Well ,the hype is over, the game played out. We have a winner and a loser or do we? The final score says Giants 20 the 49ers 17. That is a fact and the Giants will head to Indianapolis to face the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl while The San Francisco 49ers will head home and wonder what if?
There did not deserve to be a loser in this game. It was hard-fought right down to the final play as all players from both teams left every ounce of heart and effort on the field. Going in to the contest it seemed that both were teams of destiny but only one could move on to the ultimate step. It turns out that team was the Giants.
In the days leading up to the game, I wrote that I have been a life long Giants fan. I followed this team since 1956 and have lived through the best of times and worst of times…The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Twenty years ago, we moved to Northern California and have adopted the 49ers as our second team. We root against them only when they play the Giants. So, as you can imagine this was a difficult game for us. We spent the day with some wonderful friends, all of whom were Niners fans. We were invited in spite of our affiliations and accepted with all the hospitality and warmth they could give. As we entered the home they offered us a chance to don a Niners jersey and we politely refused and received some good-natured ribbing.
During the game the Niners fans were jumping up and down constantly and shouting at the widescreen TV. Vernon Davis receives a pass and gallops 73 yards down the right sideline for a Touchdown. Screaming and High Fives are going on all around us and I am thinking how could the Giants not have this guy double covered like a fly on glue, being in my mind he was SF‘s only real threat based on recent history. My dear friend Larry said to me , “Den , how could they leave him open like that”? I just shrugged and replied “I don’t know. As the game moved on, the shouts of ecstasy roared their approval for the 49er Defense over and over again. We are getting concerned. Eli Manning is taking a vicious beating and the Niner fans are getting more raucous by the minute.
Now Victor Cruz shows up catching pass after pass and the Niner Fans are screaming for someone to stop that guy. Then it happens , Eli Manning hits Tight End Bear Pascoe for a touchdown. The same Bear Pascoe cut by the Niners in 2010 Training Camp and who has not played much of a role with the Giants in two uneventful years. The look of disbelief on Niner coach Jim Harbaughs’ face was priceless. It was a “who Dat” moment. The first half ends and the Giants through the grit and guts of Eli Manning, Victor Cruz and the defense found the Easterners up 10-7. The Giants defense lucked out a few times when Niner Receivers were open deep and the ball was overthrown by Alex Smith.
It is half time and we are enjoying all the epicurean delights including the beer and California wine. All the Niner fans are still confident and I am keeping a low-key profile. My darling wife is not so low-key but she is so sweet no one gets mad at her. I was thinking about an event earlier in the day, when we went to a supermarket and I was waiting in line at the deli counter. In Front of me were a lovely young couple. He dressed in a Giants jersey and she in a Niners one. I remarked to them that this was interesting and asked how this was going to affect their relationship for the rest of the day. Both were congenial and hugged each other and assured me that all was well, no matter what. The male remarked that they too were spending the day with friends and he was the only enemy in the camp but that these friends were tolerant. Knowing that we were experiencing the same hospitality it made me think of all the vile and classless comments that I read on the Internet the past week posted by both Giants and Niners fans and it made me happy to know that there are still some people left that put things in perspective. After all, this is only a game. It is not a life and death scenario. In my younger years I too have been guilty of this boorish behavior.
Earlier in the week I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle about SFPD going undercover at the” Stick” and environs. They would dress up like Giants fans and anyone who got malicious would be tossed from the property entirely on game day. There has been too much violence lately by unruly fans in all sports. In April SF Giants fan Bryan Stowe was assaulted and left for dead outside Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles and is still trying to recover after almost a year and millions of dollars in medical bills, in August Oakland Raider fans were attacked outside Candlestick Park after a 49er-Raiders Pre season game and recently a New York Rangers fan was violently attacked at a cheese steak restaurant in Philadelphia after the NHL Winter Classic. These events are the ones that reported and I am sure that they are only a handful of those that actually take place. This is not a new phenomena. I have personally witnessed really bad behavior from coast to coast over the years.
Now back to the second half of Giants-Niners. Vernon Davis again receives blown coverage from the NY secondary and scores the go ahead touchdown in the third quarter. On the previous play Frank Gore ambled out of the backfield wide open and received a pass from Alex Smith and rumbled downfield for a long gain to the Giants 28 yard line. I turned to my friend Larry and told him like the prophet that I think I am,”Next play to Davis down the sideline to the end zone”. Sure enough, Larry and the rest of our friends are jumping up and down High Fives everywhere running to the kitchen for more beer and wine screaming with delight. With the Niners ” D ” game over, I was told. I kind of believe it but I am hoping it’s not true. I still can’t believe how the Giants again blow coverage on the 49ers seemingly only threat.
The Giants are not moving the ball. Eli is getting pummeled. I am growing really concerned now. The SF team is a team that takes the ball away from opponents regularly and does not turn it over themselves. Giants need a miracle.
