The Giants and the 49ers are meeting this Sunday in the 80th NFL-NFC championship game. The Giants who joined the NFL in 1925 are making their 19th championship game appearance; the 49ers who joined the NFL in 1950 will be playing in their 13th title game.
Between them they have won twelve league championships and 8 Super Bowls, along with that rich tradition each team brings to the table Sunday, they have met each other in 7 memorable post season games, in each of the Wild Card and Divisional rounds as well as in the NFC Championship game. The 49ers hold the post season edge 4-3, with the winner going on to win the Super Bowl on 4 occasions.
While each team’s history dates far back, they did not meet for the first time in the post season until the 1981 NFC Divisional Playoffs.
January 3, 1982, 1981 NFC Divisional Playoffs, at San Francisco
Delaware’s Scott Brunner who took over for the injured Phil Simms at quarterback in November for the Giants, threw three scoring passes but it was not enough as Bill Walsh and Joe Montana would win their first playoff game together 38-24. Montana hit veterans TE Charlie Young and WR Freddie Solomon with scoring passes and rookie Ronnie Lott returned a Brunner interception for a score in a back and forth game. The 49ers would beat the Cowboys the next week with Dwight Clark’s infamous “Catch” in the NFC title game on their way to winning the franchise’ first championship in Super Bowl XVI.
December 29, 1984, 1984 NFC Divisional Playoffs, at San Francisco
Second year Giants head coach Bill Parcells turned the 3-12-1 Giants of 1983 into a surprising playoff team in 1984. Playing as huge underdogs to the 15-1 49ers, the Giants kept the game close at 14-10 after linebacker Harry Carson’s interception return for a score off a Montana pass. Montana came right back with a 5 play 72 yard drive culminated by a 29 yard touchdown pass to Freddie Solomon, making the score 21-10 at the half. The defenses toughened and the second half was scoreless, the 49ers advanced to the NFC title game with a 21-10 win, and they would beat the Bears 23-0 in the NFC title game on their way to an easy victory over the Dolphins in winning Super Bowl XIX, their second championship.
December 29, 1985, 1985 NFC Wild Card Game, at East Rutherford, NJ
The 49ers and Giants were each 10-6 in 1985, as the Giants defense allowed 362 yards but no touchdowns in Bill Parcells, Phil Simms, and Lawrence Taylor’s first home post season victory together. Terry Kinnard intercepted a Joe Montana pass setting up Simms’ first touchdown pass to TE Mark Bavaro who made a one handed grab. In the second half Simms drove the Giants 77 yards, mainly behind the running of Joe Morris who gained 140 yards rushing on the day, the drive ended with Simms’ second scoring pass to back up TE Don Hasselbeck (Matt’s Father), the 49ers could not find the goal line as the Giants advanced to the Divisional round with a 17-3 victory where they would lose to the title bound Bears 21-0.
January 4, 1987, 1986 NFC Divisional Playoffs, at East Rutherford, NJ
The 14-2 Giants dominated the game after second year 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice, then known for dropping passes, fumbled the ball without being hit halfway to an apparent 50 yard scoring play. After that Phil Simms threw 4 touchdown passes and the 49ers gained just 29 yards rushing. Leading 10-0, Herb Welch intercepted Joe Montana and Joe Morris followed with a forty five yard scoring run, before halftime Simms threw for his second score then Lawrence Taylor returned another Montana interception 34 yards for a touchdown. Montana was knocked out of the game with a concussion on the play from a hit from Jim Burt. Montana’s back up Jeff Kemp could not move the 49ers and the Giants moved onto the NFC title game with an easy 49-3 victory, the worst defeat in Bill Walsh’s NFL coaching career. The Giants would go onto beat the Redskins in the NFC title game and the Broncos in Super Bowl XXI to win their first Super Bowl.
January 20, 1991, 1990 NFC Championship Game, at San Francisco
The 49ers held the Giants without a touchdown, but Matt Bahr kicked five field goals in six attempts, including the game winner from 42 yards as time ran out, to lead the Giants to a 15-13 upset of the two time defending Super Bowl champions.
The game began as an exchange of field goals, as Bahr and Mike Cofer kicked one in each of the first 2 periods. The Giants, however, had showed a stronger offense that pounded for 152 yards on the ground, while the 49ers were held to just 39 yards rushing.
San Francisco went ahead 13-6 in the third period when Joe Montana found John Taylor on a 61 yard scoring pass beating the gambling DB Everson Walls. After that Montana had to leave the game with a broken finger with just under 10 minutes to play, and back up Steve Young could not move the 49ers. Behind the running of Ottis Anderson and the passing of Jeff Hostetler the Giants set up 2 more field goals to cut the lead to one point.
As the game wound down, nose tackle Erik Howard forced a fumble by Roger Craig that was recovered by Lawrence Taylor. Hostetler took the Giants thirty three yards in six plays to set up Bahr’s winning kick. The Giants would go onto to edge the Bills 20-19 in Super Bowl XXV.
