Antrel Rolle has played in two Super Bowls, so you'd think those were easily the two most intense games of his life.
You would be wrong.
As high as the stakes were when Rolle lost a Super Bowl with the Cardinals and won one with the Giants, it was the Giants' 20-17 overtime win over the 49ers in last year's NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park that moved the intensity needle even more.
"You don't win that game , you don't get to the Super Bowl," Rolle said. "For me, that game had a higher intensity level than the Super Bowl."
This was one of the fiercest games you will ever see, and the Giants and 49ers engaged in a riveting and punishing matchup that wound up with the Giants upsetting the favored 49ers on their way to another Super Bowl matchup against the Patriots. Eli Manning went through one of the worst playoff beatings by a quarterback, absorbing six sacks and several more hits. The Giants' defense held the 49ers to 1-for-13 on third downs in upsetting a team that had finished 13-3 in the regular season.
"Mentally and physically after that NFC Championship Game, it was one of the most exciting games I've played in and definitely one of the toughest, one of the hardest-hitting," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka said. "When you leave that game, you're sore, you know you've played a great team, and when you come out with a win, you come out with a sense of pride. As a player, you remember those tough battles you've been in."
Now you get a sense of what the next installment of Giants-49ers will be like, even if the stakes in Sunday's regular-season battle aren't close to what they were in January.
"It's going to be hostile, we know that,'' Giants receiver Victor Cruz said. "It is going to be a heartfelt game, a knockdown, drag-out fight. We're prepared for that, to match their physical play and go in there and be ready to go."
They'd better be ready to go, because the 49ers are amped up to get some measure of revenge for their playoff loss.
"I believe this will be a highly competitive, rough, tough, great football game played between two outstanding football teams," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "And that's probably the highest compliment you could give both teams. These are good football teams."
Harbaugh will be plenty pumped for this one, as evidenced by his angry reaction to comments made by Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride alleging that 49ers pass rusher Justin Smith "gets away with murder" by holding offensive linemen.
"Kevin Gilbride's outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith's play is, first, an absurd analogy,'' Harbaugh said in a statement released during practice Thursday. "Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league. It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff's sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating.''
"There's no doubt this should be a circle game for them on their calendar," Kiwanuka said of the rematch. "They're definitely a tough team to beat. We know our work is going to be cut out for us, but we're going to rise up to the challenge."
Giants coach Tom Coughlin was up to his old tricks for this one, playing the underdog card on his players by suggesting the overwhelming sentiment is that San Francisco will win.
"Nobody gives us a chance to win. We'll see," Coughlin said at his Wednesday news conference.
The Giants will need to be at their best to win this one. The 49ers are coming off explosive wins over the Jets and Bills, beating them by a combined score of 79-3. The 49ers' running game is the best in the NFL, averaging a whopping 196.2 yards per game. Their average of 29.8 points per game ranks third. The defense arguably has the best front seven in the game, a huge reason the 49ers lead the NFL with the fewest points allowed (13.6 average).
Their only stumble in a 4-1 season was a road loss to the Vikings.
The Giants (3-2) can make a huge statement here by pulling off another win at Candlestick. But to do it, they'll have to play their most complete game of the season and match what is sure to be an astronomical intensity level by the 49ers.
Coughlin suggests there aren't many who think the Giants can do it. The men inside his locker room aren't among the doubters.