1981 NFC Championship: Swing Right Option Dooms Dallas (TSN archives)

The Cowboys and 49ers will play in the NFC playoffs this weekend, the eighth since the teams met in the off-season. Six of the previous seven games came in the NFC title game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the most memorable – at least from the 49ers’ point of view – coming on January 10, 1982, when “The Catch” was written into the NFL tradition. This story, which appeared in the January 23, 1982 issue of The Sporting News, captured the game’s electricity.

SAN FRANCISCO – Comeback included more than 89 yards on the spectacular final race. True, it’s been three years since a longtime assistant coach named Bill Walsh finally got his own team and chose a quarterback named Joe Montana and a player named Dwight Clark in his first college draft. .

In the end, it took a breathtaking six-yard game designed by Walsh and wonderfully executed by Montana and Clark to make the San Francisco 49ers what they are today.

And what they are today is, of course, the Super Bowl team. Not even the old Super Bowl team, but the second Super Bowl team that rose from a loss record the previous season (the Cincinnati Bengals beat them to honor by about four hours).

The 49ers had a sad sight when Walsh gathered them at Santa Clara Training Camp in 1979. Their first year was 2-14 years old. In 1980, they were 6-10 when Montana and Clark established themselves as two of the best young players in the National Football League. They have hoped to reach 0.500 this season.

“I’d be happy to have 8-8,” said Ed DeBartolo Jr., the club’s president, on the eve of the National Conference Championship match against the Dallas Cowboys.

MORE: 5 things you should know about The Catch in 40’s

So this was the team that bypassed mediocrity, the team that reworked the Dallas Cowboys, 28-27, in the last minute of the game on January 10th. And despite their youth, despite a lack of playoff experience, the 49ers made it to the finals, a wonderful journey to the first ultimate game in the franchise’s 36-year history.

Thanks to the 49ers, it inevitably looked like a slump of California mud after a heavy rain. Only once did vendors near Ghirardelli Square push on their T-shirts, saying, “I survived Storm 82.” The 49ers not only survived, but prospered in a week, few people in the Bay Area will soon forget.

It all came down to Montana and Clark and the 13-game march to the end zone, as the 49ers, who had the least turnovers in the league during the base season, played much of the day. Montana threw three interceptions, and the back players contributed three fumblers to the Dallas cause.

“Some people might call it a buggy game,” Walsh said. “I’m sure the Dallas defense is saying, ‘We’ve made six mistakes.’

Not only did the 49ers have to come down from the sticky Candlestick canvas after these setbacks, but they also had to deal with a suspicious official call. Side referee Dean Look canceled the star defender Ronnie Lott’s intervention in the middle of the second period with a strange disturbance. That gave the Cowboys the first shot down on a 12-yard line in San Francisco. Dallas scored three games later in the Tony Dorsett Raid and led 17-14 at halftime.

“It was one of those mystical calls,” Walsh said, “when someone enters and decides to take control of the game himself.”

Walsh told Look, who had been a quarterback for the old New York Titans for about a minute and a half, exactly what he thought from the sidelines. Still, the call lasted.

At the end of the third quarter, Lott was further canceled, which was obvious to almost everyone in a record number of 60,525 candles. The Cowboys placed it on the second of two goals by Rafael Septien of the game.

“My concentration was on the ball,” Lott said. “I don’t know if I bumped him into the first one or not. The clerk said, ‘You bumped into him.’ “I didn’t think so, but you can only argue so much. There wasn’t much doubt about the other one. The two calls totaled 10 points. The offense must have put me under pressure.”

But first, the attack put further pressure on itself. Walt Easley didn’t catch in the next series, Everson Walls recovered from Dallas and Danny White passed Doug Cosbie 21 yards four games later and led the Cowboys 27-21.

Montana then threw his second hit from Walls, a rookie free agent who led the NFL in thefts. The 49ers’ uphill journey, as well as the cable cars that climb the picturesque streets of the city, apparently ended halfway to the stars.

When the Cowboys finally returned the ball to Montana, four minutes and 54 seconds remained and the goal line was 89 yards away. The first game, an incomplete pass to Lenville Elliott, won nothing.

Then Elliott ran six yards on a trap designed to offset Harvey Martin’s deadly attack. Montana threw a six-yard pass to wide receiver Freddie Solomon on the first of three critical third-down games at once. the resourceful attack of San Francisco rolled again.

Solomon recorded the first touchdown in the game in a game called the “swing right option”. He was a helper between Clark and the line on the right, jumping for the flag as Clark curled in and caught a quick eight-yard pass from Montana. The game was on the list of quarterback Sam Wyche in the press field. The 49ers would take advantage again if the opportunity arose.

Down the field swept the 49ers, Elliott ran for the first two victories. Solomon does another on the reverse. Montana passes Clark 10 yards along the right sideline and Solomon 12 on the left. Montana knows about comebacks. He once brought Notre Dame back from a 34-12 deficit and won the Cotton Bowl match, 35-34, as time ran out. And he pulled the 49ers out of a 28-point deficit when they beat New Orleans in 1980 in a 38:35 overtime period.

“Joe does so many smart things you can’t train,” Wyche said. He only has the right things. “

But in the first game from Dallas 13, Montana overturned the open Solomon in the end. “Bill is usually not very excited,” Montana said. “But when I missed Freddie in the end zone, he was pretty pissed. I was, too.”

“The real rush of emotion came when Fred Solomon’s fingertips just flew through the ball,” Walsh admitted. push.”

So much for what could have been. The 49ers still had three cracks and more than a minute of work. Elliott swept seven yards for the second shot, and San Francisco made the second of three timeouts. Montana huddled with Walsh. Third and three. Fifty-eight seconds left. Again, the right time and place for the “swing right option”.

Montana rolled to his right, away from Martin’s side, and transmitted a pass. Solomon broke for the flag, but was covered. Clark curled into the end zone, braking at the end line, looking for his quarterback. Nearby were the walls and free safety of Michael Downs. Montana sprinted to the sidelines.

“I thought of throwing it away,” Montana said. I did not want to suffer a loss in this situation. But that’s when I saw Dwight move away from the news. “

Clark’s responsibility was to freeze the defenders and then slide along the end line parallel to Montana. He doesn’t have much speed, which is one of the reasons for his low position in the 1979 draft (10th round), but his moves and paths are perfect. Already on this day, they were responsible for seven catches, one for landing. Now Montana has thrown the most important pass in his 49er annals. And as high as the game was intended.

“I thought it was too high,” Clark said 6-3, “because I’m not jumping so well. And I was really tired. I had the flu last week and I had trouble breathing on that last ride.” I don’t know how I caught the ball. How can a lady pick up a car when she is on her baby? You got it from somewhere. “

Clark fell with the ball and the 49er defense put out a potential Dallas miracle when Lawrence Pillers, whom the New York Jets gave up in the 1980 season, fired White. It caused the groping that Jim Stuckey had gained.

“Thank you, Walt Michaels,” Pillers said. “That’s the best hit of my life because we’re going to the Super Bowl.”

Imagine that! The 49ers, who lost their last three opportunities in the playoffs, all with Dallas in 1970, 1971 and 1972, returned to defeat America’s Team.

“Well,” Clark said, “I think we deserved it.”

He was not alone in that feeling.


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