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The Catch, Dwight Clark and Clemson

Tom Landry and the Dallas Cowboys came on the scene in 1966 when they lost to the Green Bay Packers who then won the very first Super Bowl over the Kansas City Chiefs. The following season, the Packers again beat the Cowboys in the famous Ice Bowl. The Packers then beat the Oakland Raiders for their second Super Bowl championship.

From that point on, the Dallas Cowboys were a threat in the NFC. Between 1966 and 1985, the Cowboys were a team that you might have to beat to make it to the Super Bowl. In that time period, they played in 5 Super Bowls and won 2 of them. Landry was thought of as something of a football genius on both sides of the football, and even if you had the Cowboys down quarterbacks like Roger Staubach were always a threat to come storming back and to beat you with no time left on the clock. Even though the Pittsburgh Steelers owned the 1970s, they had to beat the Cowboys to earn that right.

Roger Staubach was sometimes called Captain Comeback and in 1972, he led his Cowboys to a major comeback against the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park. The Cowboys had been two touchdowns behind and Staubach hit former Florida State wide receiver great Ron Sellers for the

winning touchdown.

After many concussions, Staubach had been forced to retire from football in 1979. Former Arizona State quarterback and punter, Danny White stepped up to take his place.

The Cowboys had finished the regular season with a 12-4 record for the second year in a row in 1981. In 1980, the 12-4 Boys were expected to go all the way, but they were ambushed by a revitalized Philadelphia Eagles team in the NFC Championship game. In 1981, they were in the exact same position, but this time they were in San Francisco playing the upstart 49ers and their young quarterback Joe Montana.

The Cowboys were leading 27-21, but in the final minute of play, Joe Montana hit a 6-4, 215 leaping basically unknown receiver named Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone to give the 49ers a 28-27 victory. I’ve seen that play maybe hundreds of times. The 49ers gained some revenge on the Cowboys and they went on to win their first Super Bowl.

But, it was all because of ‘The Catch’ on a pass from the 6 yard line to a once unknown Dwight Clark.

Dwight Clark’s catch was shown over and over and he became something of a national hero. The play marked the beginning of the end for the Dallas Cowboys and the rise of the new power, the San Francisco 49ers. The Cowboys would be good for several more years, but their power weakened slowly year by year after that, while the 49ers won Super Bowls with Joe Montana and later with Steve Young at quarterback.

Dwight Clark was a sports hero. He was tall, handsome and athletic. He was everything most young American boys dreamed of growing up to be. While I personally wasn’t a fan of the catch, or what it did, I liked and respected Clark for his talent.

Clark played 8 seasons in the NFL and had his number retired mostly for what he did for the 49ers on that cold and dreary day in Candlestick Park against the Dallas Cowboys.

He had been a 10th round draft pick by the 49ers and their coach Bill Walsh. As you know, the NFL draft does not do 10 rounds any more, so that means Clark would have been a free agent. That’s something like a walk-on in the NFL which makes his ‘catch’ and his career at San Francisco all the

more impressive and spectacular.

A Carolina boy, Dwight Clark was born in Kinston, North Carolina. Kinston is a smaller city with about 20,000 residents, but there’s a few famous people from there. Former NBA star Jerry Stackhouse is from Kinston as is Cedric ‘Cornbread’ Maxwell. Other NBA players like Reggie Bullock, Tony Dawson, Brandon Ingram, Charles Shackleford and Mitchell Wiggins all came from Kinston. Most of those names might not be familiar, or household names, but Shackleford was a 6 foot 10 center that played for the famous Jim Valvano at North Carolina State.

Football coach Tyrone Willingham was from Kinston and several actors and famous musicians. Quite a few famous to semi famous people coming from such a small town in North Carolina.

The Clark family moved to Charlotte where he played high school football and was recruited by Clemson, among others.

Clemson was the choice made by Dwight Clark and he played college football for the Tigers from 1975 through 1978. At Clemson, Clark was a tight end and a wide receiver, but he didn’t get much playing time until the 1976 season and even then he only came up with 5 receptions.

Jerry Butler came in at the same time as Clark and he led the team in receiving from 1976 through 1978. Butler had his own version of The Catch in a game against South Carolina and he was a 1st round draft pick in 1979 by the Buffalo Bills who had the 5th pick. Butler had a really nice 7 year career with the Buffalo Bills.

The Clemson Tigers were also 3-6-2 during Clark’s first playing days of 1976 under head coach Charlie Pell. In 1977, the Tigers improved to 8-3-1 behind the play of quarterback Steve Fuller a future 1st round draft pick. Dwight Clark caught 17 passes that season.

In 1978, the Tigers posted an 11-1 record and won the ACC championship. Against ACC foe, Maryland, Steve Fuller hit Dwight Clark who took it 62 yards for a touchdown which was his

brightest moment for Clemson. Clark only caught 11 passes as a senior at Clemson, but judging from what he did in the NFL and what he did on that 62 yard reception to win the game makes one wonder. Why not throw this guy the ball more? He went on to lead the NFL in receiving one season, but he has 11 catches as a senior.

Clark was fortunate that San Francisco 49er head coach Bill Walsh saw something in him that the Clemson coaches did not and he took a chance on him with a 10th round pick. Clark had an average college career, but was fantastic in the pros even having his number retired and helping to upgrade franchises.

He called it quits after the 1987 season.

In 2017, Dwight Clark was diagnosed with ALS. If you read this, please pray for him and his family.