The day was January 10th, 1982. It was the NFC Championship Game between the Cowboys and the 49ers. With San Francisco trailing the game 27-21, Joe Montana was pressured, rolled out to his right, was about to be sacked or forced out of bounds, when he lofted a ball to the back of the end zone that looked like it was just a throwaway pass that would be too high for any receiver to catch. However, Dwight Clark jumped up and caught the go-ahead touchdown that put the 49ers in the Super Bowl. That play will forever be known as “the catch” and it will go down as one of the single greatest plays in NFL history. There have been some great catches that I have seen that wow me almost every time I turn on the NFL, but when it comes down to “The Catch” it’s also about the moment and the way it happened. It looked like there was no chance for someone to come down with that ball; it looked like the NFC Championship would hinge on the next play which would’ve made it fourth down. However, it never got to that point as Clark, a tight end, used all of his frame to make a fingertip grab in a huge moment that sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl, where they eventually won their first of four championships in the 1980’s. Here we are nearly two decades later and “the catch” is still just as memorable as it was the day after it happened and the catch is still one of the greatest plays in NFL history.
Joe Montana and Dwight Clark joined Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio to talk about “the catch” what they remember from the play, whether or it not it was the most memorable play and what they think of Peyton Manning.
On the catch and whether he thinks to himself, hey I did more than just make one catch:
Dwight Clark: “Yeah, I think that to myself, but there’s a lot of guys that have careers and they don’t have a signature play. So people remember them but not really that well I guess.”
Joe Montana: “That’s not the play that I remember most about Dwight. We were playing the Saints, they were kicking our rear end at home and I hit Dwight on a little crossing route and it really turned the game. We were getting beat, the field was an absolute mess and Dwight took em and drug em all the way across and that’s the one that I remember. The catch, yea everyone remembers, but that play right there for me sticks out in my mind because what was typical of him is people forget how fast he really was.”
On whether or not they remember seeing the catch the first time on TV:
Clark: “I don’t remember that. What I remember is waking up the next day and it being on the whole front page of the newspaper. That’s when I thought wow, that’s pretty cool.”
Montana: “I didn’t see it until I was in the locker room. They showed it. I didn’t see the catch. I got knocked down on the play. I just heard the roar of the crowd so I figured he caught it. I didn’t think it was that high, but when I let it go I just figured it was an arms length above his head. He caught the ball, alright!”
On whether or not you would like to play nowadays with all the rules to help the passing game and the quarterbacks:
Montana: “It’s nice to stand back there when know you’re not gonna take a big shot all the time. It would be fun to be in the league especially as a quarterback and a receiver. You’re in every play. (Host: The running game has been so diminished) Only a handful of teams left that try to run the ball.”
On Peyton Manning and the way he runs the offense for the Colts:
Montana: “He’s really gone back to where it used to be. A lot of the quarterbacks that played years before that, before we played, were calling their own plays. I think (Terry)Bradshaw ended up later in his years being able to call his own plays. It takes a lot of time and it takes an offense that you cut down. You couldn’t do it in our offense. We’d go into a game plan, we had 130 some passes and you had two or three formations for every play and for a quarterback you had to memorize that because when you got signaled a play and you only got the play. Then you had to know what formation Bill (Walsh) wanted and in what order he wanted those two or three that he had. It would be fun calling your own plays and playing today. Peyton has certainly done a tremendous job at it, but I promise ya, he spends as much time at it as a coach.”
Clark: “I think he’s just very unique. I don’t think you’re gonna see many people like him who are given the freedom to do what he does. Even when I scouted him at Tennessee, he would come out and say for the scout team, he would direct where the scout team would line up like the team they would get ready to play. He would do it, not the coaches. He’s been doing this a long time. He’s just a special guy I think and I don’t think a lot of coaches would have the confidence to give that freedom to a lot of quarterbacks.”
Listen to Joe Montana and Dwight Clark with Colin Cowherd here (Audio begins at 14:10 into the podcast)