for the San Francisco 49ers NFL
team, 1979-1987. Elected to two Pro Bowls
; two-time Super Bowl
winner. Remembered for "The Catch
," a leaping fingertips catch in the waning moments of the 1981 NFC Championship game that gave the 49ers a win over the Dallas Cowboys
From 1976-78, Clark was a wide receiver for the Clemson University football team. It wasn't a very high-profile job -- Clemson didn't pass the ball very much, and in the mid-70s, their team wasn't very good. (Although, in Clark's senior season, Clemson won their first bowl game in many years when they defeated Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. The game is well known as OSU coach Woody Hayes' last game; the school fired him the next morning after Hayes punched Clemson nose tackle Charlie Bauman during a brawl. But I digress.)
My point is: Clark wasn't no superstar in college. In three years, he caught 33 passes and three touchdowns. Better than I could have done, but not enough to make NFL people notice.
Except Bill Walsh. As quoted in the Sporting News:
"In the process of scouting Steve Fuller, we found Dwight. Even though he caught only 12 passes or something in his college career, he was big, with functional speed and a great attitude. They had to hold me back from drafting him (earlier)."
Walsh was the new head coach of the 49ers, and he inherited a rather bad team that needed rebuilding through the NFL Draft. The 1979 draft would be fruitful for the 49ers -- besides drafting Clark in the 10th round, they also got future Hall-of-Famer Joe Montana in the third round -- and would prove that Walsh's keen eye for talent.
Clark's size was his sine qua non. He was 6'4" and bulky -- the dimensions of a tight end in that era, not a wide receiver. But, as Clark would show in the NFL, his speed was adequate, and he could use his large frame to shield tiny cornerbacks from deflecting passes. Defenses didn't know who to use to cover him -- a linebacker would be too slow; a cornerback too small. Perhaps a safety would have worked, but they're supposed to play in deep coverage; if they moved up to guard a receiver one-on-one, the defense couldn't have responded to the deep-play threat of the 49ers' speedy-and-small receiver, Freddie Solomon.
And, it was Clark's height that allowed him to catch the most famous pass in 49ers history. Down 27-21 to the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC title game, and with a berth in the Super Bowl on the line, the 49ers faced third down near the Dallas goal line with about a minute left. Quarterback Joe Montana rolled to his right, didn't see anyone open, backpedaled, was chased by aptly named Dallas defensive lineman Ed "Too Tall" Jones, lofted a pass into the end zone -- which Clark, reaching as high as he could, caught the ball on his fingertips for the touchdown. The Catch, as it is known, achieved a mythic quality in the Bay Area, not the least because of stunning visual images of the play captured by NFL Films and Sports Illustrated. (Note: If anyone has a link to the photo, msg me and I'll add the link here.)
Clark won two Super Bowls with the 49ers (XVI and XIX) and was named to the Pro Bowl twice (1982 and 1983).
After retirement in 1987, Clark moved to the 49ers front office. In the mid-90s, when team president Carmen Policy moved to the Cleveland Browns, Clark followed him. His current title with the Browns is Executive Vice President and Director of Football Operations.
Year Rec. Yards Avg. TD
1976 5 99 19.8 0
1977 17 265 15.6 1
1978 11 207 18.8 2
Tot. 33 571 17.3 3
San Francisco 49ers:
Year Rec. Yards Avg. TD
1979 18 232 12.9 0
1980 82 991 12.1 8
1981 85 1105 13.0 4
1982 60 913 15.2 5
1983 70 840 12.0 8
1984 52 880 16.9 6
1985 54 705 13.1 10
1986 61 794 13.0 2
1987 24 290 12.1 5
Tot. 506 6750 13.3 48