SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers painted a white 87 in the back right corner of the south end zone at Levi’s Stadium before Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.
It’s just shy of 39 miles from the original spot where Dwight Clark made The Catch, which, as he would constantly remind Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, wasn’t known as “The Throw.”
“He started the dynasty with the catch,” said Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice, who was present at Levi’s Stadium as part of the 49ers’ 1994-95 Super Bowl reunion as part of Sunday’s Alumni Day festivities.
The reunion doubled as a tribute to Clark, who passed away on June 4 at age 61 due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Montana, Clark’s family and others spoke as the team unveiled a pair of 350-pound statues, 23 yards apart, depicting Clark’s touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the January 1982 NFC Championship Game, the catch that led to the franchise’s first of five Super Bowl titles.
“I miss him,” Montana said. “We came in as rookies together. Great friends throughout life. The one thing I think that’s a reminder is, we look around at all our teammates, how things can change so quickly for us, and how blessed we are to still be here and be able to attend this. Honestly, I know Dwight’s up there, telling me, ‘Don’t screw this thing up.'”
Clark announced that he had been diagnosed with ALS on March 19, 2017.
He addressed the 49ers crowd on Oct. 22, 2017, before a game honoring the 1981-82 championship team, saying, “I think you all know I’m going through a little thing right now, and I need your prayers and thoughts.” Below him, on the field, his teammates all wore shirts emblazoned with his No. 87.
He passed away eight months later.
During the statue unveiling, under a Candlestick-gray sky, Hall of Famer Terrell Owens — who didn’t attend his own induction in Canton — sat rapt as the statues were uncovered, filming with his phone, dressed in his gold Hall of Fame jacket over a gray hoodie.
Clark’s wife of seven years, Kelly, took the podium after Montana.
“It’s difficult to be back here, without DC,” she said, her voice catching. “I know he would have absolutely loved, loved this. Very humbled. It’s a beautiful tribute to him.”
A large contingent from the 49ers’ last Super Bowl team was also in attendance, including Steve Young, George Siefert, receiver Nate Singleton — who brought along his son, Brandon, a redshirt junior wide receiver at nearby Cal — and Rice, among the 70 alumni set to be honored.
Rice was a rookie in 1985, when Clark was in the twilight of his career. Clark had won two Super Bowls with Montana. Rice would win the next two, before winning one with Young in 1995.
“For this statue to be put up, it made everything complete,” Rice said. “I got a chance to spend so many great years with him. The guy really helped me a lot. He helped me to become a professional on the football field and off the football field. He taught me how to run that out route.”
Rice, of course, would go on to set NFL records for receptions (1,549), receiving yards (22,895), receiving touchdowns, total touchdowns and career all-purpose yards. It all started with Clark.
“I always tell Dwight, he didn’t have to make it so dramatic, kick his legs up, get those hands up. Just catch the ball,” Montana said. “If he was here today, I know what he’d be telling me. He’d be whispering in my ear: ‘You know they didn’t call it The Throw for a reason.'”