Christmas 1998 included a trip to the NFC Wild Card game between the San Francisco '49ers and Green Bay Packers at Candlestick nee 3Com Park on Sunday, January 3rd, 1999.
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Attendance on a beautiful 60 degree winter (?) day was 66k. 3Com Park holds 70k so we were probably a few k short of Green Bay fans due to the midwest storms that blanketed Chicago with 22 inches of snow. For example, O'Hare Airport, the usual way out of Wisconsin, was backed way up.
Unlike many '49ers games, the fans came to play that day, as Steve Young later observed. We were LOUD when Brett Favre came up to the line, and I think we may have helped confuse things enough for him to throw an interception. Of course Charles Haley getting to Favre probably helped too.
Haley was an interesting story. He hadn't played in two years but was indeed menacing, being in on a sack and generally running amok in the Packers backfield all day. He wasn't the best we'd ever seen him, but he was amazingly effective for someone called in to play at the last moment. Haley's freshness from not playing the regular season undoubtedly helps. If the Niners make it to the Superbowl and win, Haley would be the first player in NFL history to own 6 Superbowl Rings, with three each as a Niner and Cowboy.
The game was a great give and take, with similar stats, including turnovers. GB's offense carved up greater chunks of the field, but the Niners Offense looked more poised. That is, except for Terrell Owens.... The Niners Defense made some great stands. Though the secondary was less than strong, as they have been throughout the regular season, the already battle-worn Defense generally dominated.
Owens dropped 4 passes, including one in the end zone. Replay showed that one with the sun in his eyes, and one fumble was punched out on the first drive when he may have been thinking more about an apparently open end zone than covering up the ball. On reflection the drops were probably just big game jitters on his part. This guy is only 3 years out of college and before this game he still acted like a rookie.
Owens was afraid of choking in a big game and for the most part he did... until the last offensive drive of the game when Young spotted Owens in zone coverage nearing the goal line down the middle of the field. Young stumbled back, threw a bullet and Owens caught it, despite being surrounded by three Packers. Two of the defenders immediately slammed Owens from the right then left as he flew into the end zone.
Owens, more stunned with joy than hurt, curled up on the ground clasping the ball in both arms for what seemed like minutes as his teammates swarmed the field and piled on him. Owens finally got up and pointed to the sky above, thanking God for giving him the chance to redeem his mistakes earlier in the game. Hopefully this trial by fire will give Owens the confidence to make the best use of his abilities as we go into the rest of the playoffs and he goes into the rest of his years as a player. Owens has the talent and skills to be one of the great receivers, he just needs to believe....
Surprised yet happy fans hung out in the stands longer than usual after the game to savor not just a closely fought game which could have gone either way at any time, but also the startling and dramatic finish. It brought to mind Dwight Clark's "The Catch" from Joe Montana which won the tight NFC Championship game I saw on TV in 1981. This one was up there with it.
It was a real pleasure to have great seats at this historic game, meet other great fans, and share the game with my brother and his friend, both football nuts and Green Bay devotees. Steve Young had never beaten the Packers and Green Bay had knocked SF out of the Playoffs the last two years running. It was finally Steve's time to beat the Packers. This one felt good to win.