David Garrard slipped on a black T-shirt before he walked over to his new spot in the Jets' locker room, and the words printed in green on front said it all.
"SOME THINGS JUST WON'T RETIRE"
The veteran quarterback tried it for a few months, and retirement didn't suit him. Especially with his balky left knee feeling healthy again for the first time in a while.
"I didn't want to turn 50, look back, and be that guy that said, 'What if I just called somebody?'" Garrard said Thursday after his first practice back with the Jets. "I'm glad I did."
The 35-year-old Garrard was removed from the reserve-retired list and placed on the exempt list, meaning he is eligible to practice and attend meetings. With Mark Sanchez out for the season with a shoulder injury, Garrard gives the Jets a veteran backup for rookie Geno Smith.
Garrard, who signed with New York in March before leaving because of knee trouble in May, will be on the exempt list for two games. The team will need to make a decision whether to activate him by Oct. 21. If the knee proves to be healthy, Garrard could be on the sideline backing up Smith for the team's game at Cincinnati on Oct. 27.
"My knee's been feeling great," he said. "I've been going out just about every other morning and running three miles on concrete and I really thought that would be the real test on if my knee would swell back up and get sore again and it hasn't.
"So for the last three weeks, I've been doing that."
Last weekend, Garrard called Jets general manager John Idzik and asked for another opportunity. He told Idzik that he planned to put his name out there, and wanted to make sure the GM heard it from him first. And, if the Jets weren't interested, he would have asked to be released from the reserve-retirement list so he could explore other options.
"I started to get some really good feedback while talking to him," Garrard said. "I told him, 'Hey, if there's anything I can do to help you guys out in any kind of way, I know my veteran leadership in the meeting rooms, the practice fields and really helping Geno continue to grow, I would love to come back and help you guys."
On Thursday, Garrard was back on the field, working with Smith and the rest of the quarterbacks.
"Geno has the job," he said. "And if my number's ever called, I need to be ready for that."
Garrard was signed during the winter to provide veteran competition for Sanchez, and then was expected to be in the team's quarterback mix along with Smith. But in May, Garrard said that his surgically repaired knee kept swelling up on him after workouts, and that forced him to walk away from the game and consider retirement.
He took the whole summer off and just relaxed. Garrard and his family went to their lake house in North Carolina, and then headed back to their home Jacksonville toward the end of summer.
During those days, Garrard felt, well, officially retired from football.
"I was still having some aches and pains, and my knee was still swollen," he said. "I just continued to relax and rest and not do too much."
After gaining some weight from the inactivity, Garrard decided to try to get active again. Garrard's wife Mary was part of a flag football team, and he was constantly running and making cuts while catching passes from her — and the knee felt fine.
That's when the comeback plan kicked in.
"I'm 35, so I'm not so old that it doesn't make any sense," he said. "I know I have some years left in me."
He hasn't played in a regular-season game in the NFL since 2010 because of injuries. But his signing leaves the status of Brady Quinn uncertain. Quinn is currently listed as the team's No. 3 quarterback, and he has been unable to surpass the inexperienced Matt Simms on the depth chart. He has been inactive for four games this season.
Garrard has thrown for 16,003 yards in his career, with 89 touchdowns and 54 interceptions.
"We have a plan," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "We're going to see exactly where he is physically. It's good to have him back."