The immediate goal for the San Francisco 49ers Sunday when they meet the New York Giants in the NFC Championship game is to qualify for their third straight Super Bowl.
Their ultimate goal is to become the first team to win three straight Super Bowls.If one believes Las Vegas oddsmakers, the 49ers are a lock to play in Super Bowl XXV. The Niners are solid 8-point favorites, but the Giants will show up nonetheless.
"I think it's good we're underdogs," said New York fullback Maurice Carthon. "I think from here on out, we'll be the underdog in whatever situation we come up against. I think that's good sometimes, especially against this team because I don't think they're seven points better than us."
The two teams met Dec. 3 with the 49ers prevailing 7-3 in the lowest scoring NFL game this year.
"It (the victory over the Giants) was the best (game) I've been involved in," said 49ers Coach George Seifert, who formerly was the team's defensive coordinator. "I can remember distinctly the excitement I felt. It would rate right up there with the Dallas game (after the 1981 season) when we won the first (NFC) championship."
The 49ers will face a new challenge Sunday because quarterback Jeff Hostetler will be starting in place of the injured Phil Simms. Hostetler adds the dimension of a running quarterback to the New York attack. That will force San Francisco to be patient on defense.
"I consider us a disciplined defense as well as I do New York," said Seifert, who has a 32-4 record as head coach. "We may have to be even more so in this game because of the style of quarterback we're facing. They have used him (Hostetler) to attack the corners more (on rollouts). With a play-action pass, he can drop back and find the crease and he does a good job of running up the field."
The Giants also will be without rookie running back Rodney Hampton, who broke his leg last weekend in the playoff victory over the Chicago Bears. Hampton's loss will force veteran Ottis Anderson to shoulder more of the running responsibilities. Anderson gained 784 yards on 225 carries in the regular season and scored 11 touchdowns.
"I don't know what effect not having Hampton will have on their offense," said San Francisco defensive end Pierce Holt. "The more Anderson runs the ball, the stronger he seems to get."
Defensively, the Giants must find a way to disrupt 49er quarterback Joe Montana, who has the uncanny ability to find his third and fourth receivers.
"When you have Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, anything can happen," said Giants Coach Bill Parcells. "That team can put up 40 points any day."
New York will rely on its pass rush, led by linebacker Lawrence Taylor, to hurry Montana. During the regular season, Taylor had 10.5 sacks.
"I think they will have a lot of people on the line of scrimmage to rush the quarterback," said San Francisco offensive tackle Steve Wallace. "They have to do that to be successful."
The Giants shut down Rice in the first meeting, but with John Taylor and Mike Sherrard both now healthy, New York will not be able to concentrate solely on the 49ers' outstanding receiver.
"I caught just one pass and they really defended me well," said Rice, who in 1990 became only one of four players in NFL history to catch 100 passes in a single season. "This weekend is going to be a big test for me. I've already got an attitude."