Dwight Clark, a wide receiver who went from 10th round selection to being on the receiving end of one of the greatest plays in NFL history, died Monday at age 61.
Clark announced he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), more commonly as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in March 2017. His passing was announced by his wife, Kelly on his Twitter page.
Clark was spotted by former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh when he came to Clemson to scout quarterback Steve Fuller. Clark was going to play golf when Fuller asked him to handle receiving duties for his workout with Walsh. Walsh was so impressed with Clark that he decided to draft him in spite of only catching 33 passes for 571 yards and three touchdowns for three seasons with the Tigers.
Clark spent his entire career (1979-87) with the 49ers, catching 506 passes for 6,750 yards and 48 touchdowns. He still ranks fourth in 49ers franchise history in receptions, third in receiving yards, seventh in receiving touchdowns. Despite catching over 500 passes in his career, Clark is best known for a grab during the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys at Candlestick Park.
The play was known as Sprint Right Option. On the play, 49ers quarterback Joe Montana rolled to his right after taking the snap. Montana zipped a 6-yard pass in Clark’s direction. Clark timed his leap perfectly and hauled the pass in with his fingertips before safely landing in the right corner of the north end zone.
The touchdown is known simply as The Catch. It was the go-ahead score in 28-27 49ers victory They went on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. Clark was named to the Pro Bowl in 1981. He was also both a Pro Bowler and an All-Pro in 1982 after leading the league in receptions (60). Clark also was on the team that won Super Bowl XIX.
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After his retirement, Clark took a position in the 49ers front office. He was also the first general manager of the Cleveland Browns after their four-year hiatus (1999-2002). Clark won an additional three Super Bowls (XXIII, XXIV, XIX) as an executive. Clark’s No. 87 was retired by the 49ers. Before Candlestick Park was demolished in 2013, The Catch was named as the No. 1 moment in the stadium’s history.
Clark first disclosed his ALS diagnosis on former 49ers owner Ed DeBartolo Jr.’s website. He said he began feeling weak as early as 2015. Clark had lost strength in both hands, midsection, lower back, and right leg. He had also lost a significant amount of weight. DeBartolo assisted the relocation of Clark’s wife and children to Whitefish, Montana.
Clark attended a Week 7 game last season between the 49ers and Cowboys in what would be his final appearance at an NFL game. The 49ers declared it Dwight Clark Day. Fans were given T-shirts with the iconic image of Clark’s leaping touchdown grab imprinted over his No. 87. A video tribute narrated by sportscaster Vin Scully played on the scoreboard before Clark was introduced by Montana.
Clark wouldn’t rule out that his condition could have been caused by his NFL career.
“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this,” Clark said. “I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.”
Clark is survived by his wife, daughter, and two sons.