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A Rivalry Revisited and Twisted

Giants and 49ers have quite a long history

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The good old days are back again.

    For those of us old enough to remember a time before iPhones and instant messaging, Sunday's matchup between the Giants and 49ers conjures up some warm memories.

    Mark Bavaro dragging half the 49ers defense across the field after catching a pass. Jim Burt clobbering Joe Montana on a pass Lawrence Taylor would return for a touchdown.

    Bill Walsh and Bill Parcells squaring off in what seemed like annual battles for the top spot in the NFC. Leonard Marshall clobbering Montana again and Matt Bahr hitting five field goals to send the Giants to the Super Bowl.

    Those games happened so long ago that it feels surprising that the films of them are in color, but you can't help thinking back to those days with the 6-2 Giants heading to San Francisco for a date with the 7-1 49ers. Those games have no more bearing on this year's matchup than the price of avocados in Guatemala, of course, but one can't help the way the mind works.

    There's an unmistakable difference between those old teams and the ones that are going to square off on Sunday afternoon. It's something of an oversimplification, but the easiest way to say it is to say that the 49ers and Giants have switched identies from the teams of the 80's and early 90's.

    Back then, the 49ers had Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice and an offense that was the envy of every team in the NFL. The Giants beat them with a steely defense and a relentless ground game that seemed like the difference between the two cities played out on a football field.

    Now, though, it is the 49ers that beat teams by pummeling them on both sides of the ball. Frank Gore has run for 100-plus yards in each of the last five games and the 49ers defense hasn't allowed a touchdown on the ground all season.

    They also have a pass rush that bears some resemblance to the one the Giants used to bring with them to those classic games. There isn't an LT on the Niners and you've still got to give this year's the Giants the edge on that front, but they're building quite the defense by the bay.

    The Giants, on the other hand, have Eli Manning playing a role close to the one that those two Hall of Famers used to play for the 49ers. Alex Smith is having his best NFL season, but comparisons to Montana and Young end with the fact that they are all human beings who play quarterback in the NFL.

    The Giants were the more physical team back then, but that's not the case now. They can't run the ball and their run defense hasn't been good enough this season, two reasons to think that they could be in trouble when things get underway at Candlestick.

    Of course, trouble hasn't meant much to the Giants this season. Things can look awfully bleak right before the storm clears thanks to a hail of touchdowns from Manning through the air.

    That strategy isn't going to work every time, which makes the need for a more balanced attack, even if Ahmad Bradshaw is out again this week, all the bigger. This seems like a bad week for it to make its appearance, but we're past underestimating these Giants.

    After all, there have been plenty of other times they've gone into games with San Francisco as underdogs and come out as winners.

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.

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