New York Giants kicker Matt Bahr was talking to himself as he stood alone on the torn turf of Candlestick Park in the fading light on Sunday afternoon. And why not? Nobody else would.

The players on his field-goal unit, his best friends, looked away; his teammates on the sideline knelt in prayer.And the world champions - those who weren't beckoning to the crowd or screaming obscenities at the 5-9, 160-pound kicker - cringed, wondering how they had let their chance at football immortality slip into the control of a skinny, balding guy with a size-9 shoe.

"You're aware of the situation," Bahr said later, as the theme from "Chariots of Fire" played over the Giants' locker-room speakers. "But you try not to let it change anything."

All he did was make NFL history. Bahr's 42-yard field goal drifted softly over the crossbar as time expired in the NFC Championship Game, giving the Giants a 15-13 victory and ending the San Francisco 49ers' quest for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl championship.

Thanks to Bahr's first five-field goal game in a spotty 13-year career, the composure of career backup quarterback Jeff Hostetler and a defense that leveled Joe Montana and stuffed the rush, the Giants will play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Tampa in Super Bowl XXV.

"It hurts now," 49ers coach George Seifert said. "But I'm sure in a few days, when we think about it, it will hurt even more."

"Nobody's invincible," said guard Guy McIntyre. "In this league, what goes around comes around."

But the 49ers have every reason to believe they should be traveling to Tampa.

They held the Giants without a touchdown for the second time this season, and when Montana hit John Taylor with a 61-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter, they led 13-6.

But Bahr, who was released by the Cleveland Browns in the preseason and signed with the Giants in week four when Raul Allegre was injured, kicked field goals on two of the next three possessions to make it 13-12. He also missed one, from 37 yards.

"In this kind of game, I was thinking that might be it for us," said Bahr, who was considered questionable for the game earlier in the week because of a bruised neck suffered in the divisional playoffs.

He would get another chance, fittingly, because of the 49ers' ground game, which has tormented them all season.

Ottis Anderson got a crucial first down with a plunge and suddenly there was only a minute left and the Giants were leaving it up to Bahr.

His teammates began to edge away from him near the Giants' bench. Anderson ran for two yards, then Hostetler snuck forward to center the ball. The Giants called a timeout with four seconds left, then the 49ers did the same, just to remind Bahr what all of this meant.

"I don't mind the crowd," Bahr said. "What bothers me is when I'm golfing and it's completely quiet."

That wasn't the problem at Candlestick - until after the kick slipped easily through the uprights. Then the Giants' whoops were about all you could hear.

"It sort of drifted on me," Bahr said as he stood in a sweat-soaked undershirt an hour after that kick, a smile on his face and his eyes on the television replay of his finest hour.

"It was kind of like in a car accident - you know, how everything happens in slow motion," he said.

The 49ers might consider it an accident. The Giants think they finally proved the 49ers were only renting the Lombardi Trophy, not retiring it.

"It was a heavyweight championship fight," Marshall said. "And all our fighters showed up today."