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


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?’”


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!”

Drafted by Baalke with injury, former 49ers WR signs with Colts


Drafted by Baalke with injury, former 49ers WR signs with Colts

The 49ers recently re-signed eight of the 10 players who finished the season on the team’s practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, who was not among the first wave of 49ers signings to 2018 contracts, signed Wednesday with the Indianapolis Colts, ending his three-season association with the organization.

Smelter was one of general manager Trent Baalke’s redshirt draft picks. The team selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft despite a torn ACL that ended his final season at Georgia Tech.

Smelter spent his first season on an injured list. He was waived at the beginning of the past two seasons, finishing both years on the 49ers’ practice squad. Smelter appeared in two games in 2016 and caught one pass for 23 yards.

Last season, the 49ers signed wide receivers Louis Murphy and Max McCaffrey to spots on the 53-man roster instead of Smelter, who remained on the practice squad.

Wide receiver DeAndre Carter, who also spent the entire season on the practice squad, was signed recently to the team’s 90-man roster.

Others who finished the season on the 49ers practice squad to remain on the team’s offseason roster are: quarterback Nick Mullens, tight end Cole Wick, offensive linemen Andrew Lauderdale and Pace Murphy, linebacker Boseko Lokombo, and defensive backs Trovon Reed and Channing Stribling.

The 49ers also signed fullback Malcolm Johnson, who spent last season on injured reserve with the Seattle Seahawks. Johnson appeared in 19 games over the 2015 and ’16 seasons with the Cleveland Browns. He was a sixth-round draft pick in ’15.

Offensive linemen Cameron Hunt, who finished the season on the 49ers’ practice squad, remains unsigned. Guard JP Flynn is also unsigned. He sustained a torn patellar tendon in November and underwent surgery that was expected to keep him out up to nine months.

An intriguing dynamic of Garoppolo's contract negotiations


An intriguing dynamic of Garoppolo's contract negotiations

If the 49ers and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo are unable to reach a multi-year contract extension by March 6, the 49ers have no other choice but to designate him as their franchise player.

The estimated one-year salary for the franchise tag would be $23.307 million, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry, whose work now appears at CBS Sports. (That is assuming a 2018 league-wide salary cap of $178.1 million per team.)

There is a lot to consider for both sides as they look to enter into a long-term contract. Corry said if a deal is struck, he would expect it to be in the neighborhood of Derek Carr’s five-year, $125 million deal he signed with the Raiders last offseason.

“And then there’s the other dynamic, which I would not undersell or I think may not be appreciated as much as it should be,” Corry said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “(Garoppolo’s agent) Don Yee has a reputation – no fault of his own – of doing team-friendly deals.”

Yee also represents New England quarterback Tom Brady, whose average of $20.5 million annual pay ranks 15th among NFL quarterbacks. Brady is underpaid by design, Corry said, because one of the great quarterbacks of all-time realizes it helps the Patriots to maintain a strong supporting cast.

“That’s because Tom Brady dictates, ‘I want to do something good for the team, take less money so we can improve the roster to win Super Bowls.’ That’s not Don Yee who wants to do that,” Corry said.

“The agent works for the player, so he’s executing Tom Brady’s wishes. But he gets that held against him in recruiting. So this is his opportunity to erase that perception if Garoppolo allows him to do his job and gives him latitude to strike the deal that he feels is appropriate.”

For more on the potential negotiating strategies of both sides, listen here to the 49ers Insider Podcast.