The Catch (American football)
|Candlestick Park, the site of the game|
|Date||January 10, 1982|
|Location||San Francisco, CA|
|Announcers||Vin Scully and Hank Stram|
The Catch refers to the winning touchdown reception by Dwight Clark off a Joe Montana pass in the January 10, 1982, NFC Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers. The Catch is widely regarded as one of the most memorable events in NFL history. The game represented the end of Dallas' domination in the NFC since the conference's inception in 1970, and the beginning of San Francisco's rise as both an NFC and Super Bowl power in the 1980s.
After forcing Dallas to punt on the opening drive, San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana completed a 17-yard pass to Charle Young and a 24-yarder to Lenvil Elliott before throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Freddie Solomon. Dallas responded with Danny White's 20-yard pass to Butch Johnson setting up a 44-yard field goal by Rafael Septien. Then 49ers running back Bill Ring lost a fumble on his own 29, leading to White's 26-yard touchdown pass to Tony Hill that put the Cowboys up 10-7.
In the second quarter, San Francisco reached the Cowboys 27-yard line, only to lose the ball when Everson Walls intercepted a pass from Montana in the end zone. But after forcing a Dallas punt, Montana threw a 20-yard touchdown to Clark to retake the lead, 14–10. Dallas responded with an 80-yard drive, including a controversial pass interference penalty on 49ers defensive back Ronnie Lott nullified his interception and gave the Cowboys a 35-yard gain at the San Francisco 12-yard line. Three plays later, running back Tony Dorsett scored on a 5-yard rushing touchdown to give Dallas a 17–14 lead. The 49ers got another chance to score before halftime when they recovered a fumbled punt on the Dallas 42. But after a 15-yard illegal block penalty on Clark, Montana lost a fumble while being sacked by Harvey Martin. The Cowboys fared no better as White was sacked twice on their next drive, once by Jim Stuckey and once by Lawrence Pillers, and the half ended soon after.
In the third quarter, San Francisco got another scoring opportunity when Dwight Hicks returned a punt 12 yards to midfield. The 49ers then drove to the Dallas 16-yard line, but once again they failed to score when Montana threw a pass that bounced out of Elliot's hands and was intercepted by Randy White. However, the Cowboys soon returned the favor with White's interception to linebacker Bobby Leopold, and this time the 49ers converted, regaining the lead at 21-17 with a 2-yard touchdown run by running back Johnny Davis.
One minute into the fourth quarter, Septien kicked a 22-yard field goal that cut the scoring difference down to 1 point at 21-20. Then Walls recovered a fumble from running back Walt Easley at midfield to set up White's 21-yard touchdown pass to tight end Doug Cosbie, giving Dallas a 27–21 advantage. Things got even better for Dallas when Walls recorded his second interception from Montana on the next drive at the Cowboys 27. Dallas managed to pick up a few first downs, but were forced to punt, and White's kick gave San Francisco the ball at their own 11 with 4:54 left in the game and three timeouts.1
Montana led the 49ers 83 yards to the Dallas 6-yard line with the following drive:2
- 1st and 10 from the 11: Incomplete pass, dropped by Elliott.
- 2nd and 10 from the 11: Elliott 6-yard run
- 3rd and 4 from the 17: Montana 6-yard pass to Solomon
- 1st and 10 from the 23: Elliott 11-yard run.
- 1st and 10 from the 34: Elliott 7-yard run
- 2nd and 3 from the 41: Incomplete pass, through Elliott's hands
- 3rd and 3 from the 41: Offsides penalty on Cowboys, 5 yards
- 1st and 10 from the 46: Montana 5-yard pass to Earl Cooper (2 minute warning)
- 2nd and 5 from the 49: Solomon 15-yard run on a WR reverse
- 1st and 10 from the 35: Montana 10-yard pass to Clark
- 1st and 10 from the 25: Montana 12-yard pass to Solomon (49ers first timeout, 1:15 remaining)
- 1st and 10 from the 12: Incomplete pass
- 2nd and 10 from the 12: Elliott 6-yard run (49ers second timeout, 58 seconds remaining)
Following the 49ers second timeout, they faced 3rd and 3 on the Cowboys 6-yard line with 58 seconds in the game.
