Riki Ellison was a linebacker for the 49ers in the 1980s, but he has plenty of friends against whom he played on the Giants. He’s run into Lawrence Taylor recently, he said, and been in touch with Ottis Anderson. He’s close with Harry Carson.
“They tease me a lot,” Ellison said in a phone interview with Newsday this week. “They say that I’m with them now.”
In a way he is. His son is Rhett Ellison, the Giants’ tight end who signed with the team this offseason and is now getting ready for his first taste of a rivalry that his father considered one of the tops in any era of the NFL.
“That was one of the biggest rivalries in the game when I was playing,” Riki Ellison said. “An epic rivalry between two different cultures, two different ways of playing the game, and there were great physical matchups when we played each other. I still have strong emotions about it. They were phenomenal games.”
The two teams met in the playoffs three straight years. The 49ers won in 1984, the Giants won in 1985 and 1986.
“You saw World Championships come out of those battles,” he said.
That won’t be the case this time. The Giants are 1-7 and the 49ers are 0-9.
“Isn’t that crazy how it is now?” Ellison marveled. “Completely the opposite of how it was in the ‘80s.”
Rhett Ellison said while growing up in the Bay Area, he wasn’t much of a Niners fan even though his dad played in two Super Bowls for the team and won three rings with them.
“I was pretty much just a USC fan,” he said of the college both Ellisons attended. “My dad just pretty much brainwashed me to go to USC and watch that.”
Rhett Ellison said his father was “excited” when he signed with the Giants. It did, however, come with a cost for the elder Ellison.
“Obviously there’s the Bavaro catch that I think I missed twice on, which my son makes me relive,” Ellison said. That was the play in which the Giants’ tight end rumbled down the field carrying most of the 49ers defense. Ellison had a chance to bring him down just after he caught the pass and could have stopped the whole play from taking place, but he whiffed.
For each of those plays, though, there are other better memories for Ellison. He had an interception off Phil Simms in the 1984 playoff game.
“There were some memorable moments on both sides of winning and losing,” he said.
Most of all, though, he remembers the intensity of the games.
“It was Bill Parcells’ and Bill Belichick’s philosophy against Bill Walsh’s philosophy,” he said. “We were just different in how we played and it was just an epic matchup. The Giants were very very physical and played in a caliber that was outstanding to watch. With our type of offense against that type of defense, our type of defense against that type of offense, they were epic battles.”
Riki Ellison won’t be able to make it to Sunday’s game at Levi’s Stadium. He’ll be in Europe with the Missile Defense Advocacy Alliance, a nonprofit organization he created in 2002 to drive for the deployment, development and evolution of missile defense. But he hopes to be able to tune in someway to see the latest chapter in the Giants-49ers relationship.
And, for the first time, he’ll be pulling for the Giants.
“Obviously my son is playing for the Giants and I want him to win and I want the Giants to play well,” he said. “My loyalty goes to my son right now and his team.”
The former Giants who teased him were right after all. He has become one of them.