49ers

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.”

Why Justin Skule is thankful for 49ers O-line before first NFL start

Why Justin Skule is thankful for 49ers O-line before first NFL start

SANTA CLARA -- 49ers left tackle Justin Skule, who will take over for injured six-time Pro Bowler Joe Staley at the position in Sunday’s home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, is just a rookie. But Skule already has a huge supporting cast to help him prepare. 

The 22-year-old is an unknown to most in the Niners fanbase. The rookie has quietly kept his head down since he was selected in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the 49ers in April. Staley, who has vowed to help Skule adjust to his new responsibilities, has already made an impact on his replacement. 

“He’s been awesome since I’ve been here just taking me under his wing and giving me little tricks of the trade,” Skule said Wednesday of the veteran left tackle, who is out six to eight weeks after breaking his fibula in Week 2. “He’s done a phenomenal job just these past couple days giving me pointers just showing me how he goes through his process and everything like that. I couldn’t ask for a better mentor.” 

Staley isn’t the only offensive lineman to offer Skule helpful advice. The rookie had to fill in for Staley in the 49ers' 41-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and Skule said Mike Person imparted some wisdom when the two shared the field at Paul Brown Stadium. 

“He’s like, ‘Take a deep breath it’s still just football,'" Skule recalled. "So, I think that’s something that I’m really going to focus on this week. It’s still the game of football. Just take a deep breath, and don’t let anything get too big for myself.” 

Skule apparently has taken that advice to heart during his first week of practice as the team's starter.

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t notice the nerves that were brewing in his newly appointed left tackle. Garoppolo that Skule appeared unfazed when he first filled in for Staley and has been the same ever since. 

“He’s been very consistent,” Garoppolo said. “Smart guy, came into the huddle during the game, didn’t blink or anything. Just one of those guys, he does the right thing and he’s in the right spot. He’s been the same guy every day, and you’ve got to appreciate that.”

[RELATED: Chris Simms explains why unbeaten 49ers might be for real]

Thus far, Skule has taken it all in stride. Even with more than 20 media members surrounding him in front of his locker for the first time in his pro career, Skule seemed calm and deliberate. The rookie didn’t hesitate when answering any questions, and his replies seemed genuine. 

Still, Skule knows that even though he feels calm now, the nerves undoubtedly will come before his first start Sunday at Levi's Stadium. 

“No matter who you are replacing, you’re going to go in with some nerves,” Skule said. “Everyone has that competitive edge where you’re going to be nervous when you’re going in. The older guys and everyone in the huddle have just done a great job taking me under their wing and just making sure I’m good and relaxed and ready to go.” 

Chris Simms encouraged by 49ers' start, 'pumped' about offense, defense

Chris Simms encouraged by 49ers' start, 'pumped' about offense, defense

After two weeks, the 49ers are one of nine undefeated teams in the NFL. They've scored the most points in the NFC, and possess the second-best point differential in the league behind only the New England Patriots.

"I'm really encouraged by what I see from the San Francisco 49ers football team," NBC Sports' Chris Simms told NBC Sports Bay Area on Wednesday.

In heaping his praise, Simms broke down the 49ers' roster, unit by unit.

"The defense is legit, and of course, we saw it improved last year," Simms remarked. "We really did. It's well-coached, and now it has more weapons than since the years the 49ers were going to the Super Bowl against the Ravens and all that.

"Where it starts is the defensive line. The defensive line is special, and it's versatile. It can be a small, fast group that can create havoc. If they want to get big and have to stop a Dallas Cowboys-like running game, they're going to be capable of doing that. 

"Linebackers are extremely athletic with Kwon Alexander and Fred Warner. The secondary -- I'm encouraged from what I've seen from Ahkello Witherspoon. We know Richard Sherman is good. The safety play has been good. So the defense is really awesome."

Not to be discounted, Simms turned his attention to San Francisco's offense, coming off a 41-point explosion against the Bengals.

"Offensively, how could I not be pumped? That offensive performance last week against Cincinnati was mind-blowing. I mean, Kyle Shanahan cracked the code. He, like, broke into the Matrix on that one. That was a true show as far as what they did to the Bengals offensively. Huge holes in the run game, wide-open people in the pass game."

Moving forward, Simms believes Shanahan's football mind will help the 49ers withstand the loss of Joe Staley to a broken fibula, starting in Week 3 against the Steelers.

"It's not going to be easy to overcome, to lose a player like Joe Staley. I mean, he's a franchise left tackle. A Hall of Fame left tackle ... But either way, I still think the 49ers will be fine without him.

"As good? No, of course not -- you never replace Joe Staley completely. But there's a phenomenal offensive line in San Francisco. Kyle Shanahan, his run schemes, the play-action, the things he does that keep defenses off-balance is as good as anybody in the sport. So, he'll find ways to protect Justin Skule ... I was very encouraged with the way he looked after I saw Joe Staley go down.

"But he'll hold his own, and then when Shanahan feels like, 'Oh, okay, I don't necessarily like this matchup for my left tackle,' he'll find ways to help him out a little bit, too."

[RELATED: Jimmy G, Shanahan excited to play in front of 49ers crowd]

While Simms is encouraged by the 49ers' strong start to the season, there's still one issue holding him back from being all the way in on San Francisco.

"If I have one question about the 49ers right now -- I'm not totally in the trust tree with Jimmy Garoppolo. I don't think he's playing to his capabilities yet

"But the encouraging thing is, he's getting better and you're 2-0. So when that all meshes together, I say watch out for the San Francisco 49ers."

Time to take the red pill. The 49ers just might be for real.