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Catching up with Dwight Clark, 'the future is scary...'

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Catching up with Dwight Clark, 'the future is scary...'

CAPITOLA -- Dwight Clark spent nearly two hours during lunch on Tuesday telling stories from his past that produced uproarious laughter from friends who joined him at a quaint restaurant just blocks from his home.

One day after celebrating his 61st birthday with a Big Mac, Clark was in vintage form at a spot in the center of the room. He shared one story after another. There were smiles and laughs all around. One of the attendees remarked that Clark has not changed a bit from the person he knew decades ago as a young man.

Finally, Clark turned serious and opened the door to the conversation about his new reality.

“Do you guys have any questions about the disease?” he asked.

Clark is living with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as ALS, a progressive neurodegenerative disease. He went public with his diagnosis on March 19, 2017, after first experiencing symptoms, including loss of strength in his left hand, in September 2015.

“My neck is all messed up from football,” Clark said. “So I thought it was something pinching and I’d get it fixed and be fine. My 60th birthday was coming up. I thought, ‘I’ll take this year and get everything fixed.’ ”

He underwent an electromyography (EMG) to assess the health of his muscles and the nerve cells that control them. After the initial examination, Clark was asked to remain for another hour for additional tests.

“They sent me to a neurologist,” Clark said. “He named off about 10 things it could be and he said, ‘Have you ever heard of ALS?’”

Yeah."

The doctor said, “There’s a chance it could be that.”

Now, he mostly gets around in a motorized wheelchair and estimates he might not be able to walk at all in three months.

“I’m just trying to get to 62,” he said,. “And, then, I’ll go from there.”

Clark caught 554 passes, including playoffs, over nine NFL seasons with the 49ers. He leaped into the air to make the most famous grab in franchise history, simply known as “The Catch,” to catapult the 49ers to their first Super Bowl title.

Clark acknowledged in the statement announcing his diagnosis that he suspects playing football caused the disease to strike him. He estimates he sustained five diagnosed concussions playing football, including three particularly serious blows to his head during his career with the 49ers.

But football remains a huge part of his life. He spoke optimistically about the 49ers with Jimmy Garoppolo. He even asked if anyone wanted to turn up the sound on the TV to listen to Jon Gruden’s introductory press conference with the Raiders.

Looking back and telling football stories – mostly the crazy stuff that happened off the field -- is great fun. He tries to avoid looking too far into the future.

“It’s depressing,” Clark said. “The future is scary as . . . I can’t imagine being totally paralyzed. I keep trying to reenact it – just lay there, and think, ‘I can’t get up.’ But I can’t do it for very long. It freaks me out.”

Soon, Clark sprinkles in more humor. There are more smiles and more laughs.

Clark appears at ease as he tells stories and makes everyone around him feel comfortable. The loud, upbeat conversation and good vibes emanating from the back of the restaurant spill into the main dining room, where unsuspecting patrons turn to look in curiosity.

Nearly every Tuesday since early October, Clark has met with important people from his past. Former 49ers staffers Kirk Reynolds and Fred Formosa have worked together on the lunch dates with a list of attendees that reads like a Who’s Who of 49ers.

One lunch included Eddie DeBartolo, Carmen Policy, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Harris Barton. A week ago, Ronnie Lott, Tom Rathman, Derrick Deese, Ken Norton Jr., Garrison Hearst  and Junior Bryant joined Clark. Steve Mariucci, Gary Plummer, Kevin Gogan, Keena Turner, John Taylor and Eric Wright are among the many others who have attended the lunches over the past three months.

Clark recently had lunch with a group of women with whom he worked while serving as an executive with the 49ers. Clark made lasting friends at every level of the organization.

“On Tuesdays, we come and tell lies about how good we were,” Clark said.

“It’s been awesome. Reminiscing is healthy. It’s been a fun time. A lot of stories I’ve forgotten about.”

Over a period of hours, it is easy for everyone to forget Clark’s condition and uncertain future. What helps make it special for Clark is that nobody treats him any differently.

“They come right in, man,” Clark said. “Nobody’s apprehensive.”

There are no filters. The stories are not censored. There is no sadness, no regrets.

“He’s dealing with a brutal disease that has changed the way he can physically move around,” Reynolds said. “We tell everyone who comes that these are not doom-and-gloom moments.

“He tells great stories and it’s all positive energy. Just to see him laugh and smile lifts everyone up in ways you can’t anticipate when you come. It’s been an uplifting and fun experience for everyone who comes.”

Clark received some encouraging news on a visit to his doctor on Monday. He goes every three months for checkups and examinations. It appears the degeneration from his disease has slowed. His doctor told him, “You’re a little bit weaker.” He is hoping the disease caps out.

Clark has a huge support system for which he is grateful. DeBartolo, the former team owner who is credited with building a family atmosphere that remains strong as ever, has spent countless hours researching and using his connections in the medical world to assist.

He went to Japan to bring back a three-month supply of Radicava to get a head start on treatment before it became available in the United States. In clinical trials, some people who took the drug experienced significant slowing of the decline normally associated with the disease.

At the time of his diagnosis, Clark weighed 242 pounds. His weight fell to 155.

“I was going to die because I was losing too much weight,” he said. “I have a feeding tube and that’s turned it around.”

Clark is up to 167 pounds with the goal of reaching 190. He has lost most of his appetite but is encouraged to act on all of his unique cravings, including mac and cheese, Blizzards and, yes, a Big Mac for his birthday.

Clark is certainly not a man who has been defeated. But there is no escaping the fact he has a disease with no cure.

