Daniel Roman of San Jose had a few free minutes at work that day, so he wrote a letter to a man he never met.
Dwight Clark's leaping touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game in January 1982 came eight years before Roman was even born. Yet, "The Catch" had a significant impact on Roman and he wanted to join the many others who wrote to Clark as he was battling a deadly disease with no known cure.
Roman’s letter eventually made it to Whitefish, Montana, where Clark moved with his wife Kelly from Capitola in March. Clark was in the final stages of his battle with ALS. Some of Clark's close friends, including former 49ers teammates Ronnie Lott and Keena Turner, traveled to see Clark on May 20. They brought the letters with them. And they gathered in his bed room to read what Clark's fans had written.
The letters made an impact. In fact, two of the letters were chosen to be read on Aug. 1 at Clark's Celebration of Life at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Former 49ers tight end Brent Jones read a letter written by Marly Ortega of Petaluma. She was in Candlestick Park to witness Clark's "hands reaching for the stars and moon" to come down with the franchise-turning play that propelled the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.
"Not only were you an amazing athlete, professional and dedicated in every respect," Ortega wrote, "but your modest, warm and genial demeanor carried it to the level of perfection."
Dwight Hicks, a former defensive back who was a member of the 49ers' first Super Bowl champion team, was next to read a fan's reflection of "The Catch." Roman was stunned to learn Hicks read his letter.
“It was pretty cool,” Roman said. “It was a little surreal, to be honest.”
Hicks told those attending the private memorial service that the country might be divided, but sports has always provided a remarkable benefit of uniting people.
Roman said he did not intend for his letter to resonate so powerfully because of the current political climate. But he said it did not surprise him that his letter was presented in a larger context.
“It kind of applies to the belief that sports are a universal thing for us,” Roman said.
Hicks began reading Roman’s words.
* * