"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.
December 3, 1990
Animosity between the 49ers and the New York Giants neared its peak in 1990 when the NFL's two best teams, both sporting 10-1 records, met at Candlestick Park in a classic defensive bloodbath.
"That was the most physical football game I remember playing at Candlestick," 49ers Pro Bowl defensive back Ronnie Lott said. "Two great defenses slugging it out."
The acrimony began years earlier when New York defeated the 49ers in a 1985 playoff contest. It intensified in the 1986 postseason after Giants defensive tackle Jim Burt knocked Joe Montana out of a game with a vicious sack. Then, in 1988, the Giants playoff hopes rested on a 49ers victory over the Los Angeles Rams on the final day of the NFL campaign.
The 49ers had clinched a postseason berth before the game even started. When they lost to the Rams 38-16, it ended the Giants season. New York quarterback Phil Simms was clearly irritated by the outcome and hinted that the 49ers did not put in their best effort. "The 49ers laid down like dogs," Simms said, according to Frank Litsky of the New York Times.
Nearly two years later, New York and San Francisco faced off in a Week 13 grudge match. 49ers veterans with long memories recalled Simms' remark.
"We didn't like the Giants and they didn't like us," receiver Jerry Rice said.
Both teams were keyed up for the Monday night affair. Once the players took the field at Candlestick Park, the fireworks began. Profanities and sniping catcalls were exchanged between the opposing players. Simms allegedly said that 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott was washed up.
Even the coaches got in on the action. At one point in the second half 49ers head coach George Seifert and the Giants Bill Parcells engaged in a shouting match across the field.
Hard-hitting defense ruled the day. The game's leading rusher, New York's Ottis Anderson, managed just 39 yards on 19 carries as the two imposing lines went at it in the trenches. Simms passed for 153 yards and was sacked four times. Defensive end Kevin Fagan posted two quarterback takedowns, while linebacker Charles Haley and defensive tackle Dennis Brown each added one.
The Giants stifled San Francisco's offense as well. Running back Dexter Carter paced the 49ers running game with 29 yards on 12 carries. Montana completed just 12 passes for 152 yards. Two of the completions led to the game's sole touchdown. Late in the second quarter, Montana connected with Roger Craig on a 31-yard pass, then followed it with a 23-yard scoring dart to receiver John Taylor to cap a 63-yard drive.
That was the game winner. The 49ers held New York to 27 yards rushing and zero points in the second half of the 7-3 victory.
"This was one of the most emotional games I've ever been in," Seifert said. "It was the best defensive game I've been associated with."
Those emotions boiled over on the game's final play. The Giants moved to San Francisco's 27 yard line with three seconds remaining. As Simms tried to get off a pass, he was pressured by Haley then brought down from behind by Fagan as time ran out.
An angry Simms hopped to his feet, fired the football into the Candlestick turf and was confronted by Lott at midfield. The two engaged in a heated helmet-to-helmet shoving and shouting match. They were eventually pulled apart by a pack of players preparing to kneel for a post-game prayer. Guy McIntyre, the 49ers amiable guard, was among the men ready to take a knee.
"The Giants threw their best at us and we threw our best against them, and we were the ones who came out on top," McIntyre said in a simple and accurate recap of the titanic matchup.
The rancor did not end there. The 49ers met the Giants six weeks later in the 1990 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park. In the fourth quarter, New York defensive end Leonard Marshall blasted Montana as he rolled out to pass, leaving him with a concussion, bruised sternum, cracked ribs and a broken finger on his throwing hand.
The Giants escaped with a 15-13 win. For the 49ers, it was the end of an illustrious era.
Montana missed nearly two full seasons because of his injuries and never started another game for the 49ers. Prior to the 1993 campaign, Montana was traded to Kansas City where he directed the Chiefs to the AFC West championship and earned his eighth Pro Bowl berth.