EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Under an artificial Christmas tree in the offices of the New York Giants is an order form for football video cassettes that reads: Relive the greatest moments in Giants history.
Yes, well, the problem is you have to go back to 1963 and a loss to the Chicago Bears in the NFL championship game for the last true thrill. Some moment, and it costs $39.95 plus shipping, to boot.
The remaining choices include a look at the 1981 Giants ("A Giant Step") or last season's team ("Giants Again"). Both teams reached the NFC divisional playoff game before losing to the San Francisco 49ers, who proceeded to win the Super Bowl in each of those years. No word yet on the missing New York video between '63 and '81 (reportedly titled, "Sleeping Giants").
Now the Giants find themselves in the playoffs once more, this time against, surprise, the 49ers, in today's wild-card game at Giants Stadium. Or as the New York public relations release calmly put it: "Positively palpitated by a plethora of powerful performances that potted the Pittsburghs, the New York Giants won themselves a second straight NFL playoff and their first wild-card home date. . . . "
Now, in contrast to their feelings before the two previous postseason games, the Giants say they consider themselves equals of the 49ers rather than grateful newcomers. They list as their advantages:
--A weather-tested running game featuring Joe Morris, the East Coast's version of San Diego's Lionel James. Morris gained 1,336 yards this season and accounted for nearly half of the touchdowns scored by the Giant offense.
--The probable return of wide receiver Lionel Manuel from the injured reserve list.
--The unexpected absence of San Francisco cornerback Eric Wright (injured reserve). Wright, said Giant Coach Bill Parcells earlier this week, is the 49ers' best defensive player. Wright, who suffered a groin muscle pull, will be replaced by rookie Tory Nixon. The 49ers' fifth defensive back is Tim Collier, who hasn't played for two seasons after spending 1984 on the San Francisco injured reserve list and 1985 on unemployment.
There are other sidelights, most notably a supposed feud between 49er quarterback Joe Montana and Giant quarterback Phil Simms. According to a story in the New York Post, Montana told San Francisco Chronicle reporter Ira Miller that he wasn't too pleased to have Simms as an NFC Pro Bowl teammate.
Said Montana in the story: "Every time we play them our defense does a fairly good job, and every time he says the same thing: 'We could have beaten you. If we had a little more time, I could have thrown the ball up and down the field anytime I wanted to.'
"I mean, for a guy our defense has played well against, he's got confidence bordering on cockiness."
Later, Simms said he considered Montana's remark second-hand information and questioned whether the quote was authentic and, if it was, even meant for print. Of course, that doesn't mean Simms will forget the story.
The Giants finished the season 10-6, as did the 49ers. But San Francisco has won five of its last six games (the Rams beat the 49ers three weeks ago), including a victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the NFC East champion. Parcells watched the 49er-Cowboy game and said he remembers thinking that San Francisco would win, despite an early 13-0 Dallas lead.
"I could tell by the way Dallas was acting," he said. "You can watch a game and tell what's going to happen. I just felt like the 49ers would make a strong run at them in the second half."
San Francisco won, 31-16, and earned a third playoff meeting against the Giants in five seasons.
But today's game is different for no other reason than the fact that the 49ers, not the Giants, this time must travel across three time zones. They also must cope with the winter weather of New Jersey, where temperatures dipped into the teens last week and where the winds blow hard and unpredictably. It is expected to be in the mid-30s by kickoff.
Said Parcells: "If you can't run the ball up north, you're not going to be effective. It's difficult to come in here with a San Diego offense and build a team. Those outdoor teams in the north . . . if you can't run it late in the season you're going to lose. Or if you're totally reliant on the passing game, like a team like San Diego."
Or a team like, say, San Francisco?
"No," Parcells said, "they run the ball well. "
Like everyone else, Parcells has heard the popular theories concerning the 49er struggles this season. As expected, he called those criticisms incorrect and premature.
"Last year they looked untouchable," he said. "As I said the other day, there's a fine line between being 10-6 and 15-1 in this league."
The remainder of the Giants generally agree. Center Brad Oates was asked if the 49ers looked less imposing. Wrong guy. Oates must block Michael Carter, a recent Pro Bowl selection.