Dwight Clark

Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium

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AP

Montana, Clark scheduled to address crowd at Levi's Stadium

SANTA CLARA -- Dwight Clark and Joe Montana are scheduled to address the crowd Sunday at Levi’s Stadium at halftime of the 49ers’ game against the Dallas Cowboys.

It should be an emotional day, as 36 members from the team that defeated Dallas in the NFC Championship Game and went on to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title are expected to attend.

Montana is scheduled to be surrounded by his former teammates and speak from the field at halftime. Clark is likely to be situated in a suite, where he is expected to make some remarks. Clark, 60, announced in March he was diagnosed with ALS.

Former 49ers offensive lineman Randy Cross, appearing on the 49ers Insider Podcast, said he is looking forward to seeing so many of his teammates from the squad that served as a springboard for five Super Bowl titles under the ownership of Hall of Famer Eddie DeBartolo.

“I can’t wait to see (Clark),” Cross said. “I can’t wait to see Eddie. I can’t wait to see Joe. There is a core group of guys I’ve gotten to see a few times a year since we all went our separate ways. There are guys I’ll get a chance to see, in some cases, (for the first time) since almost around the time we parted ways in the early-‘80s.”

The NFC Championship Game on Jan. 10, 1982, is best-remembered for “The Catch” – Clark’s leaping, finger-tip grab of a Montana pass for a 6-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining.

The 49ers defeated the Cowboys 28-27 at Candlestick Park. Coach Bill Walsh’s team went on to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.

“For those of us who played on the Niners charity basketball team with both Joe and Dwight, and knowing their hoop skills and the way they could jump, we weren’t terribly surprised at: A, how high he threw it; and, B, how high Dwight got,” said Cross, who was blocking from his right guard position near the sideline and had an unobstructed view of the play.

“If Dwight got his fingers on it, it was going to be a catch. That was the thing about D.C., you won’t find too many instances in which he had a ball on him or near him that he dropped. There wasn’t much doubt.”

On the walls of John Lynch's office

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AP

On the walls of John Lynch's office

SANTA CLARA -- John Lynch’s office is on the second floor of the 49ers’ team offices with glass doors that lead to large balcony that overlooks the practice fields.

Lynch oversees the entire 49ers football operation from this vantage point.

On Wednesday, he spoke on “The 49ers Insider Podcast” about the significance of the items he has placed on the walls and shelves of his office.

From his desk, looking straight across to the room, is a photo of his four children, taken at Levi’s Stadium on the family’s first trip to Santa Clara after he was named general manager.

The family remained in San Diego during a busy offseason that included finalizing a 53-man roster that includes 31 players acquired since he took charge of the team's player personnel.

“You always want to be with your family,” Lynch said. “There’s a lot to be done, so when they’re not here, I just work.”

His son, Jake, was going to transfer to the Bay Area for his senior year of high school. Instead, he will remain at Cathedral Catholic, where he plays linebacker on a team that went 15-0 last season and won the Division I-AA California state championship.

“His guys had an intervention with him down there,” Lynch said. “One guy took him out, and the next thing you know, the whole team was there, saying, ‘You can’t leave.’ He decided to stay down for the first semester.”

It should be noted that Lynch’s 9-year-old daughter, Leah, warmed quickly to the idea of her father working for the 49ers. She is wearing a red 49ers T-shirt in the picture. She was the biggest critic of her father’s move to join a team that went 2-14 last season.

Said Lynch, “I think her thing was, ‘How’s this a good thing, Dad? The 49ers are horrible.’ With kids, you’re going to get the real deal.”

On a shelf behind Lynch’s desk is a football he acquired at an auction during Winter Fest, a fundraiser for the 49ers Foundation. Dwight Clark personally drew the X’s and O’s of “sprint right option” – the play on which he made “The Catch.”

“Dwight Clark’s fight with ALS is close to everyone because of what Dwight stands for, but close to me because I lost my mother in law a couple of years ago to ALS, so we’ve been involved in that fight,” Lynch said.

“First off, it’s really cool. It’s a diagram of 'The Catch' and signed by Dwight on a ball. But (the proceeds) also went to Dwight’s cause and his fight.”

Next to the football is a photo of Lynch and Ronnie Lott, then with the New York Jets, after a preseason game in 1995. Lynch was entering his second NFL season and his first as a starter. Lynch still remembers what Lott told him that night.

“I’d just become a starter,” Lynch said. “(Lott) said, ‘I watched some of your film from the end of last year. … You’re going to play at a high level in this league. You’re going to be a star.’ Hearing that from Ronnie Lott gave me everything I needed to be excited.”

Another item of particular significance is a small bronze plaque that his father gave him. It reads: “There is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he does not mind who gets the credit.”

CEO Jed York hired coach Kyle Shanahan and Lynch as a team, and awarded them with six-year contracts to figure things out and work together over the long term. The 49ers have been torn apart in recent years by the inability of general manager Trent Baalke and the head coaches to work together. Lynch said he believes the relationship with Shanahan will remain secure in good times and bad. 

