Steve Young darn near stumbled, and fell to the ground. He didn't, though. He was able to slice a last-ditch-effort ball through the air, through a tight window, and into the waiting hands of receiver Terrell Owens for the win. Having lost five in a row -- including three consecutive in the playoffs -- to their NFC superpower rival Green Bay Packers, it was more than just a playoff win. It was getting over the hump against the team that had been thwarting their efforts so many times before.
This was, of course, a sequel of sorts. A different enemy, but the same hero on a crusade to victory. It was dubbed "The Catch II," not just because it was a big time reception to seal a huge win, but because of the similarities to what Joe Montana and Dwight Clark experienced after they, too, snapped a three-game postseason losing streak to a rival.
Recency bias might lead one to suggest they'd rather see the Niners beat the Seahawks than any other team. Certainly, the wound is still sensitive to touch, only made worse by parades, talk show appearances and general omnipresence of our foes in all facets of media.
So, let's look at a 30,000 foot snapshot of each of the 49ers major rivalries over the years.
New York Giants
This rivalry doesn't have as many memories at the top of the all-time list, but these two teams have engaged in some big playoff contests, complete with controversy and heartache. Jeff Garcia led the 49ers from a 24 point deficit in the 2003 playoffs to edge the Giants by a score of 39-38. An assist went to the officials when they correctly called the Giants for illegal man downfield, but failed to call Chike Okeafor's pass interference on the same play. The penalties would have off-set, and then, who knows. The G-Men had to wait eight long years for revenge, but watched the collective heart of San Francisco break when they nabbed a late win in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. The Niners trail the Giants 18-19 all-time, and the teams are knotted at 4-4 in the playoffs.
Though the teams have only faced off a dozen times -- splitting the series 6-6 -- outside of the pre-season, the geographical proximity of these two Bay Area squads has created quite the heated rivalry. This extends to even when they aren't squaring off on the field. Violence in the stands and parking lots forced the NFL to end the annual pre-season meetings between the teams, meaning they now only meet every four years in the NFL's rotating interconference schedule. And how much did it sting to see Jerry Rice in silver and black?
St. Louis Rams
The only divisional foe remaining from the old NFC West after realignment, the Niners have played the Rams more than any other team in club history. With a slim regular season matchup edge at 63-62-3, San Francisco also won the only playoff game in which these two teams faced off. While the Rams rolled in two different nine- and 10-game win streaks, the Niners ripped off 17 straight from 1990-98.
Green Bay Packers
Like Aikman's Cowboys, Favre's Packers really harshed our mellow -- and dynasty. When Steve Young talked about getting the monkey off his back when he won the Super Bowl, we know who he was talking about. But there was a second monkey, and it was painted yellow and green. Only one of the three straight postseason losses to the Pack in the 90's was even close. So after finally getting over the hump, there was a lot of emotion behind it. The 49ers trail the Packers in the all-time series with a mark of 30-34-1.
Behind Door No. 4 sits the reigning Super Bowl Champion and most recent rival. The all-time head-to-head record was an even 15-15 heading into this past NFC Championship Game, with this being the first playoff meeting between the clubs. The longest winning streak for the Niners sits at four games, from 2010-12, and the worst winning drought was a six-game slide from 2003-05.
Probably the longest standing big-game rivalry, the Niners and Cowboys have locked horns 25 times in the regular season. They've also faced off on seven occasions in the playoffs. While the boys in red and gold were the victors in 14 of those regular season contests, the star-helmeted enemy gets to puff their chests out with wins in five of the postseason tilts. This brings the all-time series to a dead even 16-16-1 mark. The marquee matchup was that 1982 NFC Championship game, where a scramble and six-yard pass put the Niners on the map. The rivalry went dormant for bit, but was rekindled in the 90's when the club had to snap yet another playoff losing streak to the 'Boys.
So, again, yeah, beating the Seahawks right now -- particularly at CenturyLink Field -- might be the ultimate triumph. And I have a feeling that over the next several years, this thing is going to reach heights that perhaps even those Cowboys and Packers rivalries didn't. There's a genuine -- and probably unhealthy -- hate developing. With at least two games every season, the anxiety and emotion attached to each game isn't likely to fade soon.
The Packers drew my ire for many years, but after visiting Lambeau for this past season's playoffs, that has softened. Considering our history with one another, I expected at least a few heated exchanges. Instead, I was offered food, hospitality and extended hands to shake by fans gracious in defeat.
For this author -- until the thing with the Seahawks lasts a little longer -- it's old reliable. I always want to beat the Cowboys. Always.
If the world worked in a way where you could make all things equal and you had to pick one foe to beat, with all things considered, who would it be for you?