How do you like me now?
OAKLAND – He stood at the 50-yard line before 62,000 screaming, black-clad fans. Photographers and cameramen lined the field for a nationally televised football game in the Coliseum.
This was the NFL, one of sports’ largest stages.
The captains of the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders could only guess how the official’s coin toss would land. But No. 50, the 26-year-old rookie for the visiting team, knew with absolute certainty something he had believed since he was a child.
Dreams can become real.
Garrett McIntrye, who, when he was a South Tahoe High School senior, was part of a team that lost all nine of its games, on Sunday participated in his third NFL contest. The special teams captain was on the field for 22 plays in front of not just the Raider Nation, but about 30 family and friends.
“He had a dream to play in the NFL since he was 7 years old, and he never gave up or lost sight of his dream,” said McIntyre’s mother, Monique, recalling the day she received a call from Fresno State coach Pat Hill.
There was little interest by college coaches for the Tahoe player. Former Fresno State star Greg Ramsey, who landed at the South Shore after a short stint in the NFL, talked Hill into taking McIntyre as a redshirt walk-on, meaning he could practice with the team but wouldn’t play, and, obviously, he would have to pay his own way at the school.
After two weeks of practice, Hill phoned Monique McIntyre, telling her he had made a mistake.
“I was thinking he was asking Garrett to leave,” Monique McIntyre said. “Coach Hill told me he wanted to give Garrett a full-ride scholarship.”
By his senior season, McIntrye was voted the most valuable defensive player in the Western Athletic Conference. But there was little interest from the NFL, and McIntyre failed to catch on with three teams. So he played a season in the Arena Football League and two more in the Canadian Football League. After moving from defensive end, where he was smaller than most, to outside linebacker, McIntyre this summer made the Jets roster, getting an undisclosed signing bonus and an NFL-minimum salary of $375,000.
“Mom,” he told Monique. “I got my first check and my eyeballs almost fell out.”
The Raiders won their home opener, overcoming a 10-point deficit to hand the Jets their first loss of the year. The mood in the visitors locker room was somber as players packed gear and dressed for a cross-country trip back to New York. McIntyre only had about a half-hour to spend with the folks who had come to root him on.
Shirtless and seated in front of a cubicle, the muscle-bound 255-pound McIntrye looked natural among his peers. Nevertheless, he was cognizant of being the first player from South Lake Tahoe to play in the NFL (Shawn Price, who played at North Tahoe High, was in the NFL with four teams from 1993-2002.) Whittell’s Mike Crawford was on the Miami Dolphins 1997 practice squad).
McIntyre’s eyes didn’t look like they would fall out, but they were opened pretty wide.
“It’s the big show,” McIntyre said. “Everybody’s good. Everybody’s big. Everybody’s fast. Everybody’s strong, so you have to play at the highest level you can play at. But, I mean, it’s still football. It’s something we’ve been doing since we were kids.”
About the game, he said, “It’s always hard to play in someone else’s stadium. They were loud and they have a great fan base. It was nice to have my family and friends here but it’s going to be a long flight home.”
McIntrye’s home is a one-bedroom apartment in Cedar Knolls, N.J., which he shares with his girlfriend he met while playing in Canada.
“There was a few times in my career that I thought about not pursuing it anymore but I’m glad I stuck with it,” said McIntyre, who inspires others.
“It’s a testament to how hard he works,” said Jets rookie linebacker Nick Bellore, “how much football means to him for all the years he’s stuck around getting cut multiple times and playing up in the CFL. It’s inspirational for a guy like me that went undrafted that could have easily fell into the same situation and still could. I think it’s a testament to his work ethic and, obviously, it rubs off on all of us.”
McIntyre’s younger brother, Justin, said Tahoe’s connection to the NFL could motivate young players from his hometown.
“He gives the younger generation the thought that they could do it too,” said Justin McIntyre, who in 2004 played on the last winning STHS team in the big school conference, Class 4. “I knew he would never stop. As long as his heart was beating, I was sure he would be trying to play in the NFL. He heard ‘no’ a thousand times but it never brought him down. Now he’s in the big time.”
Justin McIntyre followed his brother to Fresno State, where he also made the Bulldogs team.
Travis Van Arnum, Garrett’s close friend and STHS teammate, also went to Fresno State. He now is a paramedic in Santa Rosa who sat with a group of 14 who cheered for the Jets in the Coliseum.
He said the much-maligned Raider Nation didn’t treat his group too badly.
“When your best friend’s playing, I was a Jets fan more than a Raiders fan,” he said. “I don’t think Garrett got very much respect coming out of South Lake Tahoe. Before then, when Coach (Tom) Orlich was there it was thought of as a basketball powerhouse but never a football powerhouse.
“Garrett went on to be one of best ever at Fresno. They may not have heard of him but they will remember him after they played him.”