The first half set the fierce tone for the NFC Championship Game. The 49ers took the opening kickoff and drove far enough for a field goal. The Giants answered with a 15-play drive for their own field goal. These were the two best defenses in the league, and the hitting was ferocious right from the start. Defenders on both sides were delivering shots that left bodies strewn on the field. The second quarter saw two more field goals and a 6-6 tie at the half.
Early in the third quarter, Joe Montana hit John Taylor for a 61-yard scoring pass (which Everson Walls just missed intercepting) for the only touchdown in the game. The Giants continued with their game plan, though a slow and steady ground game that would result in time-of-possession dominance of 39 to 21 minutes.
However, in the fourth quarter, New York still trailed 13-9. They needed some big plays, and soon. With less than 10 minutes to play, the 49ers faced third down at their own 23-yard line when Joe Montana rolled right to pass. Giants end Leonard Marshall was blocked and knocked down, but he scrambled to his feet and chased after Montana. Marshall nearly ran right through the 49ers quarterback, sending the ball flying and knocking Montana out of the game.
San Francisco punted, but New York’s ensuing drive stalled at its own 46. As the Giants lined up to punt on fourth-and-two,
Let’s say that Roger fumbles two plays later. That could have been the difference, not giving them enough time. When you lose a game like this one, you can put your finger on a thousand little things. And even if Joe is in there in that situation, he would have been handing off, too, trying to run out the clock. I’ll just give the Giants the credit they deserve and leave it at that.
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The remarkable sequence of big plays in the last eight minutes of this championship game was started by Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall, who got up off his knees to run down Joe Montana and send both the quarterback and the ball flying. Marshall made a habit of making big plays during his 10-year career with the Giants. He was a complete player, strong against both the pass and the run.
A second-round draft pick out of LSU in 1983, Marshall was called “the steal of the draft” by the Raiders’ Al Davis. It did not look that way at first. Marshall reported to training camp 20 pounds overweight and out of shape, with little pass-rushing technique. The Giants even assigned an assistant trainer to trail Marshall in the evenings and prevent him from making any late-night fast-food runs. Marshall worked hard, however, and within two years, Bill Parcells referred to him as one of the best “weight-room guys” on the team and cited that as the reason for his improvement as a player.
Marshall often teamed up with Lawrence Taylor on the right side, and the two formed a knockout punch for the Big Blue Wrecking Crew for several seasons.
There were three seasons in which Marshall would record double-digit sacks, and he was twice named All-Pro. With the Giants, Marshall would sometimes play inside as a tackle on passing downs, and when he signed with the Jets as a free agent in 1993, he was moved to defensive tackle. After one injury-plagued year there, he was cut; he then played one final season with the Redskins before retiring. But he will always be remembered as a big-time player in two Giants Super Bowl runs.
We left our heart here last time. But we knew we’d be back here to recapture it.