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‘The Catch’ at 40: 5 things to know about this 49ers-Cowboys game

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‘The Catch’ at 40: 5 things to know about this 49ers-Cowboys game

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The image, forever frozen in the mind of the spirit, is the bullet at the fingertips of the late Dwight Clark, as he stretches over Everson Walls, which can only reach in vain. ‘with his right arm. Too little, too late.

“The Catch,” 40 years ago this week, capped a magnificent 89-yard drive, jaw-dropping 6-yard passing game, designed by coach Bill Walsh and spectacularly executed by the quarterback. back Joe Montana and Clark, to make the 49ers the NFC champions in January. 10, 1982, at Candlestick Park.

The 49ers and Cowboys reunite this weekend in the NFL Playoffs, and you’ll likely see and hear a lot about the iconic piece.

Here are five things you might not know about the teams, the players, the game and, yes, “The Catch,” from the pages of The Sporting News:

1. The 49ers didn’t expect to have a winning record, let alone make the playoffs that season.

In their first season under Walsh, Montana and Clark’s rookie year, San Fran was 2-14. Ouch. Their record improved, as did Montana and Clark, in 1980, to a 6-10 record.

Suffice it to say that expectations weren’t exactly high until the 1981 season.

“I would have been happy to be 8-8,” said team president Ed DeBartolo Jr. on the eve of the NFC title game against the Cowboys.

It was a team, Joe Gergen wrote in The Sporting News, that sidestepped mediocrity.

2. The 49ers survived a lot of mistakes in the game … A LOT of mistakes.

Montana threw three interceptions and the Niners’ back fumbled three times.

Future Hall of Fame DB Ronnie Lott has been reported twice for crucial pass interference calls that have extended the Cowboys’ runs.

“These two calls totaled 10 points,” Lott noted in The Sporting News. “The offense has certainly taken some pressure off my back.”

“Some people might call it a game full of mistakes,” Walsh said afterwards. “I’m sure the Dallas defense says, ‘We forced six mistakes. “And they would be right. It’s championship football. It’s like a championship fight, like Snipes knocking down Holmes.”

Wait, Snipes knocks Holmes down?

Holmes, of course, was heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. But Snipes? That would be Renaldo Snipes, who in November 1981 gave Holmes a surprisingly tough fight in Pittsburgh including, according to one account, “a perfectly timed overhand right (which) clearly connected to Holmes’ chin and made himself curl up the champion’s legs like a faulty garden chair collapsing under an unsuspecting guest.

Holmes survived the overthrow, as did the Niners versus the Cowboys.

And, in fact, it was the Cowboys who made the last fatal mistake.

After taking the lead on Clark’s catches and the PAT, the 49ers saw their defense stifle a potential Cowboys miracle finish when Lawrence Pillers sacked Dallas QB Danny White, prompting a fumble recovered by Jim Stuckey of the Niners.

3. The first touchdown of the match would sound later.

Lined up in the lunge on the right side in the first quarter, 49ers wide receiver Freddie Solomon took off for the flag as Clark, lined up wide to the right, curled up inside.

Solomon caught a quick sprint pass from Montana for 8 yards.

The game: right swing option.

It’s the same game that Niners QB coach Sam Wyche called from the Cowboys 6 coaches’ booth in third and 3 with 58 seconds left.

Except this time Montana, sprinting to the right, away from the dominant Cowboys rusher Harvey Martin, had to make a decision.

Wrote Gergen in The Sporting News: Solomon broke for the flag but was covered. Clark curled up in the end zone, braked at the baseline and looked for his quarterback. Walls and free Michael Downs security were nearby. Montana lacked room on the sidelines.

“I thought about throwing it out,” Montana said. “I reached out to do it when I saw Dwight covered. I didn’t want to take a loss in this situation. But just then I saw Dwight walk away from the cover.”

Now, Gergen has written of the play, Montana was throwing “the most important pass in 49er annals” at Clark. And high, as the room was intended.

Vin Scully’s call, his latest on football for CBS: “Sure, for the upstart 49ers, they’re six yards (from the Super Bowl) of Pontiac (Mich.) Third and third. Montana, looking… looking… throw into the end zone. Clark caught it! Dwight Clark! (Long pause for crowd reaction) It’s a madhouse in Candlestick!

“I thought it was too high,” said Clark 6-3, “because I don’t jump very well. And I was really tired. I had the flu last week and had to hard to catch my breath on this last trip.

“I don’t know how I caught the ball. How does a woman get a car when she’s on her baby? You get it from somewhere.

4. Everson Walls was not the goat.

In fact, prior to his infamous role in “The Catch,” the Cowboys cornerback had picked up a fumble by Walt Easley of the 49ers. Four games later, White passed 21 yards to tight end Doug Cosbie for a touchdown and a 27-21 lead for the Cowboys in the fourth quarter.

Before that, Walls had intercepted Montana – twice.

The argument could be made that Walls was an indispensable part of a Cowboys defense that helped the team reach the NFC Championship that year.

22-year-old rookie free agent Walls had led the NFL in interceptions this season with 11 – a mark that was unmatched for 40 years until Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs did so this season.

5. The 49ers only became the second team to reach the Super Bowl after a losing season the year before.

The first one? The Bengals, who were 6-10 in 1980 and beat them in the spotlight by about four hours, defeating the San Diego Chargers, 27-7, in the AFC championship.

Montana and the 49ers would beat the Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.

Not only did San Francisco’s victory spark a dynasty, but its victory over Dallas also signaled the imminent end of another: the Cowboys under legendary coach Tom Landry. It was the second of three straight NFC title losses for Dallas.

‘The Catch’ at 40: 5 things to know about this 49ers-Cowboys game

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