With only 51 seconds remaining, Dwight Clark makes the now legendary catch of a Joe Montana pass in the January 10, 1982, NFC Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. Referred to simply as “The Catch,” it is widely regarded as one of the most memorable events in NFL history, which marked the end of America’s Team Dynasty and started the Team of the 80’s Dynasty, The San Francisco 49’ers.
This is where it all began for the 49’ers and for San Francisco fans.. I did not see myself as a big Pro Football fan at the time, but I soon became a big 49’er fan, as their dynasty rolled on. I was living in England at the time and only occasionally had the opportunity to watch American football. The NFL had just begun their exhibition games in Europe and the UK.. I bought tickets for the first such game, played at Wembley Stadium in London, between the Dallas Cowboys and the Chicago Bears. I took my rugby mates to see the game, and they were as mystified by American football rules and play stoppages, as I was about Rugby League rules, rucks, mauls, and play that seemed not to stop.
But when I came home to San Francisco every 6 months or so, I tried to schedule my visits to coincide with a “9’ers” home game. My high school and SJSU classmate, Scott Peterson, had a job with Spirit America, the company that ran all of the 49er stadium half time shows. Scott would arrange for us to come around the back side of Candlestick Park, and obtain “Participant Passes” which allowed us down on the track around the field during play, and we also had seats Scott held for us. Seeing Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott up close and personal was a memorable experience. We had an even more personal connection to the 49’ers. Our high school classmate, and student body President, Gene Washington, played football for Stanford, and eventually became the leading pass receiver for the 49’ers in the 1970’s. Gene is now a NFL executive, and often comes to our high school reunions and stays in touch with many of us. Gene and I just crossed paths this weekend, as we both pledged money to a local San Francisco public jazz station, KCSM.org, “Jazz 91.”
The late Bill Walsh, Gene Washington’s former Stanford University coach and 49er Dynasty coach for “The Catch,” was our hero. The colorful team owner, Eddie DeBartolo, was a slightly slippery character, eventually banned from the sport for illegal gambling activities unrelated to football. For a long time, the new owners, DeBartolo’s sister and her husband were a disaster, which frankly led to the end of the 49er Dynasty.
But times change, and the 49’ers are back.