Former Clemson Tigers and San Francisco 49ers legend Dwight Clark has passed away from ALS. He was 61-years old.
Clark’s wife Kelly announced the passing of her husband on his Twitter account Monday evening.
“I’m heartbroken to tell you that today I lost my best friend and husband,” Kelly wrote on Twitter. “He passed peacefully surrounded by many of the people he loved most.
“I am thankful for all of Dwight’s friends, teammates and 49ers fans who have sent their love during his battle with ALS.”
Clark came to Clemson in 1975 and was part of an era that revitalized the Clemson Football, leading to the 1981 National Championship. He played on the 1977 and ’78 Gator Bowl teams. In 1978, he helped Steve Fuller and Jerry Butler lead Clemson to an 11-1 record, an ACC Championship and a No. 6 final Associated Press ranking, the highest at the time for the program.
Known more for making “The Catch” in the 49ers NFC Championship Game victory over Dallas in 1981, where he wore the No. 87, Clark is known by many Clemson fans for wearing the No. 30, which is how his former Clemson teammates remember him.
“I know most of you are saying ‘Dwight Clark was eighty-seven.’ Yes he was,” Fuller said to a packed house vie a video at the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony last month. “Eighty-seven was the one who won those Super Bowls. Eighty seven was the one who caught that amazing catch (against Dallas), but I remember him as number thirty.”
After his days in Clemson, Clark went on to a great career with the San Francisco 49ers. The Kinston, N.C., native played nine seasons with the 49ers, helping the franchise win two Super Bowls along the way. Twice he was named All-Pro and twice he played in the Pro Bowl.
The former Clemson receiver is most famously known for his winning catch in the back corner of the end zone to beat the Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship Game. The play is considered the greatest catch in NFL history and is simply known as “The Catch.”
“After that play, Emerson Walls, the cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys, said to Dwight, ‘You know you just beat America’s Team,’” said Clark’s former Clemson teammate and friend Joe Bostic. “Dwight responded the only way Dwight knew how. ‘Well, in two weeks you will be home with the rest of America watching us play in the Super Bowl.’”
Clark’s No. 87 jersey at San Francisco has since been retired and in 1988 he was inducted in the Clemson athletic Hall of Fame.
Because he played alongside Jerry Butler, who was a first-round draft pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, and the fact Clemson did not throw the ball very much in those days, Clark finished his career at Clemson with just 33 receptions for 571 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 17.3 yards per catch.
In 1978, Clark was second on the team behind Butler with 11 receptions for 207 yards, including a career-long 68-yard touchdown reception at Maryland that helped the Tigers win the ACC Championship.
Clark was selected in the 10th round by the 49ers at No. 249 overall in the 1979 NFL Draft. In San Francisco, he played in 134 games, started in 97, while catching 506 passes for 6,750 yards and scoring 48 touchdowns.
Last year, the Clemson Hall of Famer was diagnosed with ALS, which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Fuller summed up Clark’s fight against ALS better than anyone can.
“I tried to think of one short way to describe you on this night of your honor. Certainly you were athletic. You could jump and you could catch and you could do a lot of really good things,” the former Clemson quarterback said. “But, I remember one thing late in spring practice early that year (1976), and this how I like to remember you. You were never first in the first sprint of the day, but you were always first in the last sprint of the day. That tells me a lot about your character.”