How Dwight Clark's idea for 'Letters to 87' caught on with 49ers fans

How Dwight Clark's idea for 'Letters to 87' caught on with 49ers fans

Dwight Clark considered it a shared experience.

He came down with the most improbable, important and well-timed pass reception in 49ers history, but the impact of the play was more than he could have ever imagined.

The story of the NFL would be incomplete without a large section devoted to “The Catch.” But Clark always seemed to feel he was not alone as he leaped and fully extended his 6-foot-4 frame to make a finger-tips grab of Joe Montana’s pass on Jan. 10, 1982.

And, sure enough, the story of many lives would be incomplete without mention of Dwight Clark, too.

“The way he connected with the fans, personally, really brought them together,” Montana said. “Once you met Dwight, it was hard not to like him. His personality was fun, upbeat and jovial -- always.”

Through the years, Clark enjoyed hearing the perspectives and stories of fans -- many of whom had not yet been born when the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game and went on to the organization’s first Super Bowl.

As Clark battled ALS, he made a request during the final interview of his life.

“I’ve often thought if I could get the word out somehow to get the stories, I should put a book together of the stories that these 49ers fans lived through at that moment,” Clark said on The 49ers Insider Podcast on Feb. 27. “Hopefully, long after I’m gone, 49ers fans will still enjoy that play and that year, that team that started it all off.”

The word got out that Clark wished to receive letters from the public, and his fans did not disappoint. The letters poured in. Some were hilarious. Some were emotionally moving. Some recounted the personal experiences of that day. Others described the wide-ranging impact that Clark’s play had on a life, a family.

Each of the letters conveyed a sense of love and appreciation for Clark as a player but, mostly, as an individual.

Clark died on June 4, 2018. Two weeks earlier, a group of friends visited him at his ranch in Whitefish, Montana. The group sat around Clark’s bed and read letters to him for nearly two hours.

“Letters to 87,” a documentary that explores Clark’s unique bond with his fans, will premiere commercial-free on NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at approximately 8 p.m. (following Giants Postgame Live).

“He really seemed to understand from a fan’s perspective how it felt, what it was,” former 49ers teammate Keena Turner said. “And he seemed to really want the fans to walk away feeling good about the interaction in the moment.

“He felt a genuine love that came, and he wanted to reciprocate. He wanted the fan to understand that it was a shared feeling.”

The impact of listening to the letters was something Clark carried with him. Former 49ers owner and close friend Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. was not in the room that day, but he heard plenty about it from Clark himself.

“He was thrilled,” DeBartolo said. “Getting the letters made him very, very happy. He was sick, but he was just thrilled to know he wasn’t forgotten.”

Ronnie Lott was among the people in Clark’s bedroom on Sunday, May 20, when the letters were read to Clark.

“When he wanted fans to express their feelings, he was trying to capture the same feeling that he had when he did it and how did they feel?” Lott said. “Were they as excited as he was?

“When fans write their letters, there’s a spirit there. There’s a connection. That connection was something we can take for granted.”

Richard Sherman's 'middle of the road' diss irks ex-Seahawks teammate


Richard Sherman's 'middle of the road' diss irks ex-Seahawks teammate

SANTA CLARA -- Richard Sherman received a warm welcome by many in Seattle, but Frank Clark might not have been one of them. The defensive end has declared the Seahawks' Sherman era over.

Clark spoke to KJR-AM's Dave Mahler after the Seahawks' Monday night win over the Minnesota Vikings, and was asked about facing Sherman and the 49ers this week in the Bay. While Clark agreed there's mutual respect between them, he didn't take kindly to the cornerback's comments about Seattle being a "middle of the road" team.

Clark actually hadn’t heard what Sherman said until asked about it in the interview.

"Middle of the road -- that’s Richard Sherman being Richard Sherman,” Clark said. “He’s not in this locker room no more, so his opinion really doesn't matter. They've got some problems over there in San Fran that he needs to be worried about.

“At the end of the day, this is my team now. This is my defense. Richard Sherman, his era is over here. If he's got anything to say about our defense, he can say it on the field.

"We're 1-0 against Richard Sherman right now. We’re 1-0 against the San Francisco 49ers this year. Our plan is to be 2-0. So we are going into that stadium next week with our pure aggression. We are going to stop that run, and we are going to have fun on third downs.”

The 49ers' defense held the Seahawks to 168 yards on the ground and 185 yards passing in a 43-16 loss in Seattle. Sherman, who spent seven seasons in Seattle before going to San Francisco this season, didn't have his best game, allowing completions both times he was targeted and missing one tackle.

The Seahawks (8-5) have won four games in a row, and will look to clinch a wild-card playoff berth Sunday when they face the 49ers (3-10).

49ers rookie Jeff Wilson Jr. sends message with hard-charging running style


49ers rookie Jeff Wilson Jr. sends message with hard-charging running style

In an otherwise bleak 49ers performance in Seattle earlier this month, undrafted rookie running back Jeff Wilson Jr. sent a message.

Wilson, getting his first extended playing time with Matt Breida hobbled with an ankle injury, broke into the Seahawks defense and lowered his shoulder to deliver a bone-jarring hit against safety Tedric Thompson.

Wilson got up after the 11-yard run in the second quarter and flexed.

“It felt so good,” Wilson said on the 49ers Insider Podcast. “It felt like I’ve been waiting on that for all my life. I felt like that run was everything that’s been building up inside of me since the beginning of the draft process -- really since I got hurt in college, when broke my foot.

“I felt like that run was the relief I needed to get everything off my back and chest. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still going harder than ever, but it felt good and I needed that.”

Wilson sustained his foot injury during November of his senior year at North Texas. He still gained 1,215 yards and 16 touchdowns as a senior despite missing the final three games of the season. He went undrafted. The 49ers were the only team that gave him a pre-draft workout, and he signed with the club as a free agent.

Wilson grew up in Elkhart, a community of 1,300 in east Texas. A short distance away is Palestine, the home of Adrian Peterson. Wilson remembers drawing inspiration from watching Peterson play in high school.

“I watched him do things that was like, ‘Wow.’ And that was in high school,” Wilson said. “It kind of gave me motivation because I wanted to be that guy who made the crowd go, ‘Oooh” or give that excitement to people who wanted to come see me play.”

In his first career NFL start, Wilson gained a career-best 90 yards on 23 carries in the 49ers’ 20-14 win over the Denver Broncos. He had a spot on the 49ers’ practice squad before getting promoted to the active roster for the Week 12 game at Tampa Bay.

The biggest lesson he learned from watching Peterson is easily apparent today. Wilson is known for his hard-charging running style.

“As the game went on, I saw players weren’t trying to hit him or attack him the way there were at the beginning of the game,” Wilson said. “He was breaking more runs later on.

“My dad sat me down and explained to me. ‘If you run hard, people don’t want to tackle you every play. People don’t want to make the hit. They look to the next guy to make the hit.‘ If you impose your will, eventually they’ll break. That’s what I try to do.”

Wilson is likely to remain in the starting lineup when the 49ers have their return matchup against the Seahawks on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. The Seahawks won the first meeting, 43-16, on Dec. 2. Wilson had 61 yards on 15 rushing attempts.