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49ers Legends Share Top Stories and Memories of Dwight Clark

Posted Oct 20, 2017

Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Jerry Rice and other 49ers legends discussed how Clark left his mark on the franchise.

You can’t tell the story of the San Francisco 49ers without Dwight Clark.

Clark amassed 506 catches, 6,750 receiving yards, 48 touchdowns, two Super Bowl rings, two Pro Bowls and one All-Pro honor during his nine years with the franchise from 1979-87. His legend was cemented with one leaping grab in the 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys, but Clark’s legacy goes well beyond “The Catch”.

As you’re about to read, it was Clark’s kind heart, unrelenting competitiveness and timely humor that made one of the most beloved cornerstones in franchise history. Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Ronnie Lott and other prominent 49ers icons shared why Clark holds such a near and dear spot in their hearts.


Eddie DeBartolo Jr. on his first memories of Clark:

“I remember Bill Walsh went down to Clemson on a scouting trip in 1979. He was working out Clemson’s quarterback, and Dwight was there catching passes. Bill liked what he saw. He liked the way Dwight moved. Dwight has never been the fastest guy as a receiver, but he’s a great possession receiver, and I think Bill saw that. It turned out that he was exactly that. He was a fighter. I just respected and loved the way he played the game.”

DeBartolo on when he knew that the 49ers had found something in their 10th-round pick (249th overall):

“He played the game the way it was supposed to be played, but he added a little something. He was a talented receiver, but he’d also go across the middle of the field, and he wouldn’t care. He would take on these defensive backs, and he’d punish them. He was a tough, tough guy. He made everybody on the team better. I told Bill, ‘You know, this guy is a special, special person.’ Bill agreed. On that fateful day at Candlestick Park, he made sure that he’d go down in history as one of the greatest 49ers to every play the game. That catch spurred the franchise into becoming a dynasty.”

DeBartolo on the universal respect and admiration for Clark:

“He’s a beloved man and a beloved player. I don’t think there’s a person that ever played with this man that didn’t like and respect him – not only for what he was but for the way he played the game.”

DeBartolo on Clark’s sense of humor:

“Maybe the funniest story is this. After we won the Super Bowl, all of the guys got raises. I have pictures framed with each guy from that team, and I asked them to autograph the photos. I have them from all the Super Bowls. For the first one, I remember Joe’s note to me was, ‘Thanks a million.’ That’s what he received as his raise. Dwight’s raise was half that. His picture is next to Joe’s, and his says, ‘Dear boss, thanks a half-million.’”


Jerry Rice on his memories of meeting Clark:

“Dwight was the guy who started everything here in the Bay Area with “The Catch” against the Dallas Cowboys. I was in awe. It was like a deer in the headlights because I knew I was going to get a chance to walk on the field with this guy.”

Rice on Clark’s role as a mentor:

“When I first came in, he took me under his wing. He didn’t have to do that. Dwight really helped me learn the full route tree. The 49ers route tree was totally different from what I ran in college. The 49ers would roll everything out, and in college I would square everything out. He worked with me over and over on this route until I finally got it and it became second nature.”

Rice on what made Clark a great receiver:

“Watching him work and watching him get better and watching him conduct himself on the football field and off the football field. He was always a great team player and willing to pass his knowledge along to younger players. That was the tradition for the San Francisco 49ers. He wasn’t the fasted guy, but he ran exceptional routes. People would not believe how crisp he could run routes and come out of his cuts. He also had some of the greatest hands ever. I was just overly impressed with him.”

Rice on Clark’s sense of humor:

“He was like a prankster. He was a funny guy. He did things and would say stuff in the locker room that would make you laugh. He would say stuff on the football field that would make you laugh. He did that because he wanted everyone to stay relaxed. During games, players would have the tendency to tense up a lot. He was a funny guy who would crack a joke to make you laugh.”

Rice on the pressure to follow Clark’s footsteps as the next great receiver in 49ers history:

“That’s the tradition with the San Francisco 49ers, and I knew it was very important for me to uphold that. It was the same thing with Dwight Clark and Freddie Solomon and all of those guys who had the torch passed to them. I looked forward to it.”


