The image, frozen forever in mind, is a ball at the fingertips of the late Dwight Clark as he reaches over Everson Walls, who can only reach in vain with his right arm. Too little too late.
“The Catch,” 40 years ago this week, culminated in an amazing 89-yard drive, a breathtaking 6-yard pass, designed by coach Bill Walsh and wonderfully executed by quarterbacks Joe Montana and Clark to become the 49ers NFC champions in January. 10, 1982, in Candlestick Park.
The 49ers and Cowboys will meet again in the NFL playoffs this weekend and you will probably see and hear a lot about this iconic game.
Here are five things you may not know about teams, players, the game, and yes, “The Catch” from The Sporting News:
TSN ARCHIVES: Swing traffic will destroy Dallas
1. The 49ers did not expect to have a winning balance, let alone be in the playoffs that season.
In their first season under Walsh, Montana and Clark’s Rookie Year, San Fran was 2-14. Yuck. Their balance improved, as did Montana and Clark in 1980, 6-10.
Suffice it to say that expectations were not exactly high before the 1981 season.
“I would be happy to have 8-8,” said team president Ed DeBartolo Jr. on the eve of the NFC title match against the Cowboys.
Joe Gergen wrote in The Sporting News a team that bypassed mediocrity.
2. The 49ers have survived a lot of mistakes in the game … A LOT of mistakes.
Montana threw three interceptions and the ninth-graders groped three times.
DB’s future Hall of Fame Ronnie Lott has twice been identified as a key passageway disruption that extended the Cowboys’ drive.
“These two calls totaled 10 points,” Lott said in The Sporting News. “That offense must have put me under pressure.”
“Some people might call it a buggy game,” Walsh said. “I’m sure the Dallas defense is saying, ‘We’ve made six mistakes.’
Wait, Snipes knocked down Holmes?
Holmes was, of course, heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. But Snipes? It would be Renaldo Snipes who seduced Holmes in a surprisingly tough match in Pittsburgh in November 1981, including, among other things, “a perfectly timed right right (which) fused cleanly with Holmes’s chin and caused the champion’s legs to fold like a faulty garden chair she collapsed under the unsuspecting party of the party. “
Holmes survived the knockdown, as did the Nines against the Cowboys.
And in fact, it was the Cowboys who made one last, fatal mistake.
After the 49ers took the lead on Clark’s catch and PAT, they saw that their defense had extinguished the Cowboys’ potential miracle when Lawrence Pillers fired Danny White’s Dallas QB, causing Jim Stuckey to lose the Niners.
3. The first touchdown of the game will be repeated later.
Freddie Solomon, lined up in the slot on the right in the first quarter, set out for the flag, while Clark, lined up on the far right, huddled inside.
Solomon caught a quick sprint pass from Montana for a score of 8 yards.
Game option: swing right.
It’s the same game that Niners QB coach Sam Wyche called from the coach booth in third and third place from Cowboys 6 with 58 seconds to finish.
Except this time, Montana, sprinting to the right, away from Harvey Martin’s dominant cowboy pass, was facing a decision.
Gergen wrote in The Sporting News: 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 was running out of space.
“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. “
Now, as Gergen wrote about the game, Montana was throwing “the most important pass in the 49er annals” at Clark. And as high as the game was intended.
Calling Vin Scully, his last on football for CBS: “Of course for the starting 49ers there are 6 yards from (Super Bowl in) Pontiac (Mich.) Third and Three. Montana, I’m watching … I’m watching … I’m throwing in the end zone. Clark caught it! Dwight Clark! (Long pause for crowd reaction) There’s a madhouse in Candlestick! ”
“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. “
4. Everson Walls was not a goat.
In fact, prior to his infamous work in “The Catch,” corner defender Cowboys recovered a grip on Walt Easley of the 49ers. Four games later, White passed 21 yards against Doug Cosbie to a touchdown and led the 27-21 Cowboys in the fourth quarter.
Earlier, Walls detained Montana – twice.
One could argue that Walls was an indispensable element of the Cowboys’ defense, helping the team achieve the NFC championship that year.
Walls, a 22-year-old rookie, led the NFL this season in attacks with 11 – a mark unparalleled in 40 years until Cowboys corner defender Trevon Diggs did it this season.
5. The 49ers became only the second team to reach the Super Bowl after losing the season the year before last.
First? The Bengals, who had 6:10 in 1980 and beat them in honor by about four hours, defeated the San Diego Chargers, 27: 7, in the AFC Championship.
The Montana and 49ers would defeat the Bengals 26-21 in Super Bowl XVI.
Not only did San Francisco’s victory start the dynasty, but his victory over Dallas also signaled the impending end of another: Cowboys under legendary coach Tom Landry. For Dallas, it was the second of three NFC losses in a row.