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'The Catch' Spurred 49ers Greatness

Time, they say, doesn't stand still for anyone - not even the San Francisco 49ers. It is kind of eerie that the limbo-like speculation about the future of the team, and franchise players like Jerry Rice, Steve Young, Ken Norton, Jr. etc., is taking place at the anniversary time of one of the greatest National Football League moments - January 10, 1982. It was a time that kick-started the franchise to glory!

More than 60,000 fans jammed San Francisco's Candlestick Park for the National Football Conference championship match up between the storied and veteran Dallas Cowboys and the potential filled 49ers.

The season before the 49ers were 6-10. Now with Joe Montana in his first year as the starting quarterback, they had a glitzy (13-3) best record in the NFL.

The game was a see-saw affair like two boxers going at each other through the opening rounds of a fight. In the fourth quarter Dallas clung to a 27-21 lead. With 4:54 left in the game, San Francisco moved down the field in a time consuming, methodical, textbook drive.

With 58 seconds left, the 49ers were on the Cowboys' six-yard line - third down, three yards for a first. The ball was snapped to Montana, who rolled right trying to avoid a furious Dallas rush. A play had been drawn up to get the ball to Freddie Solomon but he was smothered.

Losing his balance, going backwards, Montana hurled the ball to Dwight Clark at the back of the end zone. The toss to the 6-foot-4 Clark was thrown very high. The defender Everson Walls gave up on the play saying later that he thought Clark had no chance to make the catch since the ball was thrown so high. But a leaping Clark made the catch, grabbing the ball with his fingertips and coming down just barely in bounds for the TD.

Pandemonium prevailed at Candlestick. San Fran held on for a 28-27 win, giving them their first Super Bowl berth. What Dwight Clark accomplished has gone down in football lore as "The Catch." There are those who argue that Joe Montana was trying to get rid of the ball and throw it out of the end zone, and that Clark happened to get in the way.

"That's not true," Clark explained. "That was a play that we practiced over and over again."

Two weeks after "the catch," the 49ers trimmed Cincinnati, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan. That triumph was the first of a quartet of Super Bowl wins for Joe Montana and the 49ers in a span of nine years.

In his third season as head coach and general manager, Bill Walsh was named to all seven NFL Coach of the Year honors, while six 49ers were named to the Pro Bowl - WR Dwight Clark, G Randy Cross, QB Joe Montana, DE Fred Dean, CB Ronnie Lott, and S Dwight Hicks. The Catch" was the trigger that enabled San Francisco to become one of the dominant football franchises of the past twenty years.

But time waits for no one - not even the 49ers. The past is past. Re-building is crucial for the team by the Bay as the new century gets underway.

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You can reach Harvey Frommer at:   

Email:  harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU 

About the Author:

Harvey Frommer is in his  38th year of writing books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to acclaim in 2011.  The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One. 

His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, New York Daily News, Newsday, USA Today, Men's Heath, The Sporting News, among other publications.

FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.
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Dr. Frommer is the Official Book Reviewer of Travel-Watch. 
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Harvey Frommer along with his wife, Myrna Katz  Frommer are the authors of five critically acclaimed oral/cultural histories, professors at Dartmouth  College, and travel writers who specialize in cultural history, food, wine, and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. 

This Article is Copyright 1995 - 2014 by Harvey Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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