrombie & Fitch. After buying the new cleats, he asked her out on a date. She said no. Then…