ATLANTA -- The San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons were division rivals for more than three decades until the NFL realigned into eight four-team divisions in 2002. Their matchup Sunday in the NFC Championship Game marks the fifth game between the teams since the Falcons joined the NFC South.
Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information reached into the vault to pull out three memorable games between the teams. The Falcons won two of them, including one on Steve Bartkowski's last-play pass to Billy "White Shoes" Johnson in 1983. I remember living in Northern California at the time and listening to the ending of that game -- or perhaps highlights of the ending, I'm not sure -- on the radio in my dad's old Ford pickup truck.
NFL.com has video from that final play, featuring a prescient announcer's call: "You've got to go to Billy 'White Shoes' and let him do a little dance with the ball and go to the end zone."
The two other games Hawkins singled out included the 49ers' 45-35 victory over the Falcons in 1990. Joe Montana set a career high with six touchdown passes. Jerry Rice caught five of them. Rice finished the game with 13 receptions for 225 yards.
More recently, in the divisional playoffs following the 1998 season, the Falcons scored a 20-18 victory over the 49ers in Dan Reeves' first game back from quadruple-bypass surgery. The Falcons went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to Denver.
The 49ers and Falcons faced one another for the first time in 1966 before becoming division rivals the following year. The 49ers hold a 44-30-1 lead in the all-time series, counting playoffs. That includes 43-26-1 as division rivals. The Falcons have won all four meetings since realignment.
The teams played to a 10-10 tie in 1986 when the 49ers played without Montana, who had undergone back surgery following a Week 1 injury that was considered career-threatening. David Archer's fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Sylvester Stamps tied the game for Atlanta. Archer completed 16-of-35 passes for 176 yards and three interceptions. Jeff Kemp completed 13-of-29 passes for 146 yards and two picks for the 49ers.
Relief performances such as that one from Kemp contributed to the 49ers' decision to acquire Steve Young from Tampa Bay in 1987.