Ronnie Lott on his most impactful memory of Clark:

“My favorite story about Dwight came from my rookie year when we won the Super Bowl. We had a wonderful experience. It was amazing. We had all of these incredible things that happened to us. In the offseason, we came in for minicamp and I remember seeing ‘DC’. I walked up to him, getting ready to shake his hand. He got up and gave me a big hug instead. The thing I realized in that moment was that it changed the perspective of what I thought great teammates should be like. A great teammate is someone who loves you unconditionally. That’s what Dwight showed that day.

“I realized, it doesn’t matter where you come from or what your background is, being teammates goes beyond all that. I’ve always had the ultimate respect for that moment and how he treated me. It was genuine. It was real. That’s how a locker room should be. It should be about not having biases and finding ways to win. Because of Dwight being who he was, to me, that’s the real significance of Dwight Clark.”

Lott on Clark’s impact on the culture in the 49ers locker room:

“I’ll tell you what Dwight brought to the table in terms of culture. Nobody outworked Dwight Clark when it came to running a route or when it came to getting open. Are you doing everything you can possibly do to get open? Are you doing everything you can possibly do to be a better teammate? Are you doing everything you can possibly do to make things better for everyone else? That’s what Dwight did when he played. When you’re not as fast, and you’ve got to work to get open, you’ve got to outwork everybody. Dwight was one of those guys who was a lunch pail guy. That rubbed off on a lot of people, Jerry Rice included. I don’t think people give him enough credit and respect for that.”

Lott on the challenge of practicing against Clark:

“The best part about practicing against someone is you get to try and figure out how to stop them. He’d never quit on a route. Some people quit on routes when they realize they can’t get open. Not Dwight. That’s why he and Joe Montana were so amazing because they never quit on a play. That’s what separated them as teammates, and that’s what separated them as individuals."


Jed York on how he looked up to Clark as a kid:

“Dwight was like a part of our family. Joe and Dwight were so close with my uncle, and Dwight was around a lot. I remember he had a restaurant in the city called ‘Clarks by the Bay’. I remember we had a New Year's Eve party there before our playoff game against Minnesota in 1987. It was one of those things where you didn’t think of Dwight as a football player, you thought of Dwight as an extension of your family.”

York on collecting Clark’s football cards:

“My mom would always buy football cards for me. I remember the 1986 Topps set with the green border. There was a card of Dwight and the picture was of him sitting on the bench. I never kept doubles of cards, but I kept every Dwight Clark card. My mom knew how much I loved Dwight.”


Tom Rathman on what made Clark a special teammate:

“He was the ultimate team player. His teammates respected him, not only on the field but off the field as well. I believe that he was a tremendous leader. He was one of the players who led by example. That’s really what the Forty Niner standard was all about. He was here with Bill Walsh early on. He was one of the guys who implemented the standard. His everyday play in practice carried over into the game.”


Rathman on how he related to Clark as a player who got the most out of his ability:

“He probably wasn’t the most dynamic receiver. He was kind of like me, a blue-collar mentality who probably overachieved and did whatever it took to get out on the field. He did it well.”


Roger Craig on Clark’s sense of humor:

“He’s just a funny guy. He’d always crack jokes and stuff during the game. He kept us loose. He would just say off the wall stuff to crack you up. That guy is such a great human being. Everyone loves him. We do these events together, and people just love him. It’s unbelievable. He means a lot to a lot of people.”


George Seifert on what made Clark a unique player:

“His endurance was the thing that really stood out. He had the ability to run forever. As a defensive coach, I saw Dwight go against our guys an awful lot. He never got tired. He was an outstanding route-runner, but I keep going back to the endurance factory. He was all business. He was out to make himself better but he also made the defensive backs better. He was a great guy to work with. Still to this moment, he is the great competitor that I remember him as.”

Seifert on Clark’s 78-yard touchdown catch against the Cowboys during the 1981 regular season:

“His open-field speed was also better than people might realize. It really came to fruition in our game against the Dallas Cowboys during the regular season. I believe it was the same season that we went on to win our first Super Bowl. Dwight, I can specifically remember, ran through the Dallas defense in the open field and demonstrated a lot more speed than they thought he had as well.”

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