When Joe Morris was dashing through the 49ers for 30 yards early in the second half Sunday, the man who mostly made it possible was flat on his back looking skyward.

And not because somebody had yelled that Halley's comet soon would buzz Giants Stadium.

When Mark Bavaro was making that sensational catch for the touchdown that gave the Giants control of the NFC wild-card game, the man who mostly made it possible was in the process of having his head rattled by a human Cuisinart.

Funny thing about Bart Oates and the others who bring glory to their teammates and championships to their towns: they almost never see what those good deeds produce.

"About all you can go on is the crowd noise," said center Oates, who was hearing lots of loud vibes -- and loving it.

Among football zealots, the burden Oates was required to shoulder was as mighty as any quarterback Phil Simms, linebacker Lawrence Taylor or the more glamorous Giants managed to grab.

If Oates handled the 49ers' Michael Carter, the Giants would win handily.

He did.

So did they.

Here's why:

"A Michael Carter, a great nose guy, can ruin an offensive line, from one tackle to the other," Oates said. "If it takes two or three of us to contain him, that frees their outside guys (to unhinge a few limbs).

"So what it amounts to is if someone like Carter goes uncontrolled, your entire game plan is destroyed. You can't run; you can't pass."

So that's largely how a three-point underdog ripped the crown from the Super Bowl champs. While Simms threw those lovely passes and Morris ran tough and beautifully, Oates was anonymously brilliant.

Carter is a Pro Bowl player whose absence earlier in the season, the 49ers said, was significant in three losses. He was close to a nonfactor Sunday, before limping off with an ankle injury in the third quarter.

Oates sometimes throws the language around as easily as a wimp linebacker, using "imperative" and other multisyllable words not often heard in NFL dressing rooms.

His ability to dissect a game is uncanny, although any old dunderhead with a notebook could figure out this one: the Giants were great; the 49ers were lousy.

"Thorough and well-rounded," Oates called the victory that would have been much greater than 14 points had Eric Shubert not kicked as poorly as a blind mule.

"This was as much class and all-around execution as any team I've ever seen."

He's seen lots of both, having been a champion (with the USFL Stars) before he was a Giant. He also sympathized with Shubert, for three terrible snaps were important in Giants losses during the regular season.

Of the large business at hand Sunday, the 285-pound Carter, Oates said: "It's like trying to move a brick building."

But if you budge that building . . .

"We realized midway through the second quarter we'd win. Just by continuing to do what we'd been doing. The score might have been just 3-0 at the time, but we knew we were better.

"When you control both sides of the interior line, you're going to win 90 to 95 percent of the time."

Oates arrived just as the preseason was ending for the Giants and became a starter in less than a month. He imagines this game was about his 45th of the calendar year.

"You've got a group of guys who start in July or August, who sweat and bleed and worry for 24 weeks or so, who've gone through so much adversity to reach this point.

"You want to get better and better -- and that's how we are right now. The calls have been beautiful, and Joe's been so quick and so instinctive. His second and third efforts have been phenomenal."

Against a defense that rarely allows 100-yard rushing games, Morris mustered 141. So effective were the ground troops that Simms hardly bothered firing at the 49ers' pigeon in the secondary, Tory Nixon.

As Oates insisted, a Giant effort was taking place before more than three points flickered on the scoreboard. With 7 1/2 minutes left in the first quarter, the 49ers pinned the Giants on their two-yard line.

On first down, Simms called a harmless handoff to the gutty plodder Rob Carpenter. Surprisingly, he pranced out of the grasp of two 49ers and gained 12 yards.

A sequence that a year ago might have lasted one minute continued for six Sunday. Oates and the offensive players were as useful as Taylor and the other hitters yesterday, for the often-explosive Joe Montana was all but chained to the sideline.

Players get giddy at such moments. All the head slaps and excitement cause wires to the brain to burn. Even normally clear thinkers such as Oates go bonkers.

He was thinking ahead, to the Brutal Bears, and acting cocky. Every sensible person knows the Bears would be two-touchdown favorites against an all-time all-star team, right?

A thoughtful reporter would not bother his public with such fantasy, but because Oates was so exceptional -- and also big -- a final line gets recorded:

"Next week's victory is going to be better than this one -- and so on, and so on."