Dwight Clark

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!”

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys

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AP

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 40-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 on Sunday:

1. A major step backward
So much for the 49ers’ somewhat-impressive streak of close losses.

There was nothing encouraging about what transpired in the 49ers' worst loss at Levi’s Stadium. It was also the franchise's worst home loss since Mike Singletary's team absorbed a 45-10 thumping against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 11, 2009.

Was there anything positive to take from this game?

“No, not right now,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It was disappointing. I think all three phases, players and coaches, we’ve got to play better than that, a lot better to give ourselves a chance to win.”

The competitive nature of the 49ers’ past five games was one thing. But with a big home loss on such an emotional day, it is fair to say that the honeymoon is over for Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The 49ers looked like a team devoid of any leadership, and brings more scrutiny onto the organization’s decision last week to release linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

Now, the 49ers face a crossroads. With another cross-country trip ahead, the 49ers have to regroup in a hurry in order to avoid another embarrassing blowout against the Philadelphia Eagles.

2. Beathard’s first start
Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard certainly was not the reason the 49ers got blown out. In his first NFL start, he showed a lot of toughness, which was to be expected. He was sacked five times. But most of those sacks could have been avoided. He has to get rid of the ball quicker, especially on three-step drops.

Beathard also showed some promise, too. He let the ball fly deep for Marquise Goodwin, who caught four passes for 80 yards. Beathard completed 22 of 38 passes for 235 yards.

Beathard accounted for the 49ers’ only touchdown with a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. There seems to be little doubt it was in the best interest of the organization to begin evaluating what it has for the future with the permanent switch from Brian Hoyer to Beathard.

3. Dwight Clark’s Day
The 49ers, of course, did nothing to evoke any memories of the great teams on which Dwight Clark played. Well, they did look a lot like Clark’s first team with the 49ers.

The 49ers of 1979 lost their first seven games of the season. This year’s team matched that start for the worst beginning to a season in franchise history.

More than 35 of Clark’s teammates off the 1981 Super Bowl team were in attendance to honor a pay tribute to Clark, who is battling ALS. Now in a wheelchair and considerably lighter, Clark delivered some poignant remarks at halftime.

Clark, 60, told his old teammate, Keena Turner, who works as vice president of football affairs, that all he wanted was to see some of his old teammates.

“And the 49ers heard that and flew all these players in, so I could see them one more time,” Clark said.

Battling ALS, Dwight Clark happy to see 49ers teammates 'one more time'

Battling ALS, Dwight Clark happy to see 49ers teammates 'one more time'

SANTA CLARA – Former 49ers wide receiver and team executive Dwight Clark, who is battling ALS, made remarks at halftime during Dwight Clark Day.

Clark, 60, met with dozens of his former teammates before the game. More than 35 players off the 49ers' first Super Bowl champion were on the field, as Joe Montana introduced Clark.

From a suite at Levi’s Stadium, Clark made the following remarks:

“Hello, my 49er Faithful!

“I want to thank you for all your support when I was a player. And I think you all know I’m going through a little thing right now. And I need your prayers and thoughts, and I appreciate those you’ve given me.

“I’d like to thank the York family for putting this day together. These are unique days. Having all the players flown back in here so I could see them one more time, passing out the T-Shirts. It’s a big day and I’m very appreciative Jed did that for me.

“When Keena Turner asked me what I wanted to do to raise money or have some kind of function. I said I just wanted to see my teammates. And the 49ers heard that and flew all these players in, so I could see them one more time.

“I obviously want to thank my family. It’s been a tough year, and they’ve been through a lot. Of course, they supported me when I was a player. But now they have the support in a different way. I want to thank my daughter Casey, my son, Mack, my brother, Jeff, and his family. And I appreciate all the support they’re given me over these trying times.”

Clark said former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo created a family with the 49ers. And DeBartolo is still taking care of his former players.

“He’s called all over the world trying to find the best remedy for ALS,” Clark continued. “He sent me to Japan to get medicine there. . . I could never, ever thank the DeBartolo family and Eddie D (enough).”