Since the 49ers clinched the NFC West title and assured themselves a spot in the playoffs, people have been talking about their last playoff appearance nine years ago, highlighted by that wild 39-38 win over the Giants at Candlestick Park.
What people may not remember is that the 49ers and Giants have a rich playoff history, both in number (this is the eighth postseason meeting between the two teams, which ties an NFL record) and significance. Here is a rundown of that history:
49ers 38, Giants 24 NFC Divisional Playoff, Jan. 3, 1982
This was the first playoff appearance for the 49ers in 10 years. Two seasons before, the 49ers had been 2-14 in Bill Walshs first year. Suddenly they were 13-3 and hosting a playoff game! The Niners never trailed, taking advantage of four Giants turnovers. Ronnie Lott had two picks, one of which he returned for a TD to put the game away in the fourth quarter.
Significance: Without this win, theres no The Catch. Dallas was the next opponent for the 49ers on the march toward their first Super Bowl.
49ers 21, Giants 10 NFC Divisional Playoff, Dec. 29, 1984
The 49ers rolled through the NFL that year, losing only one regular-season game. They scored twice in the first quarter on passes from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark and Russ Francis, and cruised to victory despite Montana throwing three interceptions. The defense also forced three turnovers, and no points were scored in the second half.
Significance: The Giants may have gone quietly in this game, but they were becoming the team that would win two Super Bowls. Bill Parcells had become head coach, and Phil Simms and Joe Morris were established starters. From the 49ers standpoint, its easy to forget that while this may have been their best team, Jerry Rice was a still senior at Mississippi Valley State.
Giants 17, 49ers 3 NFC Wild Card game, Dec. 29, 1985
What a difference exactly one year made! The 49ers finished second to the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West, so they were forced to go to the Meadowlands to face the Giants, who also were 10-6 but had won the NFC East. The Giants ran the ball down San Francisco's throat with Joe Morris, and while the 49ers were able to move the ball through the air (Montana threw for 296 yards), the Giants kept them out of the end zone.
Significance: This was the first time in the Bill Walsh Era that the 49ers failed to score a touchdown in a playoff game. It would not, unfortunately, be the last.
Giants 49, 49ers 3, NFC Divisional Playoff, Jan. 4, 1987
Easily the worst playoff loss for the 49ers in terms of the score, but this one hurt in more ways than one. In the second quarter, with the Giants already leading 21-3, Giants nose tackle Jim Burt hit Joe Montana as he was releasing a pass. Montana bounced off the Meadowlands Astroturf with a sickening thud, and Lawrence Taylor intercepted the pass and returned it for a TD. Montana did not return to the game, and the 49ers' chances of winning left with him.
Significance: For the third time in the four playoff matchups between these two teams, the winner would go on to win the Super Bowl.
Giants 15, 49ers 13, NFC Championship Game, Jan. 20, 1991
After the playoff debacle of four years before, the 49ers had re-asserted themselves as the top dog in the NFL. They won Super Bowls following the 1988 and 1989 seasons, surviving the retirement of Bill Walsh in-between. They had also dominated their rivals from the east, beating the Giants in four straight regular-season matchups, including a 7-3 struggle earlier in the 1990 season. The 49ers seemed to have this game in hand with a 13-12 lead in the fourth quarter when Roger Craig fumbled while trying to run out the clock. The Giants recovered, kicked a field goal, and won 15-13.
Significance: There are two significant facts from this game: 1) Seven times in NFL history, Super Bowl champions have repeated the following year. No team has ever won three in a row. You could make an argument the 49ers came closer to accomplishing that feat than any other team in NFL history. This loss, while it doesnt tarnish the teams great legacy, still stings for 49ers players, coaches and fans alike. 2) As if the loss alone wasnt enough, this game was effectively the end of Joe Montanas incredible career with the 49ers. He was injured late in the game, taking a huge shot from Leonard Marshall, missed almost the entire 1991 season, and was traded to Kansas City.
49ers 44, Giants 3, NFC Divisional Playoff, Jan. 15, 1994
This was a different 49ers team than the one which had those great battles with the Giants over the previous 10 years. Rickey Watters scored 5 TDs but the 49ers would fall next week to the Cowboys.
Significance: It put the fire in the belly of the Steve Young-led team that won the Super Bowl over San Diego the next season, propelled by a win over Chicago in the NFC Divisional game and a 38-21 defeat of Dallas in the NFC title game.
49ers 39, Giants 38, NFC Wild Card Game, Jan. 5, 2003
The Giants were seemingly in control 38-14 in the third quarter before Jeff Garcia led the 49ers to 35 unanswered points. The Giants had a chance to win the game with a late field goal, but a botched snap cost them that opportunity.
Significance: This was the last gasp of the 49ers Dynasty, as it turned out. Twenty-one years after the first playoff meeting between these two teams, they met again on the soggy turf at Candlestick . The outcome, a crazy finish Hollywood would have turned down, was an indication of things to come as the once-proud franchise turned into a revolving door of coaches and players. Until now.
Media professional and Bay Area native John Cannon was a television and radio sportscaster in Phoenix and Las Vegas. Follow him on Twitter at @JCannonSports, or email him at JCannonSports@gmail.com.