The rivalry began in earnest in the early ’80s, as the teams played each other three times in the post-season in that decade.
But there are two later games that truly stand out. Let's go to the videotape:
1) NFC Championship Game, January 20, 1991. Giants: 15, 49ers: 13. The Niners were attempting to "three-peat" after successive Super Bowl championships in 1989 and 1990, and they were at the zenith of their power as the definitive Team of the ’80s.
But the Giants were a power as well in the NFC East. Earlier in the season the teams played an epic defensive-oriented Monday night football game, as both teams went into that game 10-1 (the Niners won 7-3).
This game is always remembered for three things: 1) how Leonard Marshall blindsided Joe Montana, knocking him out of the game in the middle of the 4th quarter; 2) how Roger Craig fumbled late in the game, allowing the Giants to kick a winning field-goal; and perhaps not as memorable, but absolutely critical, 3) a fake punt late in the 4th quarter, with Giants linebacker Gary Reasons taking the snap and getting a huge first down.
The Giants then went to Tampa the following week, beating the Buffalo Bills for their second Super Bowl championship.
This game (which Sports Illustrated called the second best game of the decade) had the Niners staging the second-biggest comeback in playoff history, overcoming a 24-point deficit in a game that was as controversial as it was dramatic. The 49ers were losing 38-14 with four minutes left in the third quarter, then rallied for 25 straight points behind Jeff Garcia, who ran for one score and threw for two. The Giants positioned themselves for a 41-yard field-goal attempt with six seconds left, but center Trey Junkin's low snap set off a wild chain of events that culminated with holder Matt Allen throwing a desperation pass. The Giants were flagged for having an illegal man downfield, ending the game. The NFL admitted the 49ers should have been called for pass interference, which would have resulted in the Giants' Matt Bryant getting another attempt to kick a potentially winning field goal.
There has been considerable attention in the NYC media this week to the controversial ending. A conspiracy-minded fan might think it's been a way to intimidate or influence the referees that the Giants were screwed over once, and that it can't happen again.
The two teams also played a memorable game this past November, with the Niners beating the Giants 27-20, after defensive end Justin Smith (perhaps the most underrated defensive player in the league) knocked down an Eli Manning pass as the Giants were driving with just seconds to go.
If the past is prologue, Sunday night's game should be awesome.
The road to Super Bowl XLVI will end this Sunday night at approximately 10 p.m., when two teams will be left standing to play in Indianapolis on February 5. The favorites (according to the oddsmakers) are the New England Patriots and San Francisco Forty Niners. However, many "smart" football people (many coincidentally based in the media capital of America, Manhattan) prefer Eli Manning's New York Giants over Alex Smith's 49ers.
Smith is undoubtedly still considered the weakest quarterback of the final four playing this weekend, but boosted by the guidance of new coach Jim Harbaugh, he led the Niners to their shocking turnaround this season. The first player selected in the NFL draft in 2005, the 27-year-old Smith stunned everyone in the NFL last Saturday with his outstanding play in leading the Niners to an upset over the New Orleans Saints.
Can he do it two weeks in a row?
The question presents itself as these two teams, representing arguably America's two greatest cities, revive a rivalry that has included at least two certifiable classic playoff games over the decades in Candlestick Park.