Back in the '80s and early '90s, even as the 49ers were dealing with the Dallas Cowboys on an annual basis, the team also had a strong rivalry with the New York Giants. The teams played five times in the playoffs from 1982 to 1994, with a sixth epic wild card matchup in 2003. As the 49ers begin to return to relevance in the NFL, many of these former rivals return to front and center in the NFL.
Two players that were key parts of that rivalry were Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott. The 49ers are having their team Hall of Fame induction ceremony this week and old players have had a chance to chat about the 49ers rivalry with the Giants and also the state of the current 49ers. Thanks to Drew for pointing out this article in which Lott and Montana talk about the improvement of the current 49ers. You can also catch some video at 49ers.com.
Naturally, Ronnie Lott is a fan of big-hitting Dashon Goldson, but more importantly he loves the tough physical brand of football the 49ers play. And there is no doubt this is an incredibly physical football team:
"What's amazing to me is not just the consistent football, but now you're seeing tough football. You're seeing aggressive football. You're also seeing that determination of understanding, when you do make a tackle; you're not allowing someone to get that extra yard."
"People are fighting for inches. When you see people fighting for inches, it tells you the mentality of what this team's all about. I follow it. And not only do I follow it since I've left, I follow it because you know they have a purpose right now. And that purpose is pretty good."
The 49ers of 2011 are sort of a throwback team in that regard. Where you see many teams going to more spread out passing attacks, the 49ers continue to build around the power rushing game. They are not the only team that relies on their rushing attack, but few are as physical as the 49ers at this point.
Naturally, Joe Montana was given an opportunity to discuss Alex Smith and the 49ers offense:
"The one beauty about the offense is whenever you get in trouble with this offense it was always about going back to the basics. With the lack of time, I'm sure it's about all they've put in, and they're slowly adding stuff. That foundation is what makes this offense go.
"As soon as everyone understands that, they've got serious talent on the outside, able to catch balls and make big plays. And the running game, obviously that speaks for itself."
You can look back at the Eagles game where the offense struggled to get going but never really panicked. They came out and although the air attack did open up more, they did not abandon the rushing game in spite of falling behind by 20 points.
Given the short turnaround time following the lockout, I am relatively optimistic that the offense can in fact continue developing. In the grand scheme of things, this is a team that you could argue is still in the embryonic stage of developing the Greg Roman/Jim Harbaugh offense. I don't know if it will take off further this year, next year, or beyond, but I am optimistic this offense can be taken to another level with the current personnel.