Artifact of the Game: 49ers at Giants
Not going with the team to New York? Visit the 49ers Museum Presented by SONY this weekend…
By Joe Hession, 49ers Museum historian
Rookie tight end John Frank stirred up a hornet’s nest when he slipped past New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor to score the first touchdown of his NFL career.
Bad blood simmered between the 49ers and Giants throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and Frank was an unwitting instigator. The unknown rookie, playing in just his sixth professional game in 1984, set a burr under Taylor’s saddle by embarrassing the Giants All-Pro linebacker on Monday Night Football. Frank’s early score set the tone in the 49ers 31-10 win.
“I didn’t even know who Lawrence Taylor was,” recalled Frank, who is now a medical doctor in New York City. “To me he was just a name.”
Ten weeks later the 49ers and Giants went toe-to-toe in the 1984 NFC divisional playoff game. Taylor didn’t forget. Frank engaged Taylor with a block on one play and the New York linebacker sought his revenge. After the whistle, Taylor flung Frank to the Candlestick turf. Frank responded by wrestling Taylor to the ground with a reverse pin that had TV broadcaster John Madden crowing like an overamped carnival barker. Frank ended up firmly atop Taylor and four referees were needed to free the NFL’s most feared linebacker from the future M.D.’s vice-like grip.
The 49ers 21-10 victory was a gateway to their second Super Bowl run and proved to be a backdrop for future clashes between the two NFL powerhouses. Since 1981 the 49ers and Giants have squared off in the postseason eight times, each team winning four. Both teams have experienced the ecstasy of victory and the heartbreak of defeat. The rivalry includes dramatic playoff wins, frustrating last-second losses, record-setting individual performances and, of course, on-field fisticuffs.
The 1993 NFC divisional playoff game between New York and San Francisco featured one of the greatest individual performances in postseason history. Running back Ricky Watters wore out the Giants defense by scoring five touchdowns, an NFL single-game playoff record.
“Sometimes running backs get on a roll and it’s best to keep giving them the ball,” center Jesse Sapolu recalled. “Ricky was hot that day. We kept saying, ‘Let the Watters run.’”
Quarterback Steve Young understood Sapolu’s sentiment and was happy to oblige. Watters carried 24 times for 118 yards and caught five passes for another 46 yards. New York never had a chance against Ricky’s running rampage as San Francisco posted a 44-3 win.
The New York Giants were victims again when the 49ers pulled off the second-largest comeback in playoff history in a 2002 wild card game. Despite trailing the Giants 38-14 with four minutes left in the third quarter, San Francisco rallied to scored 25 straight points and pull off a 39-38 win.
Quarterback Jeff Garcia was the catalyst. He fired two touchdown passes and added a 14-yard scoring run to close the gap. Garcia also connected with Terrell Owens on a pair of two- point conversion passes. The winning score came on Garcia’s 13-yard pass to receiver Tai Streets with one minute to play.
The Gilroy-born Garcia finished the day with 331 passing yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown. Owens caught nine passes for 177 yards including a 76-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
Artifacts from the 49ers storied rivalry with the Giants are on display at the 49ers Museum presented by Sony. Included are the five touchdown balls used by Ricky Watters in the 1993 divisional playoff game and memorabilia from Jeff Garcia.
For more information on Museum tickets, hours and content, visit levisstadium.com/Museum.