Traditional roles reversed in Giants-49ers rivalry

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SAN FRANCISCO — The Giants boasted a physical, intimidating defense with athletic linebackers and stout linemen capable of stifling the NFL’s most productive offenses. San Francisco featured a high-powered passing attack led by an eventual Hall of Fame quarterback in his prime with receivers capable of turning short passes into big gains.

When the San Francisco 49ers play host to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game today for a shot at the Super Bowl, the matchup conjures memories from a previous era of this great rivalry – even if the roles are reversed.

The elite quarterback now is New York’s Eli Manning, who connects on big plays to Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz in a similar fashion to how Joe Montana and Jerry Rice did for the dominant Niners in the 1980s.

San Francisco’s current front seven led by relentless defensive lineman Justin Smith, rookie pass-rushing specialist Aldon Smith and fierce linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman resembles that old Giants group featuring Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson.

And who could have predicted this pairing?

The Giants (11-7) toppled defending champion Green Bay 37-20 last Sunday when everybody figured the road to the Super Bowl would go through Lambeau Field. Instead, New York is traveling West to San Francisco to face the upstart 49ers (14-3).

Jim Harbaugh’s “mighty men” as he calls them stunned the favored Saints 36-32 when Alex Smith hit Vernon Davis for the game-winning 14-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining.

“Look at last week, I think everybody thought the road was going to go through Lambeau. I think everybody assumed the NFC Championship game was going to get played there and look what happens,” Smith said. “These teams at this point, everybody’s as good as each other and it’s all going to come down to how you execute on that day. We’re all capable of beating each other, that’s for sure.”

GIANTS AT 49ERS

6:30 p.m. l Fox-Ch. 54

RECORDS: New York 11-7, San Francisco 14-3

SERIES RECORD: 49ers lead 18-17

LAST MEETING: 49ers beat Giants 27-20, Nov. 13

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: Teams have met seven times in postseason, with 49ers winning four. ... Giants won only previous NFC championship meeting 15-13 in January 1991. ... Sixth conference championship game since 1996 season to feature two teams that missed playoffs in previous season. ... New York QB Eli Manning and San Francisco QB Alex Smith tied for NFL lead with five fourth-quarter comeback wins in regular season. ... Marks second time two former No. 1 picks at quarterback faced off in conference championship game.

– Associated Press


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