EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The last time the New York Giants played the San Francisco 49ers, a dramatic 7-3 loss 6 1/2 weeks ago, Jeff Hostetler was in the game for one play, holding for Matt Bahr's 20-yard field goal.
When the Giants and the 49ers meet in San Francisco on Sunday for the NFC championship and a trip to the Super Bowl, Hostetler will be the Giants' quarterback.
It sounds like a mismatch: Joe Montana of the 49ers, regarded by many as the greatest quarterback ever, against Hostetler, starting only the sixth game in his seven seasons in the NFL.
But the foot injury that has sidelined Phil Simms, normally the Giants' quarterback, for the last month has given Hostetler a chance. Hostetler did so well in his first playoff start, a 31-3 victory last Sunday over the Chicago Bears, that the doubters have become believers.
Some are already making Hostetler the starter next season over Simms. That kind of talk makes Hostetler uncomfortable.
"This isn't the time even to speculate on something like that," he said. "I'm not looking down the road. This is just an opportunity that's come up. It's been a frustrating time for Phil. We don't need that kind of stuff now.
"Phil and I have been around each other long enough to know that things are going to happen and you don't have control over it. You just have to take care of your own business. I don't ever want to get into a negative situation involving us."
When Giants coach Bill Parcells was asked who next season's quarterback would be, he was even more to the point.
"I'm not going to answer that," he said. "We'll wait for the day after the season ends."
Parcells said he was surprised that so many people were surprised that Hostetler could do the job.
"You take your athletes and you prepare them to play," Parcells said. "If I don't have an understanding of his ability after seven years, someone else should be sitting here.
"In his case, until you go out and do it in a major way, there will always be doubts. I don't say he had them, but a lot of people did."
Since Hostetler became a Giant, he has heard the doubts. He has shrugged them off.
"Everybody has his own opinion," Hostetler said. "Most people were under the impression that I wasn't able to do anything to help us win. That's their prerogative. It didn't affect me."
Parcells always says that with Giants fans everything is euphoria or disaster. When Simms was injured in the 14th game of the season, it was open house for the purveyors of gloom and doom. They expected disaster. Instead, the Giants have not lost since then.
"Things have probably been blown out of proportion," Hostetler said. "I'd rather have it low-key. From what I've seen in the NFL, it's better to be low-key because there are a lot of ups and downs."
Against the Bears, Hostetler passed for two touchdowns and ran for one. He ran six times during the game, mostly on scrambles, TTC and every run gained a first down or a touchdown. Parcells was pleased with the performance.
"He told me I did a good job," Hostetler said. "He said, 'Don't let it go to your head.' He didn't need to tell me that, but I expected him to. If I let it go to my head, I would be in trouble.
"I've had a lot of positive feedback from the players. Some things were said and some unsaid. There's just a common respect for one another. That's all you want from your teammates."
Success always carries a price. For Hostetler, it has been a telephone that has seldom stopped ringing this week.
"Friends, people I've known, fans who got my number some way," he said. "They just want to talk. It's wearing on me. Once you get away from the stadium, you want to calm down and become quiet, and it hasn't been that way. I guess I'll have to learn how to deal with it."