For once, a team other than the San Francisco 49ers and a quarterback other than Joe Montana made the critical big plays at the end of the game.
That team was the New York Giants and the quarterback was career backup Jeff Hostetler, who beat the 49ers 15-13 Sunday, ending San Francisco's dream of a third straight Super Bowl title."A disaster," said San Francisco linebacker Mike Walter.
Added New York nose tackle Erik Howard, another of the game's big playmakers.
"It was our obligation to keep them from making history. Let some other team make history, not the 49ers."
There were heroes other than Hostetler.
They included Howard, who knocked the ball loose from Roger Craig as the 49ers were nursing a 13-12 lead with 2:46 left in the game; Lawrence Taylor, who recovered the ball; and Matt Bahr, whose record fifth field goal from 42 yards as time ran out gave the Giants the win.
But it was Hostetler, who took over after Phil Simms was injured five weeks ago and was compared so favorably to Montana, who stood out.
"It was the thing to say, that I couldn't get it done," said Hostetler, who was 15 of 27 for 176 yards and executed the final drive as cooly as Montana as he guided the Giants 33 yards into field goal range in just his sixth start in seven NFL seasons. "That just adds to the fire and keeps me going."
"He played great," said San Francisco's Jim Burt, an ex-Giant.
The Giants now go to Tampa to face Buffalo for the NFL championship. The Bills were an early 5-point favorite to break the NFC's run of six straight titles.
It was a defensive struggle, much like San Francisco's 7-3 victory over the Giants last month. The only touchdown of the game was a 61-yard pass from Montana to John Taylor that gave San Francisco a 13-6 lead early in the third quarter.
But overall the Giants dominated, controlling the ball for 39 of the 60 minutes and knocking Montana from the game with 9:41 left. He sustained a bruised chest and broke the little finger of his throwing hand when he was sacked by Leonard Marshall.
Marshall was only one of a series of heroes on the New York defense, who took advantage of San Francisco's lack of a running game.
"They just pinned their ears back and went after Joe," said offensive right tackle Steve Wallace.
"They" included cornerback Mark Collins, who played Jerry Rice man-to-man for part of the game and held the game's best receiver to just 54 yards on five catches.
But most of all, "they" included Taylor and Howard, who teamed up on the play that won the game just as it seemd lost.
The Montana-Taylor play had broken a 6-6 halftime tie as Bahr and Mike Cofer traded field goals.
The Giants cut it to 13-9 on a 46-yarder by Bahr. Bahr later missed from 37 yards - his first from under 40 this year - but made a 38-yarder to cut it to 13-12 with 5:47 left in the game.
Enter Howard and Taylor.
Steve Young, who replaced Montana, had directed the 49ers to a first down on the New York 40. Then he handed to Roger Craig, who went straight at the New York defense.
He crashed into Howard and suddenly the ball was in the air for Taylor.
Now it was in the hands of Hostetler, who on the previous series had been hit on the knee by Burt and knocked out of the game for a series in favor of Matt Cavanaugh.
Hostetler showed no effect of the injury on first down, rolling right and hitting tight end Mark Bavaro for 19 yards to the San Francisco 38. After Ottis Anderson, who ran for 67 yards in 20 carries, lost four yards, Hostetler hit Stephen Baker for 13 yards on another rollout.
Then Anderson ran twice for 2 yards each time, Hostetler dove forward for another yard and it was up to Bahr .
Bahr, who kicked a 40-yarder to beat Phoenix earlier in the season, was as matter-of-fact as any 13-year NFL veteran.
"It was into a gentle crosswind. When I hit the ball it started drifting left," he said. "But I hit it cleanly. I knew it was good."