SAN FRANCISCO -- Buildup and blowouts are usually the rule of thumb for games breathlessly referred to as Super Bowl Jr.
You call something "The Game of the Year," as many had designated last evening's meeting between the San Francisco 49ers and the New York Giants, and you usually get a stinker of epic proportions.
Not this time.
For a pleasant change of pace, the hype equaled the hitting. It wasn't artistic, mind you, but if nothing else, the 49ers' 7-3 victory over the Giants had a certain primitive flair to it.
"This was the best football game I've seen in my nine years associated with the National Football League," 49ers offensive guard Bubba Paris declared afterward.
He had a point.
This was a game where Giants quarterback Phil Simms and 49ers free safety Ronnie Lott went after each other not once, but twice. Pleasantries were not exchanged.
This was a game where the 49ers' defense, which is rarely praised with the same eloquence as the 49ers' offense, made two vital goal-line stands, including one late in the fourth quarter. Even later in the game, San Francisco thwarted another last-gasp Giants drive as end Kevin Fagan sacked Simms as time expired. So mad was Simms that he slammed the ball to the ground. Just now it's coming down.
As usual, the Giants tried all their old favorites: the smashmouth run tactics, the safe passes to their backs, the throws to tight end Mark Bavaro. Almost nothing worked and if it did, it didn't work for long.
"It was one of those games where we expected them to do what they ended up doing," 49ers linebacker Matt Millen said. "They never got out of their game plan."
They also never scored a touchdown, although they had their chances.
Chance No. 1 resulted in a measly field goal.
Chance No. 2 had a little more drama to it.
With less than five minutes left and the 49ers leading, 7-3, Simms found himself at the San Francisco 9-yard line.
His first pass sailed through the end zone. His second one was overthrown. His third one was knocked away by Lott. His fourth one (the Giants decided against the field goal) was batted away by Darryl Pollard at the absolute last moment.
"[The 49ers] have a powerful offense, so we thought we had to go for it," Giants coach Bill Parcells. "We had four shots from the 10 and couldn't get it into the end zone. Then we got the ball back, but with not enough time."
Thirty-six seconds might be enough for Joe Montana to stage an unlikely comeback, but it wasn't near enough for Simms and the Giants' low-tech offense. Rather than throw downfield, Simms, who had to start at San Francisco's 44, was forced to toss short passes to halfback Dave Meggett. Those got him to San Francisco's 27.
With three seconds left, Simms tried his hand at the improbable, mainly a long bomb. Fagan would have none of that. He grabbed Simms by the ankles and wrestled him to the ground.
"In the second half, we were trying to throw the ball on them a lot, but the coverage was darn good," Simms said.
The 49ers raised their record to 11-1, which will help considerably when the home-field advantage is determined for the NFC Championship. Meanwhile, the Giants dropped to 10-2, their second loss in as many games.
"We're just a wild-card [team] right now," Parcells said.
The game's only touchdown was a 23-yard shot from Joe Montana to John Taylor near the end of the first half,but the 49ers proved that their defense can be the difference." You don't hold a team like the 49ers to seven points and lose;that's what hurt's said Giants Cornerback Mark Collins