The man who made “The Catch,” which launched the 49ers’ Super Bowl years of glory, died of ALS on Monday.
Dwight Clark, who was 61, played nine years for the team, won two Super Bowl championships and was on the receiving end of the last-minute touchdown pass from Joe Montana that beat the Dallas Cowboys and sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl in 1982.
Clark announced on Twitter in March of 2017 that he had ALS, and said he guessed playing football may have been cause of the disease. He had been fighting it since September of 2016. Monday afternoon, his wife, Kelly Clark, announced on Twitter that he died at his home in Montana.
“He passed peacefully surrounded many of the people he loved most,” Kelly Clark wrote. “I am thankful for all of Dwight’s friends, teammates and 49ers fans who have sent their love during his battle with ALS.”
Shortly after Clark’s wife revealed the news of his death, the 49ers sent out a written statement: “The San Francisco 49ers family has suffered a tremendous loss today with the passing of Dwight Clark. We extend our condolences and prayers to Dwight’s wife, Kelly, his family, friends and fans, as we join together to mourn the death of one the most beloved figures in 49ers history.
“For almost four decades, he served as a charismatic ambassador for our team and the Bay Area. Dwight’s personality and his sense of humor endeared him to everyone he came into contact with, even during his most trying times. The strength, perseverance and grace with which he battled ALS will long serve as an inspiration to so many. Dwight will always carry a special place in our hearts and his legacy will live on as we continue to battle this terrible disease.”
Clark made his legacy with “The Catch” on Jan. 10, 1982.
In the scorebook, “The Catch” was a 6-yard touchdown pass from Montana to Clark, and it give the 49ers a 28-27 lead against the Dallas Cowboys with less than a minute to go in the NFC championship game.
“He made the play, the catch, that made the 49ers winners for the first time,” Hall of Fame sports writer Ira Miller said. Miller covered Clark’s entire career. “He was not the only player responsible, but he made the play that put them over the top.”
The play was called “Sprint Right Option.” Clark wasn’t even supposed to be in the game — he was on the sideline taking a breather. When Clark heard head coach Bill Walsh call the play, Clark ran on the field. No one told him to. He simply inserted himself into history. He considered Sprint Right Option his play.
Clark wasn’t the primary receiver, though. Montana was supposed to throw Freddie Solomon, but Solomon fell down in the mud, and left it up to Clark.
“I wonder who else could have made that play?” said former 49ers offensive tackle Keith Fahnhorst, who played for the team from 1974 to 1987. “What if it wasn’t Dwight who was being thrown to? Dwight had this kind of personality that, in that type of pressure situation, he didn’t feel the pressure. I’m not sure if anybody else could have caught that pass.”
Clark flew, ripped the ball out of the sky and landed in the back corner of the end zone. That was “The Catch,” the biggest play in 49ers franchise history.