Every NFC Championship Game in San Francisco 49ers History-Part 3

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Part 2 is here.

Dallas Cowboys 30 at San Francisco 49ers 20
Sunday, January 17, 1993

The 80s version of the Niners dynasty died at Candlestick two years previous, but the best stretch of uninterrupted great football was still to come - the Young Niners teams of the early 90s were 3 of the 10 best regular season squads in franchise history.

The best was the first group; the '92 Niners were the third best regular season 49er team ever.  We hit the playoffs having won 8 straight and 13 of 14; Joe had missed the entire '91 season and all of this one as well, until coming back for the last week to beat the Lions.  It was with a healthy Joe Montana on the bench that we beat the Redskins 20-13 to open the postseason. We lost 3 fumbles that day; minimizing our 400+ yards of offense but not enough to keep us from hosting the NFC Championship game the next week.

We were four point favorites against the Cowboys and that was the right number; we were the best team in football and at home.  As I would for each of these next 3 years, I watched this game by myself in what was now a law school apartment; the turnovers the week before were bad foreshadowing; we gave it up 4 times and got beat.

We went 3 and out on our opening drive; Dallas picked up first downs on each of their first two plays, but wound up punting at midfield - a punt that Alan Grant fumbled; two minutes later Dallas was kicking a field goal to go up 3 nothing.  Marc Logan returned the kick to midfield, setting up a 5 minute touchdown drive that ended with a Young one yard sneak to give us the lead.

Two sacks (Romanowski and Harrison) got us a punt on the next Cowboy series, and we ended the first quarter with the lead and the ball in Dallas territory.

Cofer missed a FG early in the second quarter, another sack (Brown) forced a Cowboy punt, our second fumble (Watters) gave Dallas the ball in our territory with 9 minutes left in the half.  It appeared that we had forced a field goal attempt after stopping Dallas on a third down inside our ten, but a tough holding penalty on Pierce Holt gave them a first down that quickly became an Emmitt Smith touchdown.  We tied it with a Cofer FG with a minute left in the half, which became the halftime score when Dallas missed a FG near the gun.

Dallas scored on the opening drive of the half; the big play being Alvin Harper's leaping over Eric Davis for a 38 yard gain on the right sideline on a third and 7.  Two plays later Johnston was in the end zone and we were down 17-10.  We cut it to 4 on the next drive, Young hitting Jerry over the middle with Rice then cutting right to pick up 36.  At 4th and 2 on the Dallas 24, presumably Seifert didn't consider going for it and Cofer kicked us to 17-13.

The Cowboys then went on a 9 minute drive that ended in an Aikman to Emmitt touchdown.  We were down 10 with 9 left.  They converted 4 third downs, including a third and 11 at midfield.

Two minutes later Kenny Norton picked off Young - and when Emmitt ripped off a 28 yard run on the next play that appeared to end the game.

But Jimmy made the call that Seifert didn't, at 4th and 1 on our 7, up by 11 with 7 minutes left - Dallas went for it; Mike Walter stuffed Emmitt, giving us a chance.

Young drove us 93 yards in two and a half mintues.

Screen to Watters for 17.
Pass to Watters over the middle for 10.
Sideline to Rice for 11.
Sideline to Sherrard for 15.
After an incomplete pass, a 17 yarder over the middle to Brent Jones.  Then two completions to Watters for a total of 18 more - and finally a five yard pass to Jerry.  93 yards in 2 and a half mintues - we had cut it to 24-20 with four and a half left.

The next play was Aikman hitting Harper for 70.  Dallas went in a few plays later and the season was done.

Only two players total were active for this game and didn't play.  One was Garin Veris.  The other was Joe Montana.

San Francisco 49ers 21 at Dallas Cowboys 38
Sunday, January 23, 1994

Joe was in Kansas City in '93, and when the Niners lost to Dallas again in Week 6, dropping to 3-3, the decision to send him away seemed hard to support.  But the 10th best regular season team in 49er history won the next 6 straight and then whipped the Giants 44-3 to open the playoffs.  Young went 17 for 22 and Ricky Watters scored 5 touchdowns.  Phil Simms didn't finish his last NFL game.

The Chiefs were in the AFC Title game - the Niners in the NFC Title game.

But the NFL is on the square, both of us lost.  Dallas scored 21 in the 2nd quarter and we got run out of the building.

Dallas Cowboys 28 at San Francisco 49ers 38
Sunday, January 15, 1995

The 5th best regular season team in 49er history won what is, to this date, our last Super Bowl.

