That image, forever frozen in the mind’s eye, was the ball in the fingertips of the late Dwight Clark, as he rose above the Everson Wall, who could only reach hopelessly with his right arm. Too little, too late.
“The Catch,” 40 years ago, this week delivered a stunning 89-yard drive, a breathtaking 6-foot pass, designed by coach Bill Walsh and spectacularly executed. by quarterback Joe Montana and Clark, to become the NFC 49ers champion in January. . October 1982, at Candlestick Park.
The 49ers and Cowboys meet again this weekend in the NFL knockouts, and you’ll likely see and hear a lot about the iconic play.
Here are five things you might not have known about the teams, the players, the game and yes, “The Catch,” from the pages of The Sporting News:
1. The 49ers didn’t expect to have a winning record, let alone make it to the knockout stages that season.
In their first season under rookies Walsh, Montana and Clark, San Fran was 2-14. Sorry. Their record improved, as did Montana and Clark, in 1980, 6-10.
Suffice it to say, expectations weren’t high prior to the 1981 season.
“I’ll be happy to be 8-8,” team president Ed DeBartolo Jr said on the eve of the NFC title game with the Cowboys.
Joe Gergen wrote in The Sporting News that this is a team that transcends mediocrity.
2. 49ers survived a lot of mistakes in the game… a lot of mistakes.
Montana launched three interceptions, and the Niners fell back three times.
Future Walk of Fame DB Ronnie Lott has been flagged twice for critical pass jamming calls that widen the Cowboys’ drives.
“Those two calls add up to 10 points,” Lott noted in The Sporting News. “The offense has definitely put some pressure on me.”
“Some people might call it a false match,” Walsh said afterward. And they will be right. This is the football championship. It’s like a championship war, like Snipes taking down Holmes. “
Wait, Snipes took out Holmes?
Holmes, of course, is heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. But Snipes? That would be Renaldo Snipes, who in November 1981 gave Holmes a surprisingly tough match in Pittsburgh, including, by one account, “a perfectly timed forehand (that) ) connected cleanly to Holmes’ chin and caused the champion’s leg to fold like a faulty lawn chair to collapse under an unsuspecting party guest. “
Holmes survived being knocked out, as did the Niners against the Cowboys.
And, in fact, it was the Cowboys who made the final, fatal mistake.
Gaining the edge before catching Clark and PAT, the 49ers watched their defense beat a potential Cowboys-ending miracle when Lawrence Pilers fired Dallas QB Danny White, causing a tumble due to Jim Stuckey of the Niners’ Recovery.
3. The first touch down of the game will repeat later.
Positioned on the right flank in the first half, the 49ers’ receiver Freddie Solomon took the flag as Clark lined up across the right, curling inward.
Solomon picked up a quick sprint pass from Montana to score at 8 yards.
The play: swing right of choice.
It was the same game that Niners QB coach Sam Wyche called from the coach counter in third and third from Cowboys 6 with 58 seconds to play.
Except this time, Montana, sprinting right away, away from the dominant cowboy overtaking racer Harvey Martin, faces a decision.
Gergen wrote in The Sporting News: Solomon broke for the flag but was covered. Clark crossed into the bottom area, locked the wall at the bottom line and searched for his full-back. The Michael Downs free safety and walls were nearby. Montana has run out of seats on the sidelines.
“I was thinking about throwing it away,” Montana said, “I was trying to do that when I saw Dwight being covered. I don’t want to lose in that situation. But soon I saw Dwight move away from the coverage area. “
Now, Gergen writes of the play, Montana is throwing “the most important pass in the 49er annals” at Clark. And high, as the play intended.
Vin Scully’s call, the last time he played football for CBS: “Of course for the 49 up-and-coming players, they’re six yards from Pontiac (Mich.) Tuesday and Tuesday. Montana, look… look. .. throw it in the terminal. Clark caught it! Dwight Clark! (Long pause to see crowd reaction) It’s a madhouse in Candlestick!”
“I think it’s too high,” Clark 6-3 said, “because I’m not good at jumping. And I’m really tired. I had the flu last week and I had trouble breathing on that last drive.
“I don’t know how I caught the ball. How does a woman receive a car when it is on top of her child? You get it from somewhere”.
4. Everson Walls is not a goat.
In fact, before his infamous part in “The Catch,” the corner cowboy had recovered a slam dunk against Walt Easley of the 49ers. Four innings later, White raced for 21 yards to close Doug Cosbie for a touchdown and lead the Cowboys 27-21 in the fourth inning.
Before that, the Walls had blocked Montana – twice.
It could be argued that Walls was an integral part of the Cowboys defense that helped the team achieve the NFC championship that year.
A 22-year-old new freestyle rookie, Walls led the NFL in interceptions that season with 11 — a mark unheard of in 40 years until Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs did so in this season.
5. The 49ers became the second team to reach the Super Bowl after a failed season the previous year.
The first person? The Bengal team, 6-10 in 1980 and beating them with honors by about four hours, beat the San Diego Chargers, 27-7, in the AFC Championship.
The Montana and 49ers will beat the Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.
San Francisco’s victory not only opened a dynasty, but victory over Dallas signaled the impending end of another: the Cowboys under legendary coach Tom Landry. It was the second of three consecutive losses of the NFC title game for Dallas.