49ers great Clark dies after battling ALS
Legendary catch launched an NFL dynasty
SANTA CLARA, Calif.
Dwight Clark will forever be remembered for one iconic moment, his leap in the back of the end zone to make a fingertip grab of a game-winning touchdown that launched the San Francisco 49ers dynasty and is one of the most indelible images in NFL history.
Clark, the author of one play simply known as “The Catch,” died Monday just more than one year after revealing he had ALS. He was 61.
“My heart is broken,” former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. said in a statement. “Today, I lost my little brother and one of my best friends. I cannot put into words how special Dwight was to me and to everyone his life touched. He was an amazing husband, father, grandfather, brother and a great friend and teammate. He showed tremendous courage and dignity in his battle with ALS and we hope there will soon be a cure for this horrendous disease.
“I will always remember Dwight the way he was — larger than life, handsome, charismatic and the only one who could pull off wearing a fur coat at our Super Bowl parade,” said DeBartolo, a Youngstown native who owned the 49ers during their 1980s glory years.
“He was responsible for one of the most iconic plays in NFL history that began our run of Super Bowl championships, but to me, he will always be an extension of my family. I love him and will miss him terribly.”
Clark said in March 2017 that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), which attacks cells that control muscles. He suspected playing football might have caused the illness.
The team said he died Monday surrounded by friends and family.
DeBartolo recently hosted a reunion in Montana where many of Clark’s former teammates came for one final goodbye.
“It was beautiful because we got to see him smile,” said former teammate Roger Craig, who said he almost fainted when he heard the news of Clark’s death.
“That’s all I wanted — to see him smiling. We cried, we all got a taste of Dwight, all we wanted to do is see him smile the whole time we all were there and he smiled the whole time. He made us feel good and I know he felt good knowing he had all those teammates there to support him.”
Clark won two Super Bowls with the 49ers during a nine-year career that ended in 1987. He memorably pulled down the winning touchdown pass from Joe Montana in the NFC championship game against the Dallas Cowboys following the 1981 season, a play remembered simply as “The Catch.”
It’s considered one of the most significant plays in NFL history and sent the Niners to their first of five Super Bowl titles in a span of 14 seasons.
The play happened on Jan. 10, 1982, when the upstart 49ers hosted the Cowboys in the NFC title game. With the 49ers facing a third down at the Dallas 6 with less than a minute to play, coach Bill Walsh called “Sprint Right Option.”
Montana rolled out and retreated under pressure from Ed “Too Tall” Jones and Larry Bethea before lofting the ball toward the back of the end zone. Clark leaped to make a fingertip catch over Everson Walls and the 49ers went on to win the game 28-27 and then their first Super Bowl two weeks later against Cincinnati.