SAN FRANCISCO -- Call it the Joe Ehrmann Factor.
When the San Francisco 49ers came within one game of trying to win their third straight Super Bowl by losing to the New York
Giants, 15-13, they became the second team to suffer that fate.
The same thing happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1976, when they lost the American Football Conference title game to the Oakland Raiders, 24-7.
The previous week, during a 40-14 playoff victory over the Baltimore Colts, Rocky Bleier suffered a foot injury and Ehrmann, a Colts' defensive lineman, fell on Franco Harris' ribs.
That left the Steelers with only one healthy running back on their roster (Reggie Harrison) for the Oakland game.
The 49ers had similar misfortunes yesterday, and they again found out how difficult it is for everything to go right for a team trying to stay on top for three straight years.
They lost quarterback Joe Montana with a broken hand and were the victim of a Roger Craig fumble in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Matt Millen said: "It's so hard to win one [Super Bowl], let alone three. It's going to take at least two more years for somebody to even get to that position."
Although Millen said he couldn't blame Craig's fumble for the loss, he said: "Save for one play, it's kind of tough to take your eyes off it at this point. We'd be standing here saying what it feels like to have an opportunity to have three Super Bowls in a row. What are you doing to do?"
The 49ers joined the 1968 Green Bay Packers, the 1974 Miami Dolphins and the 1976 and 1980 Pittsburgh Steelers as the two-time Super Bowl winners to fail in a bid for a third straight.
The last team to win three straight titles was the 1965-66-67 Packers. They didn't have the chance to win three straight Super Bowls because the game wasn't invented until after the 1966 season.
Millen said: "I'd rather lose, 51-3 [the score of the Los Angeles Raiders' loss to the Buffalo Bills]. At least you know you never had a chance. We had the game won, and they got the big plays and converted it.
"The sun will rise tomorrow, there won't be any cruise missiles out there hopefully and life goes on. It just happened that, at the end, they had the ball in a position to kick a field goal under a lot of pressure. He makes the play. If the game goes on another three minutes, maybe we get a chance. It doesn't."
* The Giants were complaining about Jim Burt's hit on backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler that injured his knee in the fourth period.
Defensive lineman Leonard Marshall said: "His play was a dirty football play. He really went after Jeff to hurt him. When we hit Montana in the first quarter, our guy was pushed into Montana, and they called a penalty on us. When Jim hit Jeff, it was clearly a late hit, and he went after his knees. We felt like it was not a clean football play. We don't play football like that around here. We just play hard," he said.
Burt is a former Giant who knocked out Montana in a 1986 season playoff game the Giants won, 49-3.
Hostetler said he didn't know how it happened, but at first he feared he couldn't come back.
"Coach Parcells asked me how the knee felt, if I could go several times. Finally, I told him, 'Bill, I'm going,' and that was good enough. There was a lot of emotion. This was a huge game, and I'd waited a long time for the opportunity," Hostetler said.
Hostetler has guided the team to four straight victories since Phil Simms injured his foot against the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 15. Simms watched the game on crutches and is out for the season.
If Hostetler hadn't been able to play, it's unlikely the Giants could have pulled it out. Matt Cavanaugh tried to throw two passes on his one series and was sacked on one and was high on the other.
But Hostetler was fortunate that on the play before Bahr's fourth field goal, he threw a pass that Johnny Jackson almost intercepted, but didn't.
* Everson Walls, who was a victim of Dwight Clark's catch in the 1981 NFC title game when he was with the Dallas Cowboys, was almost a goat again when John Taylor beat him on a 61-yard touchdown catch in the third period.
"It was especially gratifying to walk off the field a winner. Today, it was somebody else's chance to blow it, not me," Walls said.
*Matt Bahr was in a postion to kick the winning field goal because he was cut by the Cleveland Browns and signed by the Giants when Raul Allegre was injured early in the year.