The Giants and San Francisco 49ers will renew one of the NFL's best and most closely-contested inter-division rivalries when they meet Sunday in the NFC Championship Game in Candlestick Park.
The 49ers evened the regular season series at 14-14 with a 27-20 victory over the Giants in San Francisco on Nov. 13. The Niners lead the postseason series, 4-3. Total points in the 35 games: 49ers, 721, Giants, 709. That's a difference of about a third of a point per game since the teams first met in 1952.
The eighth playoff game between the teams will tie an NFL record. The Giants and Chicago Bears and the Dallas Cowboys and the Rams (when they were based in Los Angeles) have also squared off eight times in the postseason.
The Giants' have three postseason victories against the Bears, 49ers and – after a 37-20 win Sunday in an NFC Divisional Playoff Game – the Green Bay Packers, their highest total against playoff opponents.
The Giants-49ers rivalry reached its zenith in competitiveness and intensity from 1981-90, when they were two of the NFL's very best teams. They combined to win six Super Bowls in that 10-year period (four by the Niners, two by the Giants).
During that decade, the Giants and Niners faced each other 12 times, including five playoff games. The Giants were 1-6 in the regular season meetings, winning a Monday night game in Candlestick in 1986. One of the losses was a strike replacement game the following season. The Giants were 3-2 in the postseason games, with victories in the last three meetings.
The 49ers swept regular season and postseason games from the Giants on their way to winning the Super Bowl in 1981 and '84. The Giants did the same in 1986, including their resounding 49-3 rout in a divisional playoff game in Giants Stadium.
Two years later, the Giants lost to the Jets on the season's final day, but could have snuck into the playoffs had the 49ers defeated the Rams later that night. But the Niners, probably mindful of avoiding their postseason nemesis down the road, put up only a token effort in a 22-point loss, prompting Phil Simms to say they "laid down like dogs." That San Francisco team went on to win the Super Bowl.
On Dec. 3, 1990, the teams had identical 10-1 records when they faced each other on a Monday night in Candlestick. The 49ers won a 7-3 slugfest that was far more exciting than the score suggests. Seven weeks later, they met in the same venue. The 49ers were trying for a Threepeat – three consecutive Super Bowl victories – and were favored. But the Giants knocked Joe Montana out of the game (the Niners were so deep their backup was another Hall of Fame quarterback, Steve Young) and won an epic 15-13 decision when the last of Matt Bahr's five field goals, a 42-yarder, sailed through the uprights as time expired.
Those were the first two of five consecutive visits to Candlestick in which the Giants scored a total of one touchdown. They did kick nine field goals in those 20 quarters.
In 1993, the Giants lost a divisional playoff game to the 49ers in San Francisco, 44-3. Two seasons later, they managed only two Brad Daluiso three-pointers in a 20-6 loss to the Niners.
The Giants scored a touchdown on their first possession – but nothing else – in a 31-7 loss on Nov. 30, 1998, also on a Monday night.
The touchdown slump ended on Jan. 5, 2003 in an NFC Wild Card Game the Giants would otherwise like to forget. The Giants took a 38-14 lead, but lost a 39-38 heartbreak when newly-acquired Trey Junkin infamously delivered a bad snap on what would have been a potential game-winning 40-yard field goal attempt. That dropped the Giants to 1-4 in postseason games in Candlestick.
The Giants won their next three games against the 49ers, in San Francisco in 2005 and in Giants Stadium in 2007 and '08 before losing two months ago.
On Sunday, this once-great rivalry will be rekindled with a trip to Super Bowl XLVI on the line.
*The Giants won each of their last four games by at least 15 points (29-15 over the Jets and 31-14 over the Cowboys in the regular season and 24-2 over Atlanta and 37-20 over Green Bay in the postseason). It is the first time they have at least four consecutive victories by that margin since the end of the 1986 season. In their final two regular season games, they defeated the St. Louis Cardinals (27-7) and Green Bay (55-24). In the postseason, the Giants rolled over the 49ers (49-3), Washington (17-0) and Denver (39-20).
*The starting quarterbacks in Sunday's championship game will be Eli Manning, the first overall selection of the 2004 NFL Draft, and Alex Smith, the first choice of the 2005 draft. It is the second time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger that both starting quarterbacks in a conference championship game were number one overall picks in an NFL draft. The other time it happened was the 1998 AFC Championship Game on Jan. 17, 1999 – 13 years ago today – when Denver's John Elway and the Jets' Vinny Testaverde were the quarterbacks. The Broncos won, 23-10.
*Manning has four postseason road victories as the Giants' starting quarterback. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that puts him in a six-way tie for most playoff road wins in NFL history. The other quarterbacks with four postseason road victories are Pro Football Hall of Famers Len Dawson and Roger Staubach and Manning contemporaries Jake Delhomme, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez.
Manning and Flacco are the quarterbacks for the visiting teams in this week's conference championship games.
Note: Elias counts Super Bowls as neutral site games.
*When Hakeem Nicks reached high to catch Manning's Hail Mary pass as time expired in the second quarter Sunday, it was the first time in Giants postseason history they scored a touchdown at 0:00 of a second or fourth quarter. The last NFL team to score such a touchdown in a playoff game was, ironically, the Packers, exactly one year earlier. On Jan. 15, 2011, Tramon Williams intercepted a Matt Ryan pass and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown as the clock hit all zeroes leading to halftime in Green Bay's 48-21 rout of the Falcons in a divisional playoff game.
*With 115 and 165 receiving yards in the Giants' victories over Atlanta and Green Bay, Nicks became the first Giant with two career 100-yard receiving games in the postseason.
*Chase Blackburn's 40-yard fumble return Sunday was the longest in Giants postseason history. The previous long was a 24-yarder by Alex Webster on Dec. 28, 1958 in the game some call the Greatest Game Ever Played against Baltimore. Webster picked up a fumble by Kyle Rote – who had caught a pass from Charlie Conerly – and carried it to the Colts' one-yard line. Mel Triplett scored two plays later to pull the Giants within 14-10 in the third quarter.
*The Giants are averaging 7.57 yards on first downs in the playoffs, second to only New England (8.83) and are allowing 3.88 yards per play on first down (also second to the Patriots, who are at 2.48).
*Manning has a 121.8 passer rating in the Giants' two postseason games. His career postseason rating entering this tournament was 77.6. Manning's fourth-quarter rating is 144.6. In the fourth quarter, he has completed 13 of 15 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.