When Joe Montana took the snap, the play, known as Sprint Right Option, was intended to be a pass to wide receiver Freddie Solomon; earlier in the game, Solomon had scored a touchdown on that play.3 However, the Cowboys covered Solomon perfectly. Making matters worse, the pass rush of the Cowboys collapsed the 49ers' offensive line. Two of the Cowboys defensive ends Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Larry Bethea, plus linebacker D. D. Lewis chased a backpedalling Montana toward the sideline, and seemed certain to either send him out of bounds or sack him. But at the last moment, and after pump-faking to get 6-foot 9-inch "Too Tall" Jones to jump, Montana threw a high pass to the back of the end zone that seemed destined to sail out of bounds until 49ers receiver Dwight Clark made a leaping touchdown grab with his fingertips to tie the game with 51 seconds left. The ensuing extra point by kicker Ray Wersching gave the 49ers a 28–27 lead. Clark finished the game with 8 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns.
The play, remembered in 49er lore as "Red Right Tight – Sprint Right Option" had called for both the primary receiver, Solomon, and Clark to line up on the right. Montana was supposed to roll to his right and find Solomon. Clark's pattern called for him to cut left across the end zone, stop, and immediately reverse his path to the right. If Solomon were covered, it would be up to Montana to find Clark. Due to the pressure, Montana's pass was high, but Clark was in position to make his memorable grab.
A photograph of the catch by Walter Iooss, Jr., with Clark at the height of his leap and Everson Walls reaching out to try to block the ball, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.
Other contributors on the final 89-yard drive that led to the play now referred to as “The Catch” included Lenvil Elliott (RB), Earl Cooper (FB), Mike Wilson (WR), Charle Young (TE), Dan Audick (LT), John Ayers (LG), Fred Quillan (C), Randy Cross (RG), and Keith Fahnhorst (RT).
Some people claimed that Montana was trying to throw the ball away, leaving time for a fourth down. Clark disputes that assertion, claiming that it was a backup plan that they practiced many times. Montana confirmed that he could not see the end zone through the defenders, but claims that he knew exactly where Clark would be. The 49ers coach, Bill Walsh, assumed that it was a throw-away play and immediately began planning for the fourth down until he heard the cheers from the crowd.
As for the height of the catch, Montana has said that he didn't feel that he threw the ball very high. However, Clark leaped as high as he could only to get his fingertips on the ball. In the Sports Illustrated article, Montana explained that he never saw The Catch, since he had just been knocked to the ground by Jones, but "I saw Dwight's feet touch the ground. I heard the crowd scream." Later, in the locker room, he expressed his amazement at how high Clark had jumped.
According to Clark, Jones reacted to the play by stating "You just beat America's Team" to Montana after the pass was caught, to which Montana replied to Jones, "Well, you can sit at home with the rest of America and watch the Super Bowl."4
While Clark's touchdown had given San Francisco the lead, the game was not yet over as there was still 51 seconds left on the clock, with Dallas needing only a field goal to win. After the ensuing kickoff, Dallas receiver Drew Pearson caught a long pass, but defensive back Eric C. Wright made a touchdown-saving horse collar-type tackle (then a legal tackle) to keep him from scoring. This play was known as "The Grab". On the next play, quarterback Danny White fumbled the ball while being sacked by Lawrence Pillers, and San Francisco’s Jim Stuckey recovered the ball, sealing a victory for the 49ers.
|“||Montana...looking, looking, throwing in the end zone...Clark caught it!||”|
|“||Montana lines up at the five...and on third-down-and-three he rolls right, looking to throw...looking to throw...and he throws into the end zone...Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown, San Francisco, by Dwight Clark!||”|
Finally, Don Klein called the play locally for the 49ers on KCBS:
|“||Third and three. He has the ball, Montana rolling out to the right . . . looking toward the end zone . . . throwing under pressure . . . throws his pass . . . Caught by (Dwight) Clark! Clark's got a touchdown! Dwight Clark has it! It's a touchdown for the 49ers!||”|
Dwight Clark while discussing The Catch in America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions documentary about the 1981 49ers had this to say about the legacy of that play.