“I’ve got no doubt that it will just because the foundation is so strong,” Lynch said. “And the other thing we genuinely like being around each other. I kind of dig what I learn from him about football. I think he feels the same way. We’ve got similar philosophies on success and just how you deal with things.

“At the same time, we aren’t exactly identical and we challenge each other. And we’re not afraid to challenge each other. That’s a good thing. It’s worked really well. We haven’t played a game, yet, though. We understand that. We’re looking very much forward to kicking it off against Carolina this Sunday, though.”

One of the great mysteries: Clark's ALS diagnosis recalls three 49ers from 1960s

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AP

One of the great mysteries: Clark's ALS diagnosis recalls three 49ers from 1960s

Editor's note: "One of the great mysteries -- The story of three 49ers diagnosed with ALS" will be published on Wednesday, May 10. Subscribe to The 49ers Insider Podcast and have it delivered right to your phone.

When Dwight Clark announced in March he has ALS, it was a devastating blow to those around him and to his many fans.

For individuals who were around the 49ers in the mid-1960s, the news brought back some painful memories. More than 20 years after they were 49ers teammates, Gary Lewis, Matt Hazeltine and Bob Waters passed away from the rare disease.

As part of ALS Awareness Month, the latest edition of "The 49ers Insider Podcast" remembers those men with, "One of the great mysteries -- The story of three 49ers diagnosed with ALS."

The incidence of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) is two per 100,000 people in the United States and it is estimated more than 20,000 Americans may be living with ALS at any given time, according to the ALS Association. Yet, on this one 49ers team, three players developed ALS and died within a short period of time in the late-1980s.

-- Matt Hazeltine graduated from Tamalpais High in Mill Valley and was a star at the University of California. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame posthumously in 1989. Hazeltine played 14 seasons with the 49ers from 1955 to ’68 as a linebacker.

He died on Jan. 13, 1987, at the age of 53. That year, Bill Walsh introduced the Hazeltine Iron Man Award, which is given annually to the 49ers most courageous and inspirational defensive player.

-- Gary Lewis went to high school at San Francisco’s Polytechnic High, across the street from Kezar Stadium. He also played running back at City College of San Francisco before finishing his college career at Arizona State.

Lewis was a sixth-round draft pick of the 49ers in 1964. He played six seasons with his hometown team. Lewis was diagnosed with ALS in November of 1986 and died less than a month later. He was 44.

-- Bob Waters played four seasons with the 49ers from 1960 to ’63 as a quarterback and defensive back. He was on the 49ers during training camp in 1964 before going into coaching. Waters threw the first touchdown pass out of coach Red Hickey’s shotgun formation in leading an upset over the two-time defending NFL champion Baltimore Colts in 1960.

Waters served 20 seasons as head football coach at Western Carolina. He devoted the final years of his life trying to find answers to solve this mystery. Waters contacted as many of his former teammates as possible to see if they were experiencing similar problems.

Studies were done that examined the use of DMSO, painkillers and, even, the fertilizer used on the 49ers practice field in Redwood City.

“He led a single-minded, tough, courageous mission to get as much information as possible,” said Dr. Stan Appel, chair of the department of neurology at Houston Methodist, who worked closely with Waters.

“We never quite resolved why there had been three players amongst a small group that developed ALS.”

Waters died on May 29, 1989. He was 50.

Waters’ wife, Sheri, said she was saddened to learn of Clark’s diagnosis.

"I am very sorry to learn about Dwight Clark's ALS diagnosis,” Sheri Waters told NBC Sports Bay Area in a statement. “I know how difficult it will be for Dwight and his family, as they adjust to this news. Bob would be very sad to know that after all his efforts to seek information to help find a cure for this horrible disease, ALS continues to affect these good men.

“I know that Bob died believing that one day there would be no more ALS. I am still so proud of Bob for his courage and willingness to help others. I wish the very best for the Clark family."

While publicly disclosing his condition on March 19, Clark made the following statement:

“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this. I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.”

Said Dr. Appel, “What Dwight Clark is saying is right on target. Namely, let’s do everything we can to find the causes, to find the therapies that are meaningful for him and for all present and future cases of ALS.”

Former 49ers running back Ken Willard, 73, has not experienced any alarming physical conditions in his post-football life. He cautions against automatically assigning blame to the sport of football.

“Some people try to simplify this issue, but it’s a very complex issue,” Willard said. “I think there’s a lot of research that’s yet to be done. (But) as far as being concerned, I think you’re a fool if you’re not concerned.”

Dr. Appel pointed out there have been studies that claim the incidence of ALS with former football players is four times greater than the general population. But, he said, the data is “far from convincing from a scientific point of view.”

“We know that any sort of trauma can be aggravating in a number of conditions,” Dr. Appel said. “But whether trauma causes it, there is no evidence that trauma causes it, and therefore there is no evidence in football players that trauma will cause ALS.

“Now, there are data that suggests that perhaps once you’re going to get ALS that it can make it worse. And that data is still contested. But I’m a believer that trauma can aggravate ALS, even if it doesn’t start it.”

This edition of the “49ers Insider Podcast” is dedicated to the memories of Gary Lewis, Matt Hazeltine and Bob Waters.