Dressed to match his brothers in pajamas with a blue Giants helmet across the chest, Jason Garrett allowed an interruption to his busy day to pose for the family photo.
He would’ve rather challenged John and Judd to a Giants tabletop electric football game. Or searched for a prized “Spider” Lockhart collectible stamp to complete the Giants team sticker book, sold at Sunoco stations. Or hustled off to Giants practice — and maybe beat the record-day the brothers came home with 10 nameplates peeled off the back of player jerseys.
Don’t be confused. This is not the to-do list for a 54-year-old offensive coordinator but rather memories from the early 1970s rushing back within the Garrett clan, now that Jason is in his first season on the Giants’ coaching staff — hired 50 years after his father Jim joined the organization as an assistant coach.
“We were certainly Giants fans first,” older brother John said.
Jason grew up linked to the Dallas Cowboys and cherishes his time there as a quarterback and coach, but there is much more to this Springsteen-loving, Princeton-educated, Shore-raised “Jersey Guy” with Giants in his blood.
“I have distinct memories of watching a Giants training camp scrimmage at Monmouth College,” Jason told The Post, “but also getting our Giants football and going behind the bleachers and playing our own game of football.”
In 1970, Jim Garrett moved his wife and eight children into “The Whale House” in Monmouth Beach, and it evolved into the family constant for summer meet-ups and football training over the next half-century. If there is such a thing as a homecoming after about a dozen moves in childhood, this is it.
The late Jim spent four seasons (1970-73) with the Giants — he carpooled with coach Alex Webster from a Garden State Parkway rest area to home games at Yankee Stadium — during a NFL scouting and coaching career spanning 1968-2003.
“Even when my dad got a job in another state,” Judd said, “as soon as our school year was over, we were back in New Jersey the next day.”
John, Jason and Judd are the three youngest of the Garrett children, separated by 28 months with Jason in the middle. They teamed up on Princeton’s offense in the late 1980s, followed in their father’s footsteps as NFL coaches and worked together with the Cowboys for five years, until John ventured out on a path toward head coach at Lafayette College.
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Jason compiled an 85-67 record with three division titles from 2010-19 as Cowboys head coach before making the same cross-rivalry jump he did as a player: He was a backup quarterback for Troy Aikman (1993-99) and for Kerry Collins (2000-03).
“We love having Jason back,” John said. “Blood is thicker than water. We’re rooting for the Giants 100 percent.”
Like a trip back in time.
THE WHALE HOUSE
Forget the small tractor parked in The Whale House’s yard as it undergoes renovations.
It must be considered that the tracks worn into the grass outside the three-story compound come from decades of route-running. The football workouts that took place here, one block from the beach, are legendary.
The home is a landmark — “Take a right at The Whale House,” locals say — because of the large whale made from blue-painted wood hanging atop one side. It once was Jim’s impromptu request of construction workers, and now neighbors express concern about the faded whale’s fate whenever it is removed for a home improvement project.
“That’s where we developed our love for football, instilled in us by my dad,” Jason said. “Setting the standards high and challenging the people you are teaching to reach them is such an important part of what we do. His desire to help kids achieve their potential had a huge impact on me.”
Two-on-two football games pitted John and oldest brother Jim III — a teenager willing to put aside other interests — against Jason and a friend, with Judd as automatic offense. A run to the left, toward Arthur Carine’s house, was called “Blast Arty’s.” Flipped to the right, the play became “Explosion Our House.”
“The coaching profession can be volatile, and for our family to have that house regardless of where we were and to consider that ‘home’ was really important for us,” Jason said. “It’s so much fun for me to be back in this area working for a great organization.”
Jim’s old Giants playbooks remain stored upstairs. But they came to life on the side lawn during drills and seven-on-sevens, two-a-days at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. overseen by the patriarch and drawing the best nearby talent, including a young version of five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Sam Mills. Cones and excess shingles from a roof repair marked off the 80-by-40 yardage.
“My dad tells the story that we said, ‘Can you work with us?’ and he said, ‘Of course, but when we are out there I’m not your dad. I’m your coach,’ ” John said, pausing at times to let a quiver pass through his reminiscing voice. “People who would stop by, like, ‘Who are those guys out there?’ ”
Sons and strangers traipsed through the kitchen for turkey sandwiches and Popsicles, shouting “Hi, Mrs. Garrett.”
“There was always iced tea,” Princeton coach Bob Surace said.
