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A Date To Remember: Payback for Montana and the 49ers

The Parcells Giants were rising in 1985, eliminating the defending champions

Super Bowl XXI: Denver Broncos v New York Giants
Joe Morris emerged as a star running back in 1985, as the Giants became a formidable contender in the NFC.
Photo by George Rose/Getty Images

A Date To Remember is an occasional series Big Blue View will be running through the Super Bowl, highlighting the glory of the Giants’ past and celebrating the biggest playoff wins in franchise history.

Making Montana Pay

Dec. 29, 1985

NFC Wild Card game

Giants 17, 49ers 3

Joe Montana and the 49ers.

Joe Gibbs and the Redskins.

Walter Payton, the 46 Defense and the Bears.

In the 1980s, the NFC was all about dynasties and dominance.

And the Giants were emerging as a force in their own right in 1985, staking their claim against Montana and San Francisco in the NFC Wild Card game. The victory came one year after the 49ers dispatched them, 21-10, in the divisional round of the 1984 playoffs.

Those four franchises combined to win 10 Super Bowls between 1981 and 1991. The powerhouse that Bill Parcells and George Young were building was almost ready to break into that exclusive club.


But before we dive into the Giants’ 17-3 victory and all that it meant, consider this: Giants Stadium opened in 1976.

It would take nine years before it finally hosted a playoff game.

The last time the Giants had played a postseason home game was 1962. And they had lost five times to Montana and Co. in five seasons entering the ‘85 postseason, including twice in the playoffs.

So hosting the defending-champion 49ers in the Meadowlands was a big deal.

And then the oddmakers went and did the Giants a big favor: They christened San Francisco as three-point favorites, despite playing on the road and both teams’ identical 10-6 records.

It was Montana who suffered the brunt of the Giants’ anger.

They sacked him four times (Jim Burt twice, Leonard Marshall once, Lawrence Taylor once) and harassed him all game. Montana’s receivers dropped nine passes by The New York Times’ count, “many as a result of … hammering or prospective hammering,” as the Old Gray Lady put it.

The 49ers failed to score a touchdown for the first time in 40 games.

“That was the best I’ve ever seen our defense play, the most aggressive,” said Phil Simms, as quoted in The New York Times’ game story.

He continued his evolution into a Pro Bowl quarterback, passing for both Giants’ touchdowns. Mark Bavaro stretched out to haul in an 18-yard scoring pass in the second quarter, and Don Hasselbeck caught a 3-yard touchdown in the third.

Meanwhile, Joe Morris was emerging as an elite back. He capped a 1,336-yard, 21-touchdown regular season with 141 rushing yards on 28 carries.

The Giants won by two scores despite missing three field goals — from 43, 36 and 39 yards.

Their season may have ended the next week at a frigid Soldier Field, when the Bears’ all-time defense dominated the Giants, 21-0, on their way to the Super Bowl.

But the progress was undeniable.

Parcells seemed to predict what was coming. After the victory over the 49ers, he presciently cautioned that it was only part of something bigger to come.

“The stakes are going up. We have a long way to go,” Parcells said in The Times. “But it’s who’s standing at the end, and we’re standing.”

They wouldn’t be the last team standing, not in 1985.

But it was coming.