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For Jason Garrett, close-knit family and Cowboys intertwined
The Garrett family will gather in a circle Friday evening at the Southlake home of John and Honor Garrett. The 30 or so family and friends will hold hands as John says grace before their Thanksgiving meal.
They will give thanks for the many blessings in their lives.
They will give thanks for the food filling a 10-foot-long English pine antique dining table, including two 24-pound turkeys and a 15-pound turducken.
They will give thanks for being together: Jason as the Dallas Cowboys interim head coach; John as the tight ends coach; and Judd as the director of pro scouting.
“It is so unique that we are with the same team,” Honor Garrett said. “We recognize that this does not happen often. When we moved here, we said, ‘We know in this business nothing lasts forever, and we are going to really treasure and enjoy this time we have together.’”
And so, they will.
After eating together in the family room, Jason will lead an “all-kids and adult-optional” relay race. There also will be basketballs shot, footballs tossed and college games watched. They will tell stories and share memories.
It won’t be much different from the Thanksgiving Days the Garretts experienced growing up.
Jim Garrett spent 38 years in the NFL, coaching and scouting. That includes 21 years on the Cowboys’ scouting staff, where he worked for every head coach in team history before Wade Phillips.
Jim and his wife, Jane, had eight children - Jim III, Jane, Jennifer, Janine, Jill, John, Jason and Judd. All four boys followed their father into the family business, becoming football coaches.
“He’s probably been as influential person as I’ve had in my life, both as a person and certainly in football,” Jason said. “You probably don’t realize how much influence he has on you as you’re growing up – just the conversations that you have in and around the dinner table, or driving in the car, whatever the case might be.
“We’ve always loved football. It’s always been a big part of our lives. We all played different sports growing up, but we all gravitated toward football, and he was certainly a big part of that. He was always enthusiastic about the game, and we certainly caught wind of that at an early age, and it’s been transferred to us, and we still have that same passion and enthusiasm for it.”
Only the Garrett’s oldest son, Jim III, never coached in the NFL. He spent 25 years coaching at University School, a private boys school in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Jim, 51, coached his brothers in high school, including as the quarterbacks coach during Jason’s senior season at the prep school outside Cleveland.
“It probably started more in the backyard than it did even in high school,” Jason said. “He was awfully good and taught me a lot.”
John, Jason and Judd were born 27 months apart – John in March 1965, Jason in March 1966 and Judd in June 1967. They drew even closer moving from city to city as their father took pro coaching jobs with the New York Giants, the Houston Texans of the World Football League, the New Orleans Saints and the Cleveland Browns.
“They were always doing things together,” their brother, Jim III, said. “They said they had their best friends right there in the house with them. Jason had a wide receiver with him all the time.”
Their father would run them through NFL drills, sometimes against NFL players, including Pat Moriarty, Dino Hall, Dave Mays and Sam Mills; they sometimes would watch film with their dad; and football was a big conversation at the dinner table.
“Although we did practice in the backyard, it was just what they wanted to do,” said the elder Jim, who lives in an 11-bedroom house in Monmouth Beach, N.J., purchased in 1970 when he was a Giants assistant. “I think we just naturally went along and encouraged them, because they had interest in it. It wasn’t anybody’s plan to steer them that way.”
John the receiver, Jason the quarterback and Judd the running back played together in high school. They were together at Columbia the one year their father was the Lions head coach, and they played together in 1987 at Princeton. (Jason earned Ivy League Player of the Year honors in ‘88, and Judd did the same a year later.)
The three signed pro contracts with 17 different teams in the NFL, the World League and the Canadian Football League. Jason went 6-3 as a starting NFL quarterback; John caught two NFL passes; and Judd, the best athlete of the three, according to their father, never played in the NFL, though he was on the Cowboys’ 1993 practice squad.
All three ended up in coaching.
“They wanted to play, and they enjoyed playing,” their father said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. My wife said, ‘Why did they go to Princeton to coach?’ I said, ‘Because that’s what they wanted to do.’ Why are you fishing if you don’t catch fish? Because you want to fish.”
John, Jason and Judd were drawn closer together –if that’s possible – in 2007 when Judd’s wife died unexpectedly. Kathy, an All-America soccer player at Princeton, began having breathing problems after returning home from a night run. Kathy, 38, died of a heart attack.
The Garretts use words like generous, kind and beautiful to describe Kathy. She was “an amazing athlete and a more amazing person,” Honor Garrett said.
Judd said that and more, while speaking to his four children, at Kathy’s service. His eulogy had everyone in tears.
The pain still is there. So, too, are the memories.
“We were married for almost 15 years. We had been together almost 18 years,” Judd said. “She was just such a large part of my life. Obviously you miss the person on a daily basis, but then, there are things that she would do that I have to do. There are just things like if there was an issue with the kids we were always each other’s sounding board. Now, I don’t have that anymore. So I have to go to other people. It’s different. Yeah, it is a day-to-day deal that you miss, think about [her].”
Judd, the St. Louis Rams tight ends coach at the time, left coaching in 2008 and took a job scouting for the Cowboys so he could spend more time with his children, Calvin, Frankie, Campbell and Kassity.
He became neighbors with John, Honor and their four children, buying a house on the same street in Southlake. Brill, Jason’s wife, drives from Dallas every Tuesday to spend the day with Judd’s children, allowing Judd to work late.
Judd’s children and John’s children are more like siblings than cousins. Brill and Honor have become closer than aunts to 17-year-old Calvin, 15- year-old Frankie, 13-year-old Campbell and 7-year-old Kassity.
John, Jason and Judd have become co-workers as well as brothers.
“They were already close,” Jim III said of his brothers. “They went to high school together. They went to college together. They were on various pro teams together, a couple of combinations. But they may be closer than ever because of the Dallas Cowboys.”
The Garretts don’t take anything for granted. That’s why they will hold hands, close their eyes and count their blessings Friday.
“You better appreciate the people around you and the people you care about,” Judd said, “and you better let them know.”
By Charean Williams, Star-Telegram