“I’ll say to my wife, ‘I just can’t … believe I got this disease,’” Clark said. “Give me something I can fight. I can’t do anything. That’s what pisses me off. People get sick but you get a chance to fight. I’m still fighting it, but I don’t have the gloves on.”

Clark is preparing for a time when he will not be able to talk. His own voice and his most-used phrases can be banked and used in routine communication for when that day arrives.

“I’m waiting on the software, microphone and all of that,” Clark said. “I’ll go through all the words and record them.”

And will he preserve, in his own voice, some of his favorite curse words?

“Oh, (expletive deleted) yeah!”

Eric Reid presents Colin Kaepernick Ambassador of Conscience Award

Eric Reid presents Colin Kaepernick Ambassador of Conscience Award

AMSTERDAM — Amnesty International gave former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick its Ambassador of Conscience Award on Saturday for his kneeling protest of racial injustice that launched a sports movement and might have cost him his job.

Onetime San Francisco 49ers teammate Eric Reid presented Kaepernick with the award during a ceremony in Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands.

In his acceptance speech, the award-winner described police killings of African Americans and Latinos in the United States as lawful lynchings.

"Racialized oppression and dehumanization is woven into the very fabric of our nation — the effects of which can be seen in the lawful lynching of black and brown people by the police, and the mass incarceration of black and brown lives in the prison industrial complex," Kaepernick said.

Kaepernick first took a knee during the pre-game playing of the American national anthem when he was with the 49ers in 2016 to protest police brutality.

"How can you stand for the national anthem of a nation that preaches and propagates, 'freedom and justice for all,' that is so unjust to so many of the people living there?" he said at Saturday's award ceremony.

Other players joined his protest in the 2016 season, drawing the ire of President Donald Trump, who called for team owners to fire such players.

In response to the player demonstrations, the NFL agreed to commit $90 million over the next seven years to social justice causes in a plan.

Kaepernick wasn't signed for the 2017 season following his release in San Francisco.

Reid, a safety who is now a free agent, continued Kaepernick's protests by kneeling during the anthem last season. Reid has said he will take a different approach in 2018.

Kaepernick paid tribute to his friend for his own role in the protest movement.

"Eric introducing me for this prestigious award brings me great joy," Kaepernick said. "But I am also pained by the fact that his taking a knee, and demonstrating courage to protect the rights of black and brown people in America, has also led to his ostracization from the NFL when he is widely recognized as one of the best competitors in the game and in the prime of his career."

Amnesty hands its award each year to a person or organization, "dedicated to fighting injustice and using their talents to inspire others."

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty called Kaepernick "an athlete who is now widely recognized for his activism because of his refusal to ignore or accept racial discrimination."

Previous recipients of the award include anti-Apartheid campaigner and South African President Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani schoolgirl who campaigned for girls' right to education even after surviving being shot by Taliban militants.

"In truth, this is an award that I share with all of the countless people throughout the world combating the human rights violations of police officers, and their uses of oppressive and excessive force," Kaepernick said.

Five NFL Draft options if 49ers make first-round trade

Five NFL Draft options if 49ers make first-round trade

The 49ers have their starting and backup quarterbacks on the roster for at least the next three seasons. That luxury opens up their draft options to concentrate on other areas.

Quarterbacks Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield and Josh Rosen could be selected within the first eight picks of the draft. If those four quarterbacks are chosen, it means the 49ers will get – at worst – the fifth-ranked player on their draft board.

And if there is still one of those quarterbacks available when the 49ers go on the clock at No. 9 overall, it invites the possibility of a trade-back option.

The 49ers could trade back and still get one of the five players – Tremaine Edmunds, Roquan Smith, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport – highlighted as first-round draft options.

But if the 49ers move further back or acquire an additional pick in the first round, here are some of their options...

OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
The 49ers must start thinking about a time when two new offensive tackles are going to be required. McGlinchey (6-8, 312) began his career at right tackle before shifting to the left side. That versatility could come in handy for the 49ers, as right tackle Trent Brown enters the final year of his contract and might not be back in 2019. Moreover, six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley is 34 years old, and it is uncertain how much longer he can play at a high level. McGlinchey has the athleticism that Shanahan covets. He began high school as a tight end and also played on the basketball team.

OT Kolton Miller, UCLA
Miller is an exceptional athlete who should get better and better. He ran the third-fastest time among offensive linemen at the combine and placed near the top of all the other agility drills. Miller started off his college career on the right side before shifting over to protect the blind side of quarterback Josh Rosen. With any offensive lineman the 49ers select, the club could consider having him begin his career at guard before moving him to tackle whenever the need arises.

CB Josh Jackson, Iowa
Jackson was among the 49ers’ final pre-draft visits to Santa Clara. The team needs another cornerback to join presumptive starters Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. At 6-0 3/8, Jackson is not as tall as initially advertised, but his style of play and long arms would fit well within the 49ers’ scheme. He has great instincts, as shown by his nation-leading eight interceptions and 26 pass breakups.

WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
The consensus best wide receiver in the draft could provide Jimmy Garoppolo and Kyle Shanahan with another option in the passing game to join starters Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin. Garçon is the possession receiver and Goodwin is the deep threat. Ridley is versatile and polished, which makes him a nice chess piece to utilize early in his career for specific matchups.

WR Courtland Sutton, SMU
It should be noted that the 49ers like their receiver corps, a group that also includes Trent Taylor, Aldrick Robinson and Kendrick Bourne. But Sutton (6-3, 219) would give the 49ers more size to exploit matchups. He gets high marks off the field. There is no rush to get him out there before he is ready. The 49ers can take their time to develop him, as they would have him under their control contractually for five seasons. He has spent time learning from Anquan Boldin.