When Jeff Garcia, 32, was running for his life against Eskimos, Roughriders, and Blue Bombers north of the border, he always held out hope that the sweat he spilled on Canadian Football League fields eventually would lead to the golden streets of the NFL. Now that he’s arrived as the San Francisco 49ers heir apparent to two of the game’s greatest quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young, Garcia is on the fast track to NFL star status.

AW: How do you deal with the ghosts of Montana and Young?
To me, it’s a huge incentive to be the next guy in that legacy. I’ve taken it on as the ultimate challenge. I’m a fighter, and my teammates know I’ll do whatever, whenever to get the job done. In order to really carry on the tradition you’ve got to win championships in San Francisco. Nothing else will do.

AW: Other than the big bucks and the press clippings, why do you throw your 195-pound body against 300-pound battering rams every Sunday?
I had to play in the CFL for five years to prove myself, and that taught me a lot about dedication. My dad was a football coach, so I’ve been around the game for a long time. But really all you’ve got to do is step on the field in front of 70,000 screaming fans and feel the electricity, and you’ll know immediately why I play this game.

AW: A certain team from Oakland looms on your schedule. Will extra security be needed for that affair?
Yeah, that’ll be a big game in the Bay Area. Oakland fans absolutely hate the 49ers, and this one is in Oakland. It’ll be total chaos.

AW: Should 49ers fans start booking trips to San Diego — site of Super Bowl XXXVII — for late January?
If we can just keep things moving in the right direction, this team is a true contender each and every season now. Our defense is stronger, and our offense is explosive. We have the ingredients to be a championship team, but the pieces must fit together perfectly.