New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers: 5 Classic Playoff Encounters

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2012

New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers: 5 Classic Playoff Encounters

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    This weekend's NFC Championship brings together two teams with a storied postseason history. The New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers have engaged in some of the most tense and ferocious playoff matches the game has ever witnessed.

    For decades their rivalry was marked by the sharp contrast in styles between the two teams. The 49ers with the many versions of their west coast offense, were often seen as the finesse team.

    The Giants meanwhile, with their punishing defenses and reliance on controlling the clock, were the old fashioned antithesis of everything new and innovative that the 49ers represented.

    But times have changed and, in a bizarre stroke of irony, the roles have been reversed. Jim Harbaugh's 2011/12 49ers are built on a grind it out running game and a physically intimidating defense.

    The Giants have steadily moved away from the run first mentality that was a franchise hallmark for so long. Their success this season has come from the arm of Eli Manning and the explosive play of wide receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

    As a preview to what still promises to be the usual close fought affair between the Giants and 49ers in the playoffs, here are five classic postseason battles between the two teams.

5. 1984 NFC Divisional Round: Giants 10-49ers 21

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    After upsetting the Los Angeles Rams in the Wildcard round, an upstart Giants team led by Bill Parcells, travelled to Candlestick Park to take on a powerful 49ers outfit that had ended the regular season with a 15-1 mark.

    This 49ers team was a well-oiled machine, led by the cool precision of Joe Montana and an underrated, opportunistic defense.

    The game started badly for the Giants who quickly fell 14-0 behind, courtesy of two scoring passes from Montana in the first quarter.

    But the Giants defense soon rolled down the shutters. Spearheaded by a two sack effort from Lawrence Taylor, the G-Men intercepted three Montana passes, one of which was returned for a touchdown by future hall of famer Harry Carson.

    But in typical fashion, the 49ers survived the brief scare and controlled the final quarter, sealing the game on Montana's third touchdown strike of the afternoon.

    For Bill Walsh's team, this game was simply one more step on their way to an inevitable second Super Bowl triumph.

    For the Giants, the game was significant because it showed just how far the team had come in their second year under Parcells.

    The defense was ready to dominate for the next six years and the Giants had taken their first step towards being considered legitimate contenders for the Lombardi trophy.

4. 1985 NFC Wildcard Round: 49ers 3-Giants 17

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    In their first home playoff game for over 20 years, the Giants mauled the defending Super Bowl Champions. Joe Montana and company had struggled to mount a convincing title defense throughout the 1985 season and entered the game at 10-6.

    The New Yorker's held an identical mark, but were clearly the team on the rise. As was often the case with Parcells' Giants, defense keyed the victory.

    Lawrence Taylor, Jim Burt and Leonard Marshall led the charge as Big Blue swarmed all over the 49ers overwhelmed offense.

    Montana took a vicious beating, suffering four sacks and numerous big hits from the relentless New York pass-rush. The G-Men were equally stingy against the run, yielding only 94 yards on the ground.

    The Giants on the other hand, received 141 rushing yards from diminutive speedster Joe Morris. Phil Simms took full advantage of the potent ground attack, finishing off two long drives with scoring passes to tight ends Mark Bavaro and Don Hasslebeck, respectively.

    This game was significant in the Giants history because it confirmed their return to the league's elite. For San Francisco it ended the first year of a three year stretch in which they would struggle to match their dominance at the start of the 80s.

    During this time Bill Walsh would carefully retool his team, paving the way for their next assault on the Super Bowl. Parcells and the Giants would not have to wait long for a similar experience.

3. 1986 NFC Divisional Round: 49ers 3-Giants 49

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    In arguably the most dominant single game performance in NFL postseason history, the Giants simply demolished the 49ers on the way to their first Super Bowl win.

    Parcells once again saw his defense take turns hammering Joe Montana. The greatest quarterback of his generation was eventually knocked out of the contest.

    Big Blue stole three passes, with league MVP Lawrence Taylor returning one for a touchdown. Simms threw for four touchdowns, despite only completing nine passes. Joe Morris again proved too much for the San Francisco defense, scampering for 159 yards and two scores.

    It is one of the most emphatic victories in Giants history and stands as a perfect symbol for the physical dominance of the 1986 team. 

2. 2002 NFC Wildcard Round: Giants 38-49ers 39

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    No fan of either team will ever forget this game. From a Giants perspective, it's hard to ever adequately describe the pain of this defeat.

    Much like this season, the Giants entered the playoffs as the form team in the league, having won their last four games, largely on the strength of a resurgent offense.

    They travelled to San Francisco and began to completely boss the 49ers. The quartet of Kerry Collins, Amani Toomer, Tiki Barber and Jeremy Shockey simply couldn't be stopped.

    The G-Men held a commanding 38-14 late in the third quarter and then the 49ers began their comeback. The Giants couldn't handle scrambling ace Jeff Garcia and the underrated San Francisco quarterback proceeded to shred the defense.

    New York's season long weakness at linebacker was ruthlessly exposed by the 49ers who eventually went in front by a solitary point.

    But Collins and the Giants offense had one last good drive in them. They nudged themselves into position for a game winning field goal.

    What followed was one of the most shamefully calamitous episodes in New York Giants history. Long snapper Trey Junkin botched the snap and in the chaos that followed, the Giants had blown the game and the 49ers had completed a remarkable turnaround.

    Junkin has spoke recently about how he continues to be troubled by the memory of this play.  Every Giants fan shares a similar feeling. For San Francisco, this win made up for all of the postseason misery the Giants had heaped on them over the years.

    Well, almost all.

1. 1990 NFC Championship: Giants 15-49ers 13

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    In a true classic, Bill Parcells' unfashionable Giants team travelled to Candlestick Park to take on the stylish 14-2 49ers, who seemed destined to win their third straight Super Bowl.

    Despite being major underdogs, the Giants had reason to feel confident. They had already run the 49ers close in San Francisco, having played out an extremely tight, 7-3 defensive struggle during the regular season.

    This game was another exhibition of the fine art of defensive football as both teams put on a clinic of hard hitting and disciplined coverage.

    Montana broke a 6-6 halftime deadlock with a scoring bomb to John Taylor. But the Giants simply wouldn't be denied and continued to chip away at the 49ers lead.

    The defense kept things tight and began a shift in momentum when Leonard Marshall flattened Montana and took him out of the contest.

    For a team labelled as conservative, the New Yorker's took some chances, most notably on a brilliantly executed fake punt that saw linebacker Gary Reasons take a direct snap and scurry for a critical first down.

    Desperately holding onto a one point advantage, the 49ers got the ball and proceeded to try and run the clock down. But the superb Giants defense came to the rescue yet again.

    While not as overwhelming as they had been in the past, the 1990 Big Blue defense, was a smarter, more resourceful and opportunistic group.

    They struck again to save the Giants season as nose tackle Erik Howard broke through the line and jarred the ball loose from Roger Craig and Taylor recovered.

    Jeff Hostetler and the offense then inched their way into field goal range and Matt Bahr slotted the ball through the uprights to end the 49ers dynasty and take the Giants to the Super Bowl.

    The Giants won the way they did all season. Their defense kept them in it and got the ball when needed and the offense squeezed out just enough points for victory.

    This triumph easily stands alongside Super Bowl's 25 and 42 as one of the greatest victories in Giants history.

    It is the reason no 49ers fan can feel completely comfortable about this weekend's Championship encounter.