The Underrated Rivalry That Seems Like a Big Rivalry to Us Fans, But to Most Fans, Not So Much

This has nothing to do with my article. It's just super cool...

When I was young, I was a fan of Barry Bonds and J.T. Snow and Robb Nen. In the aggregate, I was a fan of the San Francisco Giants. I also collected cards - there must be at least one thousand residing somewhere in my parents' attic or something. But, I cannot say that I was a dedicated fan of the Giants. Did I like them? Big time. Did I watch the games? Frequently. But baseball was always a little foreign to me. I played it, but I didn't perfectly understand it. Did 2002 suck for me as a Giants fan? Yes, but it could have been worse.

I didn't understand baseball like I did football. And, I didn't know every man on the Giants' 40 man like I did for the 49ers. I was a Giants fan, but maybe not a Fan, you know?

This all changed my freshman year of college. My roommate here in Davis was like me in a lot of ways: whereas I played football in high school and loved the 49ers, he played baseball in school and loved the Giants. 2008 to 2009 was therefore the very beginning of my dedicated fandom to the Giants.

Wikipedia quite blandly tells us that "the New York Giants and the 49ers have had seven playoff meetings over the last 25 years." Bleh. Just bleh with a side of meh. I don't expect the subtle emotions found in Shakespeare, but at least give me something epic to go on. I mean, this is supposed to be a rivalry, right?

Heck. I bet that if one were to look up a couple of paragraphs on the Cowboys-Niners rivalry, one would find som - WELL GRAB MY NOGGIN AND CALL ME SALLY! You kidding me, Wikipedia? "San Francisco has played Dallas in seven postseason games." Come on. This makes me want to vomit out of boredom.

Rivalries are supposed to be epic, right? I mean, Epic Epic. Like when 300 came out and everybody in the universe would kick people in imaginary pits of doom. I bet Bill Gates walked into work every day for like a month after that movie screaming, "Programmers! What is your profession?!" And they would all go, "HUH HUH HUH!" with all their might. Except Billy. He would mutter something about getting rid of bugs in Vista since it had kind of sucked in beta testing.

But the Cowboys-Niners rivalry has been epic. It has become a storied tale in the National Football League. And for good reason - it really is one of the best. But, the fact of the matter remains that in a lot of regards it is pretty similar to the Giants rivalry: marquee postseason match-ups and an intense NFC Championship to boot. I want to know why not? Why is this not a bigger rivalry?

Don't hold your breath. I won't get a chance to begin to even answer that question in this article. That's like a sports dissertation right there, and I can't possibly begin to answer it. But, I would like this question to frame the rest of this article.

***

So while my serious foray into baseball these last three years has been quite rewarding (see: 2010 World Champion San Francisco Giants), it feels like a fleeting and transient sports existence in comparison to my lifelong 49ers fandom.

Don't get me wrong; I'm heavily invested in the Giants. When I learned of the Sanchez-Melky trade I had an intense desire to upturn every table in sight. I expect that from every good Giants fan who knows what OBP means.

This all pales in comparison, though, to what I have had to go through with the 49ers for the last nine years. It's been lonely too, especially since I left for college. While I have gotten much more heavily involved in baseball (to the happiness of two of my best friends), I haven't really converted anybody to football.

It makes sense. Football is a really complex game and it takes years to fully develop an understanding that one can call (haphazardly) complete. And, because football changes so rapidly in terms of schemes and style, what one learns over the course of a few years may become completely obsolete.

Long story short, I have spent the large majority of my Sundays at the local pizza joint (Woodstocks, what what!) dressed in my Gore jersey and Niners cap. I root and I root hard. Invariably a few fans trickle in and out with whom I can discuss the game, but it just isn't the same as watching the game with your buddies (or your dad and brother, for that matter).

Moreover, the state of play the last few years have ... left something to be desired. It makes the lonely fan much more lonely.

***

The ‘80s saw quite a lot of action in the Giants-Niners rivalry. In '81 and in '84 the 49ers took it to the Giants with big wins at Candlestick Park, beating them 38-24 and 21-10 respectively.

For the Niners, these games were sort of the like the awkward make out sessions pubescent teens have in coming-of-age movies. Maybe there's some spin the bottle action going on, or some freaky truth or dare scene, but either way the protagonist gets his much yearned for kiss.

The '81 and '84 seasons saw the newly good 49ers fight past the Giants in the divisional playoffs en route to Super Bowl Championships. They get the kiss in the end, but this is sans Jerry. This is a Super Bowl being decided by a goal line stand. Sure they beat up on Marino, and '84 really was the beginning of a decade long dominance in the NFL, but there were a few bumps along the road.

So, uh, thanks Giants for teaching us how to kiss. It was really slobbery the first time, but we got better at it. Three more rings. Yeah, that's way better.

***

For the rest of my life, I will remember the night of November 1, 2010. My friends and I formed up a group of about nine or so people and we went to a different pizza joint in town, called Uncle Vito's. All the TVs were on with the final game of the World Series.

The place was packed, and while I am normally claustrophobic, the atmosphere was enchanting. With seemingly random abandon, people would start chanting "Let's go Giants." And people would just pick it up and run with it. Commercial break? Chant time. Joe Buck rears his ugly head on television? Chant time. I loved.

