There was a mugging this afternoon at Giants Stadium. It lasted three hours. When it was over, the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers limped away, battered, beaten -- and losers.
The New York Giants, one of the newer, meaner kids on the NFL block, knocked the coolest kid out cold, 17-3.
"Somebody had to get rid of 'em," New York Coach Bill Parcells said after the upset in the NFC wild-card game, shrugging.
"I'm glad it was us."
The Giants (11-6) now will have the honor, if you call it that, of playing the Chicago Bears (15-1) Sunday at 1 p.m. at Soldier Field in Chicago. The 49ers (10-7), who won two of the last four Super Bowls, go home to ponder a season that ended much earlier than most thought.
"I'm not ashamed," said San Francisco Coach Bill Walsh. "I guarantee you publicly, we will be back."
Unable to score a touchdown for the first time in 41 games, the 49ers were haunted by the menacing Giants defense, their own unusual mistakes and a lot of bumps and bruises before 75,842 mostly jubilant spectators.
San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, who was sacked four times and constantly was running from pressure, said he took about six pain-killing shots this weekend for a pulled stomach muscle.
The injury, which occurred last week in a playoff-clinching victory over Dallas, was not disclosed by the 49ers until today.
Montana said the pulled muscle didn't bother him except when he had to hold his arm especially high to throw over incoming pass rushers.
Other things bothered him more. Running back Roger Craig, who had two injured knees by game's end, dropped six passes, most in the second half when the 49ers were trying to claw their way back into the game.
Craig, the first man in NFL history to gain more than 1,000 yards running and 1,000 yards receiving in a single season, hyperextended a knee in the second half but returned later.
"I shouldn't have come back in," Craig said. "(The injuries) bothered me. My concentration wasn't there."
Craig gained 23 yards rushing and caught two passes for 18 yards.
But San Francisco's injuries can account for just so much of this ending. The Giants deserve most of the credit.
They jumped to an early lead on Eric Schubert's 47-yard field goal in the first quarter. They added to it on Phil Simms' two touchdown passes: 18 yards to tight end Mark Bavaro, who caught the ball with one outstretched hand in the second quarter; and three yards to reserve tight end Don Hasselbeck in the third quarter, on a play in which he's never been the target before.
Schubert, who was teaching school when the Giants found him earlier this season, missed three field goals from 36 to 43 yards away, but the Giants' lead never was in jeopardy, so thorough was this win.
"I think we beat a team a lot of people didn't think we could beat," said Simms, who threw for 181 yards, which complemented Joe Morris' 141 rushing yards quite nicely. "We got the lead and then kinda let them dictate the game in the second half and they just never got anything going."
The reasons for that stand tall tonight: linebackers Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson, ends Leonard Marshall and George Martin, and nose tackle Jim Burt, to name a few.
"That was the best I've ever seen our defense play," said Simms, saying an awful lot. "They were so aggressive, I think a lot of times the 49ers looked over their shoulders and there were a lot of dropped balls."
The 49ers, who scored two touchdowns in the first seven minutes against the Giants in last year's playoff game, punted on their first three possessions and were intercepted on their fourth. Finally, Ray Wersching kicked a 21-yard field goal on the fifth, and last, drive of the half.
Taylor said he dreamed last night that the Giants would have a 17-0 lead at halftime. He almost was right.
The Giants drove to the San Francisco 30 the first time they got the ball, setting up Schubert's 47-yard field goal.
Already, Morris, the Giants' all-time single-season rushing leader, gave a clue to what might happen the rest of the game. On his second run, he watched which way massive nose tackle Michael Carter went, and dashed the other for six yards.
"We thought we would isolate him," Morris said. "I made some reads off him today."
The Giants took their 3-0 lead into the second quarter, when the 49ers took over at their 26 after a miss by Schubert. Montana completed a pass to rookie Jerry Rice for seven yards, which only served to set up a 49ers turnover.
Tight end Russ Francis was sent out on a crossing pattern, a pass the 49ers completed against the Giants and linebacker Gary Reasons a couple times in last season's San Francisco playoff victory.
This time, Reasons met Francis in the middle of the field, shoving his right arm between the pass and the receiver. The ball flipped 15 yards into the air, falling into the arms of free safety Terry Kinard at the New York 47. Kinard returned the interception to the San Francisco 38.
"I'd like to say I planned it to go to Terry," said Reasons, "but I didn't."
In three plays, the Giants moved to the 18, where they faced third down and five. Bavaro, a rookie from Notre Dame, ran a post pattern, slicing between defensive backs Ronnie Lott and Carlton Williamson, into the end zone.
Lott, who was playing with a broken left hand, seemingly could do nothing to stop him, one of several times he looked helpless today.
Simms threw high, but Bavaro, who is 6 feet 4, reached up with his right hand and batted the ball into his left arm in the end zone.
"I told him, 'Don't make it look so hard,' " Simms said.
The Giants, who completed only five touchdown passes to their tight ends all season, found another one alone in the end zone at the beginning of the third quarter.
Led by Morris' 30-yard sweep to the right, on which he cut back to the 49ers five, the Giants took a commanding lead with just four minutes gone in the second half.
Faking a handoff from the three, Simms saw Hasselbeck unattended and threw to him for the 17-3 lead.
"The great thing about that was I've never thrown to Don on that play ever. We run it every day in practice and I never throw to him," Simms said.
From there on, the 49ers moved into New York territory three times and didn't score, but had one touchdown called back on a holding penalty late in the game.
Of the Giants' first victory over the 49ers in six tries in the 1980s, Parcells said, "You just watched a pretty physical game."
Which is just the way the Giants like it.
Late in the fourth quarter, during a timeout, the people who decide what music to play on the public address system at the Meadowlands made a wise choice.
They picked New Jersey hero Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days."
The crowd roared and cheered, then stood and rocked.
It looked just like one of the day's standing ovations for the Giants, the biggest thing to come out of New Jersey, at least this weekend.