Not everyone managed a successful comeback at Candlestick Park on Jan. 5, 2003. A 49ers fan later confessed to Jeff Garcia that he left when all looked lost.
The fan made it as far as the parking lot before hearing a thunderous roar. He tried to return to the stadium, but the security guard told him to beat it.
This game was only for the hearty.
"The crowd that stayed was treated to an all-time great experience," Garcia said.
The 49ers rallied from a 24-point third-quarter deficit that day, beating the New York Giants 39-38 in the wildest of NFC wild-card games.
San Francisco secured victory only after Giants long-snapper Trey Junkin botched a snap on what should have been a last-second, game-winning field goal. A decade later, Junkin told the New York Daily News that the gaffe "still jolts me from sleep."
For Garcia, it remains the stuff of dreams.
"The emotions from that game are something I wish I could bottle up and save forever," the former quarterback said.
Consider them preserved: The Gigantic Comeback ranks No. 4 on our countdown of the 49ers' most unforgettable moments at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers trailed 38-14 with 4:27 to play in the third quarter, a deficit so laughable that the Giants openly mocked them. New York defensive end Michael Strahan gestured toward the Jumbotron as a retort to Terrell Owens spiking the ball after a two-point conversion cut the gap to 38-22 late in the third quarter.
"I remember Strahan pointing to the scoreboard and saying, 'Shut up. You're still down by 16. You haven't done anything yet,' " Garcia said.
But they still had time. Owens' touchdown and conversion provided an eight-point swing that invigorated what remained of the 66,318 fans in the stands.
And the noise kept getting louder with each successive score. Soon, you could hear the din all the way out in the parking lot.
"They were crazy. You could feel Candlestick rumbling," recalled then-coach Steve Mariucci, now an analyst with the NFL Network. "It didn't come down necessarily to one play, but it was a series of plays that got us back in that ballgame. It was one of those unbelievable scenes where you could feel something was happening."
After the eight-point play with Owens, Garcia scored on a 14-yard TD run. Then he hit T.O. for another two-point conversion, making it 38-30.
Jeff Chandler made a 25-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, and it was 38-33.
Garcia completed the comeback by hitting receiver Tai Streets for a 13-yard touchdown pass with precisely 1:00 to play.
"Whenever I watch that highlight again, I don't think I could have put the ball in a better place," Garcia said of the pass to Streets.
"But at that time, I just had the Midas touch."
Still, it wasn't over. A failed two-point conversion, which would have put the 49ers ahead by a field goal, was followed by a kickoff return that put the Giants near midfield. With 0:06 showing on the clock, quarterback Kerry Collins had New York in position for a 41-yard field goal to win.
But Junkin, a reliable veteran lured out of retirement just four days earlier, sent the snap sailing low and away.
With the kick aborted, holder Matt Allen dropped into emergency mode and started yelling, "Fire! Fire! Fire!" -- the code for his teammates to try to get open.
Allen's desperation pass was intended for Giants guard Rich Seubert, who was mauled near the end zone by defensive end Chike Okeafor while the ball was still in flight. It looked like blatant pass interference. Instead, Seubert was flagged as an ineligible receiver downfield.
One problem: Seubert was eligible and had reported to the officials as such. In reviewing the play the next day, Mike Pereira, the NFL's director of officiating at the time, concluded that pass interference should have been called on Okeafor. Pereira also determined that Tam Hopkins, a Giants lineman, was guilty of going downfield as an ineligible receiver.
The NFL released a statement in the wake of Pereira's findings, saying that the game officials erred and that offsetting penalties should have given the Giants one more chance at the kick.
It remains a touchy subject. Okeafor did not respond to multiple messages sent via email. Pereira originally consented to an interview but did not return numerous subsequent phone calls. Junkin told the New York Daily News in 2012 that he still hasn't recovered emotionally from the botched snap: "I think about it every day."
Garcia had little interest in reviewing the play, either, noting that there were numerous potential turning points in the second half. If the Giants want to rue something, he said, they might lament their conservative approach after racking up a big lead.
The 49ers' comeback ranks second in NFL playoff history to the 32-point deficit the Buffalo Bills erased to beat the Houston Oilers 41-38 in January 1993.
Because Garcia grew up in Gilroy, because he idolized Joe Montana and Steve Young, because he knew all about The Catch and the Goal-Line Stand and John Candy and John Taylor, the quarterback appreciates the significance of orchestrating the largest comeback in 49ers playoff history.
"When you're done with your playing career, you want to be able to look back and say you had a signature game of some sort," said Garcia, now 43 and working as an analyst for NFL Network. "And it's not just about how you played. It's about being part of a team that had so much to overcome.
"So to be able to have a signature game that puts you in a group with Montana and Steve Young is a special moment."