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Today is the 30th anniversary of The Catch, one of the hallowed moments in Bay Area sports history. Maybe it's the most hallowed moment — Dwight Clark leaping at the back of the end zone with 58 seconds left and catching that throw from Joe Montana to beat the Dallas Cowboys, America's team, and the Niners going to the Super Bowl where you know what happened.

In honor of the anniversary, I caught up with Clark on the phone, Clark with his honeyed voice, Clark friendly and accommodating.

It's just that he didn't start by talking about The Catch. I asked him to compare the 1981 team and this season's team and he just took off like a wide receiver running Sprint Right Option, the very play he ran for The Catch. As we spoke, Clark's voice was excited and anxious and delighted as if he never played in the NFL or made The Catch. He sounded just like a Niners fan — exactly what he is these days.

So here goes — Clark's conversation-opening monologue on the 1981 and 2011 teams. I'll be back in a while.

"It's way similar," he said. "We shocked everybody that year and this team has shocked everybody. I see similarities between Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh. Bill was a genius. Harbaugh comes up with some schematic thing on the field and I shake my head and say, &‘Where the hell did he come up with that?'

"They have a similar way of creating plays. Bill would come up with a play and he'd say, &‘Let's practice this pass play. This play against the right defense, you'll catch it and go. And I'm like, &‘Yeah.' And I'd catch it and there wouldn't be anyone within 10 yards of me. I see that with Harbaugh all the time. And remember we did that with Joe Montana. I'm proud of Alex (Smith) but he's not Joe Montana. Joe made all of us look good.

"Harbaugh is doing something special this year. I keep hearing Harbaugh is in Alex's headset until they turn off the mike with the play clock at 15 seconds. He's just saying things like, &‘Check the safety and go to the tight end. And if he's covered, go to the guy in the flat. And if he's not open, throw it away.'

"Alex is a smart guy. In his headset he's hearing a guy who played in the NFL. He's getting good information right before the snap. At the very end, he hears, &‘Don't turn it over.'

"I'm not in the building. I wonder what did that coaching staff see before the season. They said to each other, &‘We've got a great defense. We're going to sign this kicker (David Akers). We'll play field-position football. We're not sure about the quarterback. That was the formula. Was it an accident or did they really plan this? If they planned it, they're geniuses.

"In the past, I didn't even want to go to games. It had to be tough to write about them. I just wanted the team to be relevant. All I wanted this year was for the team to win four to six games and for people to say, &‘That's a team to watch in the future.' I didn't know the future would be December.

"They're doing crazy stuff. How about a fake field goal for a touchdown (against the Rams)? I thought they were rubbing it in. They damn well needed the touchdown. I can't see Harbaugh's creativity stopping. He grew up in it. There was so much knowledge around him.

"He's a very talented coach. He'll be like Bill Belichick — win, win, win. Most years in the next 10 years, the 49ers will be in it — in the playoffs and, if they get the right players, in the Super Bowl. I'm not sure they can win the Super Bowl yet. There are so many flashy offenses. In a shootout can they do that? I keep wondering if they can. Their receivers are all beat up. And Alex Smith makes five great plays. Can he make 10?"

At this point, Clark stopped. It's like he had rushed out this speech in one big breath and now he needed to gulp air. "I'm sorry," he said, "I've been talking so fast I haven't given you a chance to ask your questions." So I asked my second question: If The Catch failed, would 49ers history have been different?

"I don't think so," Clark said. "We would have scored on the next play. That was a team of destiny. Even though we made six turnovers, we still won. Joe's got a fortunate aura around him. Good things happen to him. We talk about quarterbacks needing the magic. Joe's got the magic. Tom Brady's got it. Some just have the magic. Because of Bill and Joe we would have scored on the next play."

But they never needed the next play. They trailed the Cowboys 27-21. They had marched down the field and were at the Cowboys' 6-yard line on third and 3. Here is The Catch from Clark's point of view:

"I was not the first option. We had scored our first touchdown of that game to Freddie Solomon on the same play from a different formation. The first time, Freddie came in motion with me on the right side. I made my move. My job was to get in the way of the guy covering Freddie and give Freddie the chance to get open. It worked.

"Bill went back to it for The Catch. But Freddie slipped. I was the secondary receiver. Bill had told Joe, &‘Don't throw an interception with this. Throw it so it will go out of bounds or be high."

"I ran my route and hit my spot at the back of the end zone. I was supposed to slide back across the end line and look at Joe. I couldn't really see him, but I saw the ball coming to me. I thought, &‘Man, that's high.' People don't know this but I kind of made a double catch on it. I stopped it in the air and then caught it on the way down."

Good thing. Walsh had made Montana, Clark and Solomon practice Sprint Right Option after practice, and it rarely worked right. It worked when it counted. The Catch gave Clark a "signature play," as he refers to it. People are always coming up to him and explaining where they were when he caught the ball. Jim Harbaugh, for example, said he was at a Stanford recruiting event with his dad Jack, an assistant coach for Stanford. The signature play is part of Clark's identity.

I asked a few bonus questions:

Who was Clark's best friend on that team?

"Joe and then right next to Joe was Freddie and Mike Wilson. We all were pretty close."

Was Joe quiet? He seemed quiet with the media.

"No, he wasn't quiet at all. He was quiet with people he didn't know. In a new circle of people he would be pretty quiet. With us he was like a kid, a prankster. He laughed a lot. He loved to laugh, still loves to laugh.

"With the media it was different. Probably quarterbacks get more credit than they deserve and they get ragged on more than they deserve. He had a thing with the media then. He talks more now than he ever has."

Clark will appear tonight at 7:30 at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco to celebrate The Catch and that first miracle season. With him will be Montana, Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and Roger Craig. For information, go to www.SFLegendsLive.com.

For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at lowell.cohn@pressdemocrat.com.