CBS Sports went through the top-five NFL rivalries of the 1980s, and the San Francisco 49ers were on the list twice. Can you guess the two teams who were the Niners’ biggest rivalries? One is easy, but this first one may throw you off. Here was No. 5 on the list:
Playoff record during the decade: 49ers, 2-1
Longest winning streak: 3 (Vikings, 1985-87; 49ers, 1988-89)
Best game: October 30, 1988: 49ers 24, Vikings 21
After having their way with most of the NFC during the first half of the ‘80s, the 49ers were beginning to come back to the field by 1985. That season, the Vikings won for the first time that decade against the 49ers after dropping games against San Francisco in 1983 and ‘84. Two years later, Minnesota, led by Anthony Carter’s 227 receiving yards, shocked the heavily favored 49ers in the playoffs’ divisional round. The loss nearly led to the retirement of 49ers head coach Bill Walsh, who called the defeat the most difficult one of his career. During the game, the 49ers benched Joe Montana in favor of Steve Young, which led to a highly publicized quarterback controversy that continued well into the 1988 season.
San Francisco was a pedestrian 5-3 when it entered the Week 9 matchup with the visiting Vikings. Walsh, who had still not settled on a starting quarterback, decided to start Young, who had success against the Vikings after replacing Montana in the playoffs. After a slow start, Young helped engineer three second-half scoring drives that included his game-winning, 49-yard touchdown run, considered one of the greatest runs in NFL history. The win enabled the 49ers to obtain home-field advantage against the Vikings during the divisional round of the playoffs. This time, with Montana back under center, the 49ers won with ease, 34-9, en route to winning their first Super Bowl since January of 1985.
The next season, the 49ers again made quick work of the Vikings in the divisional round of the playoffs, with Montana’s four touchdown passes spearheading San Francisco’s 41-13 win. The 49ers would go onto win their fourth Super Bowl of the decade, while the Vikings would have to wait eight years before making it back to the divisional round of the playoffs.
Could you imagine Twitter or the comment section here if Joe Montana was benched for anybody? I wonder how many fans would have sided with Walsh knowing everything he had accomplished in San Francisco or how many fans would have turned on him in favor of Montana. The 80s gave us this game-winning run from Young against Minnesota:
There isn’t much suspense as to who the next team on the list is, even though the 49ers won eight times in 11 matchups:
Giants vs. 49ers
Overall head-to-head record during the decade: 49ers, 8-3
Playoff record during the decade: 2-2
Longest winning streak: 5 (49ers, 1980-84)
Best games: December 1, 1986: Giants 21, 49ers 17; September 11, 1988: 49ers 20, Giants 17
Similar to their rivalry with the Redskins, the Giants took their lumps against the 49ers during the early part of the decade before getting things turned around shortly after Parcells became head coach in 1983. After losing playoff games in San Francisco in 1981 and ‘84, the Giants held the defending champion 49ers to a mere three points in their divisional-round playoff victory over San Francisco in 1985.
In Week 13 of the 1986 season, the 49ers jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead over the visiting Giants on “Monday Night Football.” Undaunted, the Giants responded by scoring the game’s final 21 points, with running back Ottis Anderson scoring the game-winning touchdown. One month later, in the divisional round of the ‘86 playoffs, Jim Burt’s devastating hit on Joe Montana not only knocked Montana out of the game, but it also set the tempo for New York’s 49-3 blowout win over the 49ers.
Both teams were vying for NFC supremacy when the 49ers headed to the Meadowlands for a Week 2 matchup with the Giants in 1988. With Steve Young making his first start as a 49er, San Francisco’s offense managed to score just 10 points during the game’s first 30 minutes. With the 49ers trailing 17-13 with 58 seconds left, and Joe Montana in the game in relief of Young, head coach Bill Walsh called “76 All Go,” a play Walsh installed in practice earlier in the week specifically for the Giants. The play worked to perfection, as Montana lofted the ball down the near sideline to Jerry Rice, who beat two Giants defenders on his way to a 78-yard touchdown. The win helped set in motion the 49ers’ second wave of Super Bowl success, as San Francisco closed out the decade with victories in Super Bowls XXIII and XXIV.
Walsh vs. Parcells is as good as it gets from a coaching standpoint, and that goes for any point in history. Going back to the comments/social media, I imagine there would have been serious questioning in Young after he was benched. Young finished the season 2-1 as a starter while Montana finished 8-5. Roger Craig and Jerry Rice did a lot of the heavy lifting during the ‘88 season. Against the Giants, Rice finished with 109 yards receiving after that 78-yard bomb for a touchdown, with Craig rushing for 110 yards, and he also had 110 receiving yards.