Sports Illustrated was just a tot, 4 years old, when it pronounced the 1958 NFL championship game between the Colts and Giants "The Greatest Game Ever Played."
It was a great time to be great. Ike was in the White House, "Mr. Ed" in prime time. Fans in the Coliseum were cheering Dodgers popups (the real high ones). The Giants got their usual Mara (benevolent sunshine) Weather, and there had never been an overtime game.
Now, nearing middle age, SI must have its phrase-makers honing their rhetoric to cope with the enormity of tonight's meeting of the Giants and 49ers.
However reasonable men may differ on such matters, they are possibly the best football teams to set foot on the same field since man first stood erect and barked signals.
The Washington Redskins suspect it is so, strongly enough that they will be totally attendant on the TV show (Ch. 13, 9 p.m.).
"It's a game that doesn't need hype," said defensive tackle Tim Johnson. "Not for anybody who knows football. Scheme-wise, personnel-wise . . . it's just such a good match, almost a perfect match."
"Both have great balance," said cornerback Darrell Green, "and brutal defense. They scare me equally."
"San Francisco's defense is underrated," said quarterback Mark Rypien, "because the offense is so spectacular. They come back from adversity, almost like they prefer it that way."
Asked to compare the teams' strengths and weaknesses, Redskins special teams coach Wayne Sevier said: "You mean strengths and strengths. I'd give the special teams edge to the Giants because [punter Sean] Landeta is having his best year. The other guy is struggling."
The other guy is Barry Helton, whose averages of 36.4 yards gross and 31.1 net rank last in the NFC.
In his final playing year as a Redskins linebacker-center (playing both ways) in 1958, defensive line coach Vern Torgeson experienced those Giants twice (14-21 and 0-30) and the Colts once (10-35). He marks the 49ers and Giants even, except in two particulars.
"The Giants' offensive line may be a little stronger," Torgeson said. "So they may run the ball better.
"But what do you do about [Joe] Montana? He's already had his one 'bad' game for the year, hasn't he? He threw three interceptions against the Rams and then he almost pulled it out at the end.
"I don't know who'll win. The only thing I'll bet is that there won't be a cheap touchdown, either way," Torgeson said.
"I look for a score like 14-3 or 17-14," Sevier said. "Solid, well played. Yeah, close to the vest, if you want to call it that. Look what they've got going on it."
The loser will have a 10-2 record and both are home free to win their divisions. But Sevier believes there would be a traumatic effect on either team to lose a second game in a row.
"San Francisco had won 18 in a row, right?" Sevier said. "Can you imagine the shock, the psychological effect of losing two quick ones? They're winners, and so are the Giants. But you don't feel like a winner when they stop you. You're stunned. Hey, we know."
Sevier's reference was to the 1983 Redskins, who went to the Super Bowl with a 16-2 record, riding an 11-game winning streak. The Raiders slapped them silly, 38-9.
Larry Peccatiello, the Redskins' defensive coordinator, thinks there is more to the Giants than meets the eye. "They are so methodical," he said. "They know what they want to do and they execute. They run the ball well enough to bully you and control the game.
"So [Phil] Simms has to throw only 18, 21 times a game. But he completes 65 percent. So the Giants are capable of putting on an air show if they have to."
And at all times, head coach Joe Gibbs emphasizes, the Giants' defense is "keeping you honest." In the two defeats by New York this year, three of the Redskins' sneaky end-arounds netted 3 yards.
Rypien was in a cast when he watched the 49ers and Giants this year, but he has a vivid memory of how the Giants "executed" him twice in 1989.
In the two games they sacked Rypien only twice and intercepted him once. He completed 41 of 62 passes for 554 yards and four touchdowns. The Giants beat him, 27-24 and 20-17.
Rypien would not choose between the 49ers' and Giants' defenses, but he did make a distinction. "The Giants tend to play you soft," he said, "so they take away things downfield and you have to go to your second or third reads [receivers].
"The 49ers play more man [defense], so sometimes you can go to the guy you really want to get the ball."
Because a story that starts arguments ought to answer some, an added thought is offered, plus a warning: Tonight's are probably better football teams, but the guys in 1958 may have been better players. Certainly they were more willing, because there were only 33 of them on a squad.
Gino Marchetti and Sam Huff did not yield to a "specialist" when a "passing down" came up. Downs were downs.
Todays' coaches grumble about manpower shortages with a 45-plus-2 roster and the one-way players get "rests."
And the caveat: Great matches in football, as in horse racing, are often disappointments. So, presumably, are some honeymoons, but the probability does not diminish the anticipation.