January 15, 1994, 1993 NFC Divisional Playoffs, at San Francisco
Ricky Watters scored an NFL post season record 5 touchdowns, all on short runs, to lead the 49ers to an easy 44-3 victory, the previous record was three touchdowns in a game.
The 49ers led from the start, Steve Young took the 49ers 80 yards after the opening kickoff in eight plays capped by Watters first score, a one yard run. Tim McDonald intercepted Phil Simms first pass of the second quarter to set up another Watters touchdown and the rout was on.
Watters would score three touchdowns in the first half and two in the second as the San Francisco defense held the Giants NFL leading ground attack to 41 yards as Simms played in his last NFL game.
The following week the 49ers lost to the Super Bowl winning Cowboys 38-21 in the NFC Championship game.
We saved the best game for last……………………..
January 5, 2003, 2002 NFC Wild Card Playoffs, at San Francisco
In arguably the wildest NFL post season game ever, the 49ers beat the Giants 39-38, capped not only by a 17 point comeback but also the strangest final play to end any game.
Each team was 10-6 and were not considered Super Bowl favorites, but played the most entertaining game of the year.
San Francisco’s Terrell Owens started the scoring by turning a short Jeff Garcia pass into a 76 yard scoring play, the Giants came back with an 11 play drive capped by a Kerry Collins’ to Amani Toomer twelve yard scoring play.
In the second period, Toomer and TE Jeremy Shockey would catch short scoring throws from Collins, sandwiched in between was a sixty nine yard San Francisco scoring drive led by quarterback Jeff Garcia’s running, the drive was capped by a Kevan Barlow one yard scoring run.
Before halftime Giant defensive back Jason Sehorn intercepted Garcia, setting up Toomer’s third scoring reception with just 10 seconds remaining in the half. The score was preceded by a thirty yard Tiki Barber reception.
Halftime Giants 28 49ers 14
The Giants opened the second half scoring by driving fifty four yards on six plays, the drive was capped by a six yard Barber touchdown run. Another third quarter Giant touchdown was barely missed as Shockey dropped an easy touchdown and they had to settle for a Matt Bryant field goal, Giants 38, 49ers 14.
The 49ers then drove 70 yards for a score, Garcia hit Owens for another touchdown, and Owens’ two point conversion cut the Giant lead to 38-22 moving to the 4th period.
After a short Giant punt and a personal foul on the Giants’ Dhani Jones, San Francisco had the ball on the Giant twenty seven. Two plays later Garcia scrambled in for a 14 yard touchdown run, Garcia again hit Owens for the two point conversion, making it a one possession game, 38-30 Giants.
New York had to punt and the 49ers drove 74 yards to set up a Jeff Chandler field goal, 38-33 Giants.
The Giants then drove to the 49ers 20, but 41 year old long snapper Trey Junkin who was signed out of retirement because of an injury, made a poor snap and threw off Bryant’s timing which forced him to miss wide left on a field goal attempt with three minutes remaining.
Garcia took over and calmly drove the 49ers to the go ahead score, hitting TE Eric Johnson for a 25 yard completion on a key third down to keep the drive alive. Garcia gave the 49ers their first lead since the opening period by hitting wide receiver Tai Streets on a thirteen yard scoring pass. The 2 point conversion failed, and with one minute left to play the 49ers led 39-38.
Delvin Joyce returned the 49ers kickoff to the Giant 47 yard line. Needing just a field goal to win, Collins drove the Giants to the San Francisco 23 with just a few seconds left to set up Bryant for the game winning field goal.
This is where the game really got wild, it start with another bad snap from Junkin, the ball bounced to first year punter Matt Allen. He rolled right, away from pressure and threw a wobbly pass downfield in between a mass of players. Giant guard Rich Seubert had a shot to catch the ball but would not have scored. He did not get that shot, 49ers defender Chike Okeafor pulled him down from behind – an obvious pass interference.
But was it?
How could a guard be an eligible receiver?
Unless he lined up on the end of the line, which he did and because of his number he had to report to the officials as eligible – which he did. He was an eligible receiver on the play, and the obvious pass interference should have been called giving the Giants the ball at the spot of the foul.
Time had expired, but by the Giants should have had an untimed down in which to attempt an even easier game winning kick.
The rest of Giants linemen were illegally downfield and with that penalty the game ended. A game can end on an offensive penalty but had referee Ron Winters crew properly called the pass interference, you would have had off setting penalties. By rule the Giants should have been allowed to retry the game winning kick from the 49ers 23 yard line but they never were.
Had Junkin gotten that snap right, who knows what would have happened. Nevertheless the wildest post season game in 49ers v. Giants (and perhaps NFL history) ended with controversy.
Things calmed the next week as the 49ers were easily beaten 31-6 by the Super Bowl bound Buccaneers the next week in Tampa.
Hall of Famers, excitement and some controversy have played a part in the Giants, 49ers post season series.
Here’s hoping we are treated to more of the same on Sunday.