With a side of imparting coaching wisdom.
“There’s an old-school mentality to Jason,” Surace said. “He and his dad both have a way of making you feel like they believe in you. He makes average football players feel great.”
Football ended just in time to nap in the car en route to a Jersey Shore Baseball League game, followed by a chance to earn a few bucks: Jason, John and Judd worked overnight shifts as watchmen at the pavilion.
“That was our ideal job,” John said, “because it was at night and it wouldn’t interfere with our preparation.”
MASTER OF TIME
Princeton football players knew to get to “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age” at least 5-10 minutes early because their quarterback would be drawing up plays and passing them around for feedback.
“Jason barely knew me and he was peppering me, ‘Who are you blocking on this protection?’ ” said Surace, then the starting center. “It ends up being a great class about consequences and risk. But there was a football bonding where he is a leader — and he always had that about him.”
The three youngest Garretts played for Columbia during their father’s one season as a head coach then jointly transferred. Princeton is now the site of the annual Jason Garrett Starfish Charities Play It Smart football camp for disadvantaged youth from the tri-state area.
“It’s a life skills day we disguise as a football camp,” Jason said.
Jason credits his wife, Brill, whom he met in a freshman geology class, for “making the whole thing happen,” especially in 2020 when camp became a virtual leadership seminar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The kids think they are coming to meet the Dak Prescotts of the world, but they are really there to walk through a campus,” Surace said. “There is no air conditioning, they’ve been running around sweating all day, and we go into an auditorium where Einstein taught.”
Talk of Jason leading a game-winning two-minute drill from the 2-yard-line to beat Lehigh in 1987 still permeates campus.
“In every other part of Jason’s life, he will be 20 minutes-to-an-hour late,” Judd said. “Anything to do with football, he is there 15 minutes early.”
Need proof? Tradition calls for the senior captain (Jason in 1988) to light a bonfire at Cannon Green after beating Harvard and Yale: “He got lost in a workout and forgot about it,” Surace said, “while the rest of us were looking to enjoy a few cold sodas with the student body.”
Or his pregame speech against Penn, after he showed up two days late for a mid-term exam because he was watching film when the professor announced the rescheduled date: “He did an unbelievable job of spinning it to get us fired up: ‘Football is No. 1! I even missed midterms for this game!’ ” Judd recalled.
Jason’s handle on a clock has improved.
“Coach Garrett uses all his time,” Giants receiver Golden Tate said. “He wants to be abundantly clear with everything. We teach the game in so much detail. Once we get in the game it should come easy.”
The Garrett siblings — who later spawned 29 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren — embraced three Jersey Shore staples: waiting in a 45-minute line at Strollo’s Lighthouse for Italian Ice, eating a hot dog off Rooney’s pushcart in Sea Bright and chasing whispers of a Bruce Springsteen or Clarence Clemons sighting.
“When you are a kid seeing that going on,” Jason said, “it just seems like such an exhilarating experience. There’s something unique about growing up at the Jersey Shore.”
Springsteen became the family soundtrack thanks to the five oldest siblings, including four sisters, but redheaded Jason has seen more than 20 of the rock star’s live concerts.
“One summer he tried to grow the scraggly beard,” Judd said, “but it didn’t come in that good, so me and John kind of ripped him on it.”
Teasing stopped on the football field, where Jason is The Boss.
“He was always the coach, always organizing,” Judd said. “Back when I was in the first grade, he was the guy marking off the field and choosing up teams. I just wanted to run and catch.”
So, nobody within his inner circle is surprised Jason is calling plays in 2020, rather than joining a television booth or waiting for a head coach interview next offseason.
“He loves tradition and history,” Surace said. “Is there an organization in the NFL with more history and tradition than the Giants? He gets to build something with a young and talented offense. I couldn’t picture him doing anything else.”
The Garrett family tree was taught the 24-hour rule for not letting losses linger: Correct mistakes and move on. Sounds like a coordinator.
“I think this will be good for Jason,” Judd said. “He was a hands-on head coach, but there is always a sense you are once-removed because of your status. He likes being more in the middle of the whole thing.”
Sure enough, Jason was in Giants quarterback Daniel Jones’ ear throughout Friday’s practice. Meetings broke after 9 p.m. the night before but Jason was back at it in the 6 a.m. hour.
Just like 50 years ago, he eagerly awaited a training camp scrimmage. The only difference now is the pajamas.