Long before he elevated high over the Cowboys Everson Walls in the back of the end zone to snare what Foxs Best Damned Sports Show deemed the greatest touchdown in the history of football, golf figured into the Dwight Clark story.
In 1979 Niners coach Bill Walsh called a dormitory at Clemson looking for promising quarterback Steve Fuller. Clark was on his way to play golf and picked up the phone. Walsh invited Clark to run pass routes for Fuller, well enough that Walsh made Clark a 10th round draft choice.
Two years later he cemented the legend, describing The Catch in perfect detail for likely the 8,471st time for yet another fan.
It was 3rd and 3 at the 6 with 58 seconds to go and Dallas leading 27-21, he began and the picture became instantly clear, my mind pulling the 1982 NFC Championship game file card.
Funny, I jumped in. The play started at the 6 but it seemed like it was a much longer pass.
It was, he said. Joe had drifted back to between the 20 and 25 and he was off balance with people in his face.
One of those was 69 Ed Too Tall Jones. Accompanied by Larry Bethea and linebacker D.D. Lewis they collapsed the pocket and were chasing Montana to the sideline.
The play was designed for Freddie Solomon, Clark explained. Its called Sprint Option Right and it was the same play we used on the first touchdown of the game.
To this day, some people think it was just a busted play, a fluke. It simply wasnt. It was planned, he stated emphatically. It was in the play book and its still in the playbook for teams that use the West Coast offense.
The idea is that if Freddies covered, Joe looks for me and throws it high enough so that either it goes out of bounds, leaving us with at least a fourth down play, or I jump high enough to catch it, Clark said.
For the record, Montana has said he couldnt see the end zone. He was on his rear end, courtesy Too Tall. But he claims he knew exactly where Clark would be. Walsh thought the ball was OB and had begun to call a 4th down play. He heard the roar. Vin Scully immortalized it on television, Jack Buck on radio. The 49ers went on to beat Cincinnati in Super Bowl XVI, their first of four. Dallas, dominant in the 1970s, would fail to make a Super Bowl in the 1980s.
Here, Clarke said. Check this out. He reached into his bag and pulled out a small, plain wooden jewelry box. He lifted the top. He had one for every finger. Count em five, five Super Bowl rings. I bring them to my appearances because people get a kick out of it. He won two as a player, three as an executive. His number 87 was retired by San Francisco.
Today at 51 and living in his native North Carolina, Clark maintains the same lean, athletic frame and an 11 handicap. Like any golfer, he marvels at Tiger.
He may be the best of all time in any sport, he said. I know what its like to have a three foot putt for two dollars and my hands are shaking. I pull for Tiger because the pressure on him is enormous and he just keeps answering.
Clark, ever the good teammate, wont play the Montana versus Brady game. He acknowledged Bradys greatness, but then said, I was in the huddle with Joe. He was mentally tough, the calmest guy in the stadium.
With Montana and Rice and Craig and Taylor and Walsh would those great 49er teams have challenged the vaunted Patriots? I think so, Clark said. But theyre well coached and they put a great game plan together. Theyre tough.
This is how it goes for our sports legends, forever re-creating their great moments or pontificating on the big games of the current day. Dwight Clark appeared very happy in the role, headed to play another game he loves. He was just warming up.
Hed no doubt be obliged to explain The Catch countless times at Coach Ditkas tournament. A day on the golf course lends itself rather well to a good story.
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