|“||It's humbling really. I feel honored people are still talking about it, 25 years later. I am honored to be able to be a part of a play that was kind of the culmination of just this incredible surprise season. It's great to give 49er fans that moment that they can relive over and over and over, and I know they do because when I am in San Francisco and a lot of places, people want to talk about that play and how it crushed the Cowboys and sent them into submission for a decade. I never get tired of talking about it; I never get tired of seeing it, because I sign pictures and send them to people. I see that catch every day. I may sit and think about that moment couple of times a year, and how awesome it was to be a part of that play and to be a part of the 49ers in the '80s.||”|
This game was a watershed in the historic fortunes of the 49ers and Cowboys. After being a losing team in the 1970s, San Francisco went on to win four Super Bowls in the 1980s, and made the playoffs eight out of the next ten years. 49ers quarterback Joe Montana went on to gain a reputation as a clutch performer. Meanwhile, Dallas, the most successful team in the NFC in the 1970s with five Super Bowl appearances, never made it back to the Super Bowl in the 1980s. The following season they reached their third straight NFC Championship Game where they were defeated 31-17 by the Washington Redskins. This ended a remarkable period that saw the Cowboys play in 10 of 13 conference championship games, while starting quarterback Danny White drew criticism for "not being able to win the big game". Thereafter Dallas went on to suffer losing seasons in the last part of that decade, not returning to the Super Bowl until the 1990s.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a Bay Area native who ultimately grew up idolizing Montana on his way to his own successful NFL career, attended the game as a four-year-old, and aspired to become a Niner.5
For several years in the 1980s and 1990s, Kodak featured a television ad to the tune of Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" featuring The Catch, as shown by NFL Films. Kodak also featured a photo still of The Catch in their magazine ads, accompanied by the caption, "The 49ers grab a TD and a title."
In the October 16, 2001 episode "My Old Lady" of the American television sitcom/medical drama Scrubs, when a dying patient David asks if anyone has ever heard of The Catch, Turk comes in and says, "Niners-Cowboys, Joe Montana to Dwight Clark deep in the end-zone, zero time left. Kid, please, don't insult me." Turk later joins David in watching the game.
In 2002, the NFL ran a series of advertisements promoting the playoffs, using famous plays as a uniting theme. Actor Don Cheadle demonstrated the height of Clark's catch by standing on a stepladder in the end zone.
In 2005, a commercial for the Gatorade sports drink, known as "The Winning Formula", portrayed an alternate version of The Catch, in which the ball bounced out of Clark's fingertips. Following the Gatorade logo, the real version was shown with Dwight Clark's completion. This is also done with Derek Jeter's "flip play" going wide of home plate and Michael Jordan's famous buzzer-beater against Cleveland going off the rim.
Clark and Montana re-enacted The Catch in observance of the 25th anniversary of the play as part of San Francisco alumni day activities at halftime of the Minnesota game November 5, 2006, at Candlestick Park.
On August 5, 2007, The Best Damn Sports Show Period did a special show commemorating the top 50 amazing sports catches of all time. The Catch is listed as #17.
- Referee: Jim Tunney (#3)
- Umpire: Bob Boylston (#5)
- Head Linesman: Ed Marion (#6)
- Line Judge: Bob Beeks (#16)
- Field Judge: Ed Merrifield (#20)
- Side Judge: Dean Look (#9)
- Back Judge: Ray Douglas (#5)
- Alternate Referee: Gordon McCarter
- Alternate Umpire: Dave Moss
- NFL Lore
- NFL playoffs, 1981-82
- Immaculate Reception
- The Helmet Catch
- The Catch (baseball)
- The Block (American Football)
- Freezer Bowl, 1981 AFC Championship game held on the same day
- Keown, Tim (December 15, 1997). "49ers finally put away Cowboys To begin their Super Bowl run". San Francisco Chronicle. p. C4.
- Shumann, Mike (January 10, 2007). "25th Anniversary Of 'The Catch'". KGO.com.
- "New England Patriots vs. Oakland Raiders – Recap". Scores.espn.go.com. 2011-10-02. Retrieved 2012-02-06.
- St. Petersburg Times