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Friday, January 20, 2012

49ers-Giants: The Biggest Games

Posted By on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 5:59 AM

It's hard to be nostalgic when you don't remember anything. It's also hard to be nostalgic when you can't remember anything. Vernon Davis, who made what is being dubbed "The Catch III," was several years shy of being born when Dwight Clark made "The Catch."

But fans -- we remember. We remember everything.

The New York Giants are what Walter Sobchak would call "a worthy adversary." The team's nickname -- Big Blue -- fits all too well. Like another Big Blue, the Giants were, and are, a methodical, even plodding, behemoth that grinds up opponents and measures progress in victories, not style points. Watching Phil Simms hand off to Otis Anderson may not have been as aesthetically pleasing as watching Joe Montana or Steve Young thread it to Jerry Rice -- but it got the job done. 

When the Giants and 49ers meet in high-stakes competition, as they will in the conference championship on Sunday, it can be good, bad, or ugly. But it's seldom not memorable.

Jan. 20, 1990. New York 15, San Francisco 13

The ingredients to comedy may be tragedy plus time, but no one in San Francisco is laughing about this one -- and it's been 22 years, to the day.

The 49ers, on the cusp of their third consecutive Super Bowl, had the ball and the lead. Joe Montana had been knocked out of the game and, rather than let Steve Young literally run out the clock, the team put the ball into Roger Craig's usually trustworthy hands.

That went poorly. Craig fumbled and a last-second field goal gave the Giants the victory. They went on to win the Super Bowl in the infamous "Wide Right" game vs. Buffalo. People in Buffalo tend to remember this. People here do, too.

January 4, 1986. New York 49, San Francisco 3

The two takeaways from this game -- other than what Lawrence Taylor aptly described as "a good, old-fashioned ass-kicking" -- were Jim Burt knocking Montana into Passaic County and Rice, streaking untouched toward the end zone for a touchdown, inexplicably fumbling the ball. Your humble narrator watched this game in Queens. It was not an entertaining afternoon for the West Coast contingent. On to more pleasant memories.

September 11, 1988. San Francisco 20, New York 17

This was not a playoff game. Instead it was a statement game that marked the potential of a 49ers team that would lapse into mediocrity before blossoming into champions-- capped by perhaps the most memorable Super Bowl victory of them all.

Facing a Third-and-10 on their own 22 with only 42 ticks remaining on the clock, Montana lofted a bomb down the right sideline that Rice caught perfectly in stride, stunning a New Jersey crowd (you can see it at the 8:25 mark of the above video).

Against the team that had knocked the Niners out of the playoffs in both '85 and '86, this was a big win -- and portended great things to come. 

January 5, 2002. San Francisco 39, New York 38

In a spectacular, engrossing New York Daily News article -- yes, you read that right -- former Giants long-snapper Trey Junkin is revealed to be broken. Ten years after the 19-year veteran became a household name for the first time after botching two critical snaps -- including the potential game-winning field goal as time expired -- he still thinks about the teams' most memorable, wrenching, and spectacular clash "every day." Sometimes, he admits, "it jolts me from sleep."

This is as disturbing an article as that was a great game -- a game only exceeded by last week's victory over New Orleans. With New York and San Francisco meeting once again, Junkin -- who managed to pick up a full 6 percent of the mayoral vote in his small, Louisiana town in his recent political debut -- became a sought-after man. Instead, per the article, he quaffed nine Bud Lites while writing a poem that, perhaps coincidentally and perhaps not, came out to 49 lines:

"I have always taken my blame

Held my truth

Who else will

53 men dressed

52 dodged

Will the real G'men


Or will the dogs

Wag tails and tongues

I have never turned

I stand behind my actions and my history."

He pauses for reflection.

"The scary thing about those words is that is how I actually think," he

says. "I wish any of the Giants who blamed me would say it to my face,

especially down here in Louisiana, where I could get away with some


Of course it's not Junkin's fault the Giants blew a late 24-point lead. He wasn't playing on a defense that gave up 39 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter.

Sunday's contest may yet mint another Trey Junkin. Or, perhaps, a Jerry Rice. Until then, the possibilities are limitless. That is, after all, why they play the games.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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