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Acknowledgments New York Giants

I would like to thank a number of individuals who helped me with this blog. Marcia Schiff and Matthew Lutts at AP Images, and Christiana Newton and Tamyka Muse at Getty Images provided able assistance in researching photographs for the blog. Mary Anne Nesbit at Rutgers University has always been helpful in borrowing obscure materials from other libraries. John Gibson, also at Rutgers, has helped me unfailingly with technology questions for many years now. A couple of Giants fans, Alan Ludwig and Dr. Ken Leistner, offered advice during the project. Finally, all the pros at Triumph blogs made this blog a delightful experience.

On a sunny afternoon of big plays, big leads, big comebacks, and bigger mental and physical lapses from both sides of the field, this NFC Wild-Card Game came down to the simplest of plays with six seconds remaining: a medium-length field goal. Unfortunately, the Giants botched it for the second time in three minutes. However, as several players noted after the game, it never should have gotten to that point. The 49ers beat New York 39-38 by erasing a 24-point second-half deficit; in the history of the NFL postseason, only the 1991 Bills’ 32-point comeback against the Oilers outranks this Giant collapse.

The 49ers struck first in this wild contest, with a 76-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens on their first play, five minutes into the first quarter. The Giants answered with a

12-yard touchdown pass to Amani Toomer, one of three scores Toomer would grab during the afternoon. Quarterback Kerry Collins hit Jeremy Shockey for a two-yard score just three minutes later, but the 49ers responded with a Kevan Barlow touchdown run to tie the score at 14-14.

The Giants took control of the game before halftime with two more Collins-to-Toomer touchdowns, of eight and 24 yards, in the last three minutes of the half; they went to the locker room with a 28-14 lead. New York continued its dominance in the third quarter with a Tiki Barber touchdown run and a Matt Bryant 21-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 38-14 with less than 20 minutes to play.

But the first signs of the Giants’ unraveling had begun to appear. The Giants had to kick that field goal because Shockey dropped a pass in the end zone that would have made the score 42-14. A less obvious sign was the departure of defensive end Kenny Holmes after separating his shoulder earlier in the third quarter, diluting the quality of a defensive line that was already thin. Up to that point, the Giants’ pass rush had allowed the mobile Jeff Garcia to roam from the pocket only three times.

Down 24 points, the 49ers went to a nohuddle offense that put additional pressure on the tiring Giants defensive line, which was unable to substitute players because of the faster pace. With two minutes left in the quarter, Garcia hit Owens for a 24-yard touchdown, and followed that with a two-point conversion on which Garcia scrambled

A botched snap and a pass interference call that never came left Rich Seubert (69) and the Giants dazed and confused in a wild 39-38 playoff loss to the 49ers in 2003. (Photo courtesy of AP Images)

Trey Junkin was a proud man who spent 19 years in the NFL, from 1983 to 2001, playing for the Bills, the Redskins, the Raiders, the Seahawks, and the Cardinals, where Jim Fassel came to know him. Junkin started as a backup linebacker as well as a long snapper, but he also played some tight end. He was so proud of his snapping that he once grabbed the ball from the official after completing 1,000 consecutive successful punt snaps. He was proud that of his 17 NFL receptions, seven were touchdowns and the other 10 were all for first downs. And he was proud of having played in 281 games, placing him among the all-time leaders among non-kickers.

The Giants had been having a problem with special-teams snaps all season and had already used three snappers and three holders during the 2002 season. When Dan O’Leary was lost due to injury, regular center Chris Bober took over the duties. For the playoffs, Fassel decided to bring in the recently retired Junkin, whom he remembered from his time in Arizona. After a few days of practice, Fassel decided to go with the experienced and reliable Junkin. After his disastrous final NFL game, though, Junkin stood at his locker, choking back tears: “I cost 58 guys a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Quite honestly, I screwed up. And there it is. That’s it. I’m retired.” to buy time for Owens to get open. Still leading 38-22, New York’s offense went three-and-out, and the Giants were forced to punt from their own 12-yard line. Matt Allen delivered a lame 30-yard punt that Vinny Sutherland of the 49ers caught at the New York 42, as Dhani Jones plowed into him on a boneheaded play for which the Giants were penalized 15 yards.

Starting at the New York 27, San Francisco scored quickly on a 14-yard scramble on the first play of the fourth quarter. Another scramble on the two-point conversion allowed Garcia to find Owens again to make the score 38-30 with just under 15 minutes to play. Once again, the Giants offense was forced to punt after just three unsuccessful plays, and the 49ers drove down the field and kicked a field goal halfway through the quarter to make the score 38-33.

Finally, the Giants offense woke up and marched from their 36 to the 49ers’ 24. On fourth-and-one, coach Jim Fassel elected to go for the easy 42-yard field goal that would restore their eight-point lead with 3:06 to go. In an ominous bit of foreshadowing, newly signed veteran long-snapper Trey Junkin fired a bad snap that holder Matt Allen was barely able to get down, and a confused Matt Bryant missed the kick to the left. From their 32, the 49ers moved down the field again on the legs and arm of Jeff Garcia, who hit Tai Streets for a

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13-yard touchdown to take a 39-38 lead with 1:05 to play. Will Allen intercepted the two-point conversion intended again for Terrell Owens, and Owens flung Allen out of bounds, drawing a flag for unnecessary roughness. However, Giants safety Shaun Williams retaliated against Owens and drew his own offsetting penalty, so the Giants would get no advantage on the ensuing kickoff.

Despite this mental error, the Giants got a big return from Delvin Joyce and started at their own 48 with one minute left. Kerry Collins went to work and hit Ron Dixon twice before missing Toomer. With six seconds left, Collins hit Toomer on a five-yard out at the 23 to set up the potential 41-yard winning field goal.

The field-goal unit came onto the field. Allen told Bryant to trust him and expect the ball to be down despite the bad snap of three minutes before. Allen then told Junkin, the snapper, “You’ve been in this league for 19 years; you’ve got to come through for us.” Once the team was set, Allen called for the ball, and Junkin

It just got away from us; it was tragic. In the end, what got us was what I worried about from the start of the season: snap, hold, kick.

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