Enter Lady Luck. The Giants punt and it is obvious that it is not going being returned. The Niners just have to stay clear of the ball until it is downed…Yawn. All of a sudden a Giant coverage guy picks up the ball and rushes into the end zone. We’ve see this a few hundred times, a guy trying to dupe an official. Nice try but officials don’ fall for this stuff and there are TV cameras all over the place, so why attempt this useless effort. Niner fans at the house are laughing at what we all think is BS. Then the replay comes immediately and Holy Crap it looks like maybe the ball did graze the Niners Kyle Williams on the knee but we can’t really tell by the first replay. A close up view shows the wet ball bounce and leave a wet stain on Williams’ knee. The 49 er fans are saying ‘”No ,it never touched him”. For the first time of the day, I get up and say “Oh yes it did”. They look at me and shake their heads in disbelief ” No Way “. The official review is taking a long time. The broadcasters say it will be Giants ball but hell they said that last week too a couple of times in the Packer game and the officials still ruled against the truth. Oh My God, the review gets it right and they give the ball to the Giants. Then the Niner defense with the help of a holding penalty stymie Eli and the Giants offense. I’m feeling that if they don’t score a touchdown here they are going to lose this game. A field goal will not be good enough because SF will run down the clock with Frank Gore running the ball after the ensuing kickoff. Third and Long and Manning hit Mario Manningham for the go ahead TD. Unbelievable! Pinch me, is this a dream?
The feeling in the room is now somber and a few expletives are casually mentioned. I’m trying hard at being low-key and respectful. It’s not over yet, The Giants need a big stop. They Kickoff and Kyle Williams almost turns into the hero by breaking it. The last defender brings him down after a long return. Shades of nightmarish games past are dancing in my head during the return. The Niners are moving downfield easily and quickly and the fans are thinking “last Saturday all over again”. I am thinking, Oh No…I’ve seen this before…they’re gonna blow it.. Then the Giants “D” comes alive and make the stop they need. Are the Niners and Harbaugh going to go for it with a trick play or are they going to kick the field goal to tie it up? Thankfully they play it conservative and kick the field goal.
The Giants get the ball back deep in their own territory. All game long my friend Larry is spouting off about Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw. He heard that former 49ers great receiver Jerry Rice called Bradshaw a soft wimp and all day he is repeating this comment over and over. I strongly disagree but now is not the time to refute Larry’s’ new found epiphany. Just before the two-minute warning, the Niners strip the ball from Bradshaw and recover. Ecstasy engulfs the house hold and I am forlorn. It surely looks like this is a fumble and will be upheld upon review. I can’t hear the television due to the euphoria all over the living room. It’s loud and celebratory. All I can see is a very angry Niner coach Jim Harbaugh and I am wondering what happened. Screams of anger are directed at the TV by Larry and the rest of the SF fans. Then I hear that the head linesman blew the whistle when Bradshaw’s’ forward progress was stopped an instant before the ball was stripped and the play is not reviewable. “Thank You Lord”, is what I kept praying. It’s a huge break and I choose to remain silent. Regulation time ends score tied at 17-17.
The new NFL rules on overtime are somewhat confusing to me, so now I don’t know what to expect. I know that I want the Giants to get the ball first. They win the coin flip and in fact do receive. In the overtime neither team can move the ball and are punting to each other to trying to improve field position. The feeling in the room is intense. Everyone seems to sense that this game will be decided on a break. The Niner fans keep telling themselves that sooner or later Eli Manning is going to either fumble or throw an interception. I can’t deny that I may have had those same thoughts based on history but history also tells me that he comes up big in tough situations too. Also, I am thinking that the pressure has to get to Niners QB Alex Smith at some point. He has been very fortunate all season with avoiding turnovers. Well fans we definitely did not see this coming. The Giants punt the ball and Kyle Williams fields it breaks up field and I’m holding my breath hoping that somehow he doesn’t break a long one, when he gets stripped of the ball and the Giants recover deep in SF territory. Eli hands the ball off to Bradshaw three straight times for decent yardage trying to get closer for a FG attempt. Finally Manning moves the ball to the middle of the field for the attempt. It is still raining, the field is wet and the ball is wet. This is not an automatic easy short Field Goal attempt. Giants Place kicker Lawrence Tynes is not always automatic in pressure situations. Everyone in the stadium and in living rooms all across the country are holding their breath. Already today we have seen the Baltimore Ravens kicker miss a short FG attempt at the end of that game. Now here’s the snap….it low and not fielded cleanly by the holder. Some how he gets it off the wet turf into a not so perfect position and kicker Tynes in full stride connects and it sails through the upright middle right and good. Game over! Giants prevail…Niners in disbelief. Quietude comes to the “Stick”. The Giants are Delirious!
Back in the living room everyone is now somber and accepting the result. However some are cursing Kyle Williams and some are blaming the referees. All agree it was a great game and that the Niners have a bright future. Most are saying that they will root for the Giants in the Super Bowl because the like Eli Manning. He seems to be a hard guy to hate. No one beat up on us physically or verbally. They hugged us, congratulated us and told us they enjoyed our company. We did not rub in our victory. These are wonderful people and if we had lost we would have shown them the same love that they had shown us.. Only it feels a lot better when your team wins.
I was disappointed by Jim Harbaughs’ pushing aside a potential interviewer right after the game. The man is a fierce competitor and wound much too tight but I can understand his feelings and actions. If he doesn’t lighten up a little this line of work may eventually kill him. God, how would he handle it in a less friendly media market like New York, Chicago,Philadelphia, Boston or Dallas. He doesn’ have to handle the media scrutiny of a non forgiving market. In SF, he is adored and gets softball questions from the local media. He is still in the honeymoon period and produced immediate results. Expectations going into this year were low based on the last 15 years of Niner failures. Now it is a whole new era and much is to be expected and softballs will not coming from the local media.