And then the final strike. The place exploded with sticky joy. It got everywhere. All over the walls. It spilled out into the streets. People the next day must have walked around gingerly, lest they get some on the sleek new sneakers.

I'm not normally a guy for Pathos. Logos or bust, man. But, I went berserk. I was shouting and hugging. I high-fived a twelve year old and nearly knocked him over and then high-fived his dad. My friends and I hugged it out like children. It's all on tape and on Facebook. When I'm down I watch it and it cheers me right up. It truly is an incredible moment.

But the best part was my friends. I love sports and I love the Giants and the Giants winning was truly amazing. But what are sports worth if they don't bring people together? What is the point of a team playing against another team if it doesn't create a team out of a community?

This is why the geography of sports is so fascinating and vital. In San Francisco, we can be a gigantic team together and we can play the other geographical teams found in LA or in New York. This is the point of celebrating sports. We can best understand who we are individually when we can celebrate with our neighbor.

***

After the Niners went 2 for 4 against the Giants in the ‘80s (winning two at home and losing two in New York) the two teams would meet again after the 1990 season for the NFC Championship.

The 49ers' defense proved their strength by holding the Giants to five field goals, and the game looked promising going into the fourth quarter until Joe Montana avoided an incoming defender as he rolled right. He pulled his body backwards right into the crushing blow coming from Leonard Marshall. Marshall placed his helmet right into Joe's back and pummeled him into the ground. Joe had to leave them game.

The 15-13 loss shut down any chance that the Niners would three-peat on the Super Bowl front and, in fact, it was the beginning of the end for Joe's time in San Francisco. The Niners would beat the Giants in 1993 in another playoff game, but this really was a turning point for the 49ers.

With four Super Bowl victories, they were no longer the pubescent boy learning to kiss, but experienced men in matrimony with football success. This hit, though. This hit took them back a few steps and was a sort of midlife crisis until Steve Young emerged in full.

***

The last few weeks have seen me go to a friends' apartment to watch the Niners' games. My buddy has always been a football fan (more college than pro) and a Niners fan at that. But, he never seemed to watch the games consistently. A game here and a game there made him a fan, for sure, but with all the glorious winning these last few days, he's really become much more devoted.

And man am I happy! I love having a friend of mine be interested in the 49ers. I love that we can talk about the future of this team and our love of Jim Harbaugh. I love sitting around and watching the game. I love watching Schwartz act like a child and laughing with my buddy about it. It has been really rewarding for me as a fan.

Do I wish that we could have been doing this even earlier? Of course. I wish I had a friend with whom I could fight through these last few years that I have been in college. I wish I had a buddy who could celebrate J.T. O'Sullivan (Davis Grad!) for a couple of weeks with me until we both got so fed up and disgusted with the turnovers. I wanted somebody to slap my back and engulf me in a big ol' bear hug when Shaun Hill fought for a first down minus the helmet. Somebody else at my side to feel betrayed by Singletary as Head Coach would have been nice.

I didn't have this friend then, but I do now and I am not going to let this season go by without us reveling in the joys and deploring the pitfalls of football together. He was my friend before this season, but the 49ers have really given us something special. The 49ers have given us the next level of our friendship.

***

Most recently, the 49ers have played the Giants in the 2002 wild card game, and what a wild game it was. Most of us remember this game as the last great 49ers game. I do. There have been a few good ones since then, but nothing like a playoff game. Nothing like the do or die feeling found in the wild card.

Because of this, I don't need to recount the heroics of Jeff Garcia or Tai Streets. I don't need to dramatize the 38-14 hole into which the 49ers fell. I don't need to glorify the incredible comeback. This is still so real and vibrant to us hardcore 49ers fans.

Anyway, there is an excellent ten minute YouTube video that has all the extant highlights. I will put it up at the bottom of this post, and I highly recommend watching it. It's excellent and a great way to prepare for the upcoming game.

But us hardcore Niners fans? We know about this rivalry. We know it backwards and forwards. We know what it means to this team and what this Sunday means to this Franchise.

Outside of us? This rivalry is underrated. It flies under the radar. I don't know why, but it does. So, homework assignment for Saturday night: grad a friend. Maybe he is a stranger you have just met at a party. Maybe she is a friend on the other side of the country. Maybe you saw him yesterday. Maybe you just met her yesterday.

It doesn't matter, just grab a friend and share this rivalry with them. Tell them your stories about the Giants-49ers. Whether your favorite memory hesitantly comes from the early ‘80s when the 49ers burst onto the scene, or is a horror story of an injury from the early ‘90s, or perhaps is about the 49ers' curtain call from the early ‘00s, it doesn't matter. Share this rivalry with somebody and invite them to watch the game. The rivalry is deep and the game is fun to spend with a friend.

Because, this is what sports do for us. They allow us to come together as one and say that we have a common bond. They allow us to reminisce about great games and look forward to future ones. They allow us to cheer together and cry together. Sports have the power to simultaneously bring thousands of people together and to bring two people together.

I will forever be grateful to my college roommate and lifelong friend for elevating my fandom for the Giants to the next level. I am thankful that we could take a break from school work to lie on our beds and listen to the radio crackle with a hit and a strikeout. I am glad that this allowed me to share a wonderful moment with him and others when our team became world champions.

Don't let sports pass you by. Don't let this season pass you by. Grab a friend and hang on. It's going to be fun.

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