Astute readers of NN will know that I already wrote a rivalry post for the 49ers-Giants. I argued that the rivalry does not get the same press that the 49ers-Coybows rivalry does. Well, now that the 49ers and Giants are playing in the NFC Championship (yes, that's actually happening guys), the national media is out to make me look stoopid.
Don Banks, over at SI, has an excellent article. If you just want a well-written history of the playoff rivalry, then don't even read this. Seriously. Stop it. Just go over there.
Because, here's the thing: I already wrote my more historical take, so now I want to write a more thematic approach to the game. For me, this game represents the ushering in of a new era. I think the Saints game did, too.
When I started watching the Saints game, it was with just my dad and my brother. By the time it was the 4th quarter, one of my sisters and my mother had joined us. My mom wanted to partake of the festivities; she wanted to have a good time and watch the game.
The thing is, my dad, brother and myself, we weren't having a good time. It was the midst of the third quarter when they joined us, and the offense was sucking. The three of us were convinced that the Niners were going to let it slip away. We wanted to be glower a bit about Alex this, and o-line that, and "why in holy hell won't the refs call a dagnabbit penalty on the Saints?!"
My sister, though, was even worse. She just got her license and was trying to talk my dad into letting her go get her ear pierced or something. Man, we were having none of it, so she got pissed and started to mock the game.
Yeah. Guess how kindly we took to that.
Here's the thing, though. When the last four minutes came around, nobody was mocking anything.
When Vernon Davis made The Grab, the 49ers mobbed each other and jumped around Vernon. Apparently, and I think I blacked out a bit, but according to my sister, I apparently roared at the top of my lungs and performed the world's most epic pelvic thrust ever. She then asked why, instead of pelvic thrusting myself into a hernia, I don't jump all around with my family, maybe mobbing her.
So guess what we did when the game ended. Yeah, it was awesome. I like watching football with my family.
This last game, though, felt like something bigger than just a football game. I think it stands in for something much bigger: the landscape of the NFC has just shifted and the 49ers are filling the role of an elite team. They are true Super Bowl contenders and they will be far a while.
The 49ers and the Giants have only played in the NFC Championship once before. It was the 1990 season, and not only did this year see the birth of this handsome devil, but it also saw a clash between two bruising teams. Take a guess which two.
Let me take you back in time. This is an age in which the luscious tones of John Madden still graced the airwaves. It was a (comparatively) chilly day in San Francisco at 51 °F (that's 11 °C for LondonNiner). A team would win the game without scoring a touchdown. Yes, you read that correctly. We are all bemoaning redzone woes, and yet an NFC Championship has been won on the back of an accurate leg.
In the first half, the Giants rushed for 152 yards. The Niners? A paltry 49 yards (which, for a first half, isn't horrid, I guess, especially with Joe Montana under center). Yet, despite that lopsided statistic, the 65,000 in attendance saw the first half end 6-6.
In the third quarter, however, Joe Montana did, well, his whole Joe thing. Tired of playing at the level of a mere mortal, Joe flipped out all crazy-cool like and threw a 61-yarder to John Taylor for the TD.
So yes, the TD means that the Giants would win the game. Matt Bahr, who wishes he could even smell like David Ackers, wound up going 5 for 6 and scoring all the Giants' points in the game.
Besides the defeat, two key moments actually defined the game. First off, the Niners were actually holding a lead essentially going into the two-minute warning, but with 2:36 left, Roger Craig coughed up the ball for the only turnover of the game. This set up the 42 yard clincher.
More importantly is what happened to Joe Montana. On a third down, Joe, flushed from the pocket, tried to string together a longer play with his feet. When he finally set himself, Leonard Marshall ninja'd his way to him with a teleportation device the NFL would late make illegal, only to drill Joe in the back.
I remember as a kid when I discovered that one could watch football clips on the internet. I would always search for compilations of huge football hits. I loved seein' ‘em. Inevitably, however, the video would include the slow-motion shot of Joe being just drilled. Search YouTube. You'll find it easy enough. But when I first saw the hit, I didn't know how anybody could live through that. At least, I thought that he would be paralyzed. His arms fly backwards, curled up like chicken wings, as Marshall puts his facemask into the back of Montana's helmet. The ball spins out with an uncanny velocity. Joe didn't put anything on the ball - it flies nearly ten yards due only to the impact of the hit. Clearly he didn't finish the game.
But up above, I said that I wanted to talk about the theme of a new era, and as unfortunate as this hit was, it really was the end of one era and the beginning of another.
If I had to chose a favorite part about watching a clip of this hit, and it really is not a fun one to watch, it would have to be the fact that Steve Young is literally the first person from the sidelines to get out to Joe. I don't know how good of friends these two men are, and I do know that the QB competition that took place after this game for a couple of years was pretty heated, but it is refreshing to see the backup QB's instincts are to look out for his teammate.
Young would finish the game, and surprise!, he didn't crap himself. Nope, he was exactly what we have come to know him as: Steve effin' Young. Dude's pretty awesome.
The 49ers may have lost and they may have lost their best player (Montana would come back briefly, only to go to the Chiefs), but in a way, this NFC Championship game was a springboard for a new era of the 49ers. I think the 49ers can make a rock-solid argument for being the best team in the ‘80s, and I think they have a darn good one for the ‘90s too, but for all intents and purposes, these were actually two very different teams. Very similar and yet very different. Yup, that's ground-breaking analysis right there!
I think the 49ers are going to win Sunday. I think they are a better team than the Giants, and, well, I won't get into how much of a freak I seem getting so excited about the rain.
But here's the thing, if the 49ers lose tomorrow, even if they get obliterated (protip: they won't), this game is still in and of itself a new achievement. Playing in this game is such a great honor for the players and it has been an honor as a fan to watch this magnificent season culminate this week. I am going to be nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, that's for sure. I know that I won't sleep at all before the game. I'm cool with that, though, because the future for this team is bright.
I mean, come on guys, we are IN THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP! Seriously. This isn't some sort of cruel joke. I am pumped. This team is going places and nobody's got it better than us.