The Giants showed compassion Sunday. They showed great compassion for their coach, Bill Parcells, because if they had dumped the Gatorade over his head when the game was wrapped up, as is their custom, Parcells would have had to stand out in the cold of Giants Stadium for the whole second half of the San Francisco game, turning into a block of ice, and he would probably be in bed with pneumonia right now.
So the Giants waited until only 2:23 remained, and the final score of New York 49, San Francisco 3 had been on the board for almost a full quarter, before they struck. Noseguard Jim Burt grabbed Parcells, and linebacker Harry Carson let the coach have it with a barrel full of smush—Carson was cleverly disguised in the team doctor's hat and the team dentist's coat—and the eight fans still in the stands cheered. High jinks in the Meadowlands, folks.
This was a playoff game? Well, yeah, that's what the program said. The Giants now face the Redskins, whom they've beaten twice this season, for the trip to the Super Bowl. So which team do you like—the Redskins, a wild-card entry, or the Giants, who unraveled the 49ers like a ball of string?
"I almost felt bad about it," said Billy Ard, the Giants left guard. "I don't know...you score so many times, you keep lining up and kicking extra points, you look over at the 49ers, at their faces. What the hell, they're guys like us."
"The only time I was ever whipped this bad," 49er free safety Ronnie Lott said, "was when I was a little kid playing in the backyard. But in organized football—never."
"Shattered, we were simply shattered," San Francisco coach Bill Walsh said. "They played a perfect game. They destroyed our offense, shattered our blocking angles. We were dealt with."
Someone mentioned the 49ers' fourth play of the game, when wideout Jerry Rice was on his way to a touchdown and he fumbled the ball into the Giants end zone, and Walsh brushed it away like a bad dream. "You can't relate this to any one play," he said. "It would be an excuse of monumental proportions."
The same play was mentioned to the Giants' Lawrence Taylor. He laughed. "If they score on that one, they lose 49-10," he said, echoing an old line from the Bears' 73-0 whipping of the Redskins in the title game 46 years ago.
Taylor figured in the game's most significant play. It came late in the second quarter, and though it didn't turn the game, it iced it. Burt came barreling up the middle and crashed into Joe Montana as he released the ball. The 49er quarterback's pass fluttered toward the left side, where Taylor grabbed it and then ran 34 yards for a touchdown. The score was 28-3 after the kick. Montana was out cold with a severe concussion. An hour and a half later he was in an ambulance on his way to a New York hospital.
"I couldn't have pulled up, geez," Burt said. "I don't know how he was hit, whether he hit his head on the ground or what. I feel real bad about it."
Gut pressure is what killed the 49ers, the same kind of pressure they had used to unhinge the Dolphins' Dan Marino two Super Bowls ago. On Dec. 1, in a game won 21-17 by the Giants, Montana had hurt the Giants on quick, timed passes off a short drop, and the Giants figured the only way to stop that was to send the inside people up the middle on blitzes and stunts. Taylor, an outside rusher, didn't figure. He was dropped back into coverage.
Four turnovers by the 49ers ended in four TDs, three by the Giants and the one that San Francisco didn't get. "You make mistakes in a game," 49er guard Randy Cross said, "but every one we made today resulted in points."
There was more to it, though. The Giants were cranked up; they were stoked. In San Francisco, the 49ers had held the Giants to 13 yards rushing, slanting toward the strong side of the formation, walking strong safety Carlton Williamson up to the line to dog Joe Morris. This time the Giants spread things out with two tight ends, one on either side, and worked their attack away from Williamson. It worked. Morris got a 45-yard TD on a pitchout left, away from Williamson. He ended up with 159 yards; the Giants had 216 on the ground.
"I woke up at 3 a.m.," Ard said. "In the next room in our hotel I could hear one of our guys banging the walls. Harry Carson was already up. Lots of guys were, even the sound sleepers. We wanted it bad. Thirteen yards last time, that's an embarrassment."
"Things just kept on rolling," wideout Phil McConkey said. "I thought it would stop, but it never did. I said to myself, 'They're too good a team for this to happen to them. When will it end?' "
In Pasadena maybe. Or maybe not at all.
Burt's hit on Montana put the quarterback out of the game and into an ambulance.
Rice appeared to have the 49ers off to a good start until his early fumble...
...but it was Mark Bavaro who put the Giants on top first with this 24-yard TD.