There was a win or bust sense to the '94 season, longtime Niners Romanowski, Rathman, Griffin, Washington, and McIntyre were let go; replaced with Ricky Jackson, Gary Plummer, Derrick Deese, Bart Oates, Ken Norton, and finally, during the season, Deion Sanders.

In Week 2, on 9-11, the Niners went to Kansas City, in the only game I've ever actively rooted against one of my teams.  Young threw two picks and lost to Joe and all remained right with the world.

It should be insightful that the choice I made was player over team, not so much into my personality, but into demonstrating the relationship Joe Montana had with 49er fans.  There's probably a series of blog posts at some point about the hyperintense nature of this period in San Francisco sports history - the Giants had a crushing NLCS loss in '87, just a couple of months before the best regular season team in Niner history had a crushing playoff loss.  The Niners won back to back Super Bowls while the Giants were losing the Earthquake World Series.  A multi-season wrenching quarterback controversy occurred as the Giants were being sold and moving to Tampa.  The Giants were saved, Barry Bonds was signed, we won a hundred three games and didn't make the playoffs, Will Clark left town - while the Niners were losing consecutive NFC Championship games and Joe was traded to Kansas City.  

A blowout home loss to the Eagles in which Young got pulled was the turning point of the season - we didn't lose again until a meaningless week 16, including a home win over the Cowboys, and were the heavy favorites going into the playoffs.  The Bears were first - we were up 37-3 through three and cruised to a 44-15 win.

Then home for Dallas.  We were 7 and a half point favorites, but like the previous two seasons, the distance between the best and the second best team in football was virtually nonexistent.  

Two plays into the game Eric Davis (current color analyst for 49er radio, replacing Plummer who replaced Wayne Walker who was the radio analyst since 1928) took an Aikman pass 44 yards the other way for a quick pick 6; and two plays later he forced an Emmitt fumble.  90 more seconds passed and it was 14-0, Young to Watters.  Dallas fumbled the kick - and a half dozen plays later William Floyd was in the end zone; it was 21-0 with only 7 minutes gone by and the game was over.  We won 38-28 and went on to our fifth Super Bowl.

Green Bay Packers 23 at San Francisco 49ers 10
Sunday, January 11, 1998

Three years later we were back, Mariucci was the new head coach - Jerry had blown out his knee in the opening week, and Eddie D was forced out of the ownership chair.  We were just the 25th best regular season team in Niner history, but won 11 straight at one point and rolled through the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs, 38-14.

We were field goal favorites headed to the NFC Championship game, but couldn't move the ball at home against the Packers.  We were down 23-3 before Chuck Levy returned a kick for our only touchdown; Young got sacked four times and threw a pick - and our leading rusher was Terry Kirby with 21 yards. After appearing in the NFC Championship Game a dozen times in 27 seasons, the Niners would be absent for the next 14 years.

New York Giants 20 at San Francisco 49ers 17
Sunday, January 22, 2012

By the advanced metrics, of the ten worst seasons in 49er history, 4 were in the first decade of the 2000s; the franchise churned through multiple head coaches and front office personnel; ownership passed down to a younger generation of DeBartolo, and there was even talk of the club moving south...way south, to Los Angeles.

I'm a "history from the bottom up" guy, meaning that I don't see change as driven by "great men", and that impacts (or drives, hard to locate) my view that coaching is of the more overrated elements of sports analysis.  However, there are outliers, and in 2011 the 49ers moved from a clearly outmatched Mike Singletary to Jim Harbaugh, who I (as a USC Trojan fan) had watched dramatically turn around the Stanford football program over a few years previous, including kicking our ass at a time when USC bullied the collegiate football landscape.

And sure enough - it happened at the next level.  The 49ers weren't quite as good as their 13-3 regular season record would indicate; this team was the 14th best in Niner regular season history, and the best since '98 - but they managed a stadium rattling comeback to win the divisional round against the Saints, and in the conference championship hosted a Giants team they had beaten during the regular season.

The Niners were sizably, sizably advantaged heading to the title game, Vernon Davis caught two touchdown passes from much maligned (and rightly so) former number one overall pick Alex Smith, but Kyle Williams fumbled away two kicks, the first in the 4th quarter that flipped the game, turning a 49er lead into, within 3 minutes, a Giant lead; and the second in overtime - and New York coverting that drive into a game winning field goal.

It wouldn't take 12 years for the 49ers to return to the NFC Title game - they'd be back in 2013.

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