SANTA CLARA — The day after Dwight Clark died, two spokespeople from the 49ers came out and talked about his legacy. They were head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
“Yesterday was a tough day for all the 49ers, losing such a great like that,” Shanahan said. He and Clark got to know each other from 1992 to 1994, when Clark worked in the 49ers personnel department and Shanahan worked as a ball boy for the team.
“Everyone knows the player Dwight was,” Shanahan continued. “I heard a lot about him when I moved here, mainly from my parents, because we moved here when I was in sixth grade. I didn’t grow up knowing all about The Catch. But within a week of being here, I knew all about it.
“Spent sixth grade, seventh grade and eighth grade as a ball boy, where I got to spend a lot of time with Dwight. He and Vinny Cerrato worked in the pro personnel department. Those were two guys I hung around a lot. They used to pick on me left and right. I was their guinea pig. They would send me on errands. They would all have golf carts and make me race next to them. I would have to run, and I would always lose. I think I entertained them. I just looked up to all of them. I didn’t know it at the time, but now that I’m older and I look back on that stuff, it had a huge impact on who I am now, and feel fortunate to be able to grow up around people like that, especially Dwight.”
Shanahan stood in the sun next to the 49ers practice field as he spoke — the team had just finished OTAs. After a few minutes, Lynch walked over to the media. Here’s how he remembered Clark:
“That disease — it’s brutal,” Lynch said. “But I think the grace with which Dwight took on the challenge, and how that smile always stayed on his face, that positive attitude, he did the best he could. The one thing that has been impressed upon me since I’ve been here, just the love that this community and this fan base had for Dwight. You think of Ronnie Lott and you think of Jerry Rice, but what I learned when I came here is that Dwight is right there.”
Many current 49ers players didn’t know who he was before he died. “I’m reminded every day with these guys — they know, like, the last five years,” Lynch said with a laugh.
So on Monday, Shanahan showed the players a short documentary about Clark and The Catch, and invited vice president and special advisor to the general manager, Keena Turner, to speak. Turner was Clark’s teammate from 1980 to 1897.
“We talked about it today,” said Jimmy Garoppolo, who grew up in Chicago and is still learning about Clark. “He seemed like a great guy. I never got to meet him, unfortunately, but just seemed like a great guy, loved to have fun. I heard he had the best hair in the Bay Area.”
Lynch explained to reporters what Turner said about Clark to the players: “Kyle asked Keena to come up and say a few words about what Dwight meant, and why he’s such a part of this organization’s great history, iconic history,” Lynch said. “Obviously, the play, but it was much deeper than that. It’s what he stood for. He always prepared for excellence, that’s what Keena talked about. And so, that play wasn’t just an accident. It was the product of his constant preparation, the standard that he set for himself and for his teammates.”