#70. WATCH THE 1990 NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
Soon after the Buffalo Bills sacrificed the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC title game, the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants staged a different kind of struggle at Candlestick Park.
Instead of explosive offense, defenses pounded anyone in front of them with the George Halas Trophy at stake along with something perhaps a bit more enticing…history.
The 49ers attempted to become the first team in NFL history to win three consecutive Super Bowls. After annihilating the Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV, 55-10, it seemed another big game appearance was inevitable.
Then, there was New York.
The Giants were boring. They were a trustworthy brand of boring though. Only the Raiders threw less than New York’s 398 times; while the Giants finished second overall in rushing attempts with 541.
Most importantly, the Giants did not make mistakes. During 1990, New York committed only 14 turnovers, a then-NFL single-season record.
Head coach Bill Parcells ran an operation that was low on thrills and high on execution; it was a formula that his defensive coordinator Bill Belichick would ultimately bring with him to New England by decade’s end.
Even without starting quarterback Phil Simms, the Giants trounced Chicago in the divisional round, 31-3, to advance to the franchise’s second NFC title game in five seasons.
The two principals staged a classic battle filled with hard hits and career-altering moments.
New York’s dramatic, last second 15-13 win impacted the careers of numerous players/teams:
– Joe Montana: Leonard Marshall’s hit on Montana effectively ended Cool Joe’s career as San Francisco’s starting quarterback. He suffered cracked ribs, a broken hand, bruised sternum and bruised stomach on the most violent hits in NFL postseason lore. Montana would not take another snap as a 49er quarterback until December 28, 1992. Following the ’92 season, Montana was dealt to Kansas City.
– Bill Parcells: Lord knows the Giants weren’t the most talented bunch but at the time, they arguably had the game’s best coach though. Look no further than the Gary Reasons fake punt in the fourth quarter. If that trick play doesn’t work, the Niners are probably staring at a 16-9 or 20-9 lead. Typical Parcells.
– Bill Belichick: As New York’s defensive coordinator, he met the 49ers three times in postseason play (‘85, ‘86, ‘90) and won all three meetings. Incredibly, led by all-world linebacker Lawrence Taylor, Belichick’s defenses held the Montana-led Niners to one touchdown in 12 playoff quarters. After the Giants won Super Bowl XXV, Belichick became the head coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1991.
– Roger Craig: The tremendous all-purpose back never played again for the Niners after this game. His fumble in Giants territory late in the fourth quarter while the Niners held a one-point lead conspired to cost San Francisco a chance at reaching a third straight Super Bowl.
– George Seifert: Losing conference championship games is never a good thing; dropping them at home is even worse. During America’s Game for the 1989 49ers, Seifert speculated that he was never forgiven for this loss. He’s probably right. After beating Phil Simms and the Giants in Super Bowl XXIV1/2 earlier in the regular season, losing to Jeff Hostetler at home with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line is not a way to build goodwill.
– Steve Young: He can’t be faulted for losing this game even though he handed off to Craig for the game’s critical play. This was the first of three title game losses involving Young. He became the starter in ‘91 once Montana could not return to action. Young parlayed Montana’s bad fortune into a Super Bowl XXIX victory and a pair of league MVP awards.
– The Buffalo Bills: If the 1990 49ers waltzed into Tampa for Super Bowl XXV, I’m a firm believer that the Bills win the game. With one week to prepare, it would have been hard to imagine a beaten-up Niners team slowing Buffalo enough without Montana. Belichick disarmed Buffalo’s passing attack but had just seen it a month earlier; while the Niners played them in ‘89 but not the menacing outfit they’d become. Instead of the pass-happy 49ers, Buffalo got a Giants offensive game plan that was transported from 1962. The most effective way to stop the no-huddle was ball-control and the Niners were not that team.
– Phil Simms: Once a Super Bowl hero, Simms had to watch someone else lead the Giants after starting 14 games in ‘90 before suffering a season-ending leg injury against Buffalo. He did not become the full-time starter again until Dan Reeves arrived in 1993, which would be the final season of Simms’s career. Ray Handley took over as head coach in ‘91 and proceed to play turnstile quarterbacks for the next two seasons.
– Jeff Hostetler: He won Super Bowl XXV and two years later became the full-time starter for the Raiders.
Perhaps, the best way to sum up the game came from CBS play-by-play announcer Pat Summerall as he described in an injury report from the 49er sideline on Montana’s status:
“The report we get on Montana is the doctors want him to stay right where he is…because the report from the 49er bench is that…everything hurts.”
By game’s end, that was likely an accurate summation of all parties involved.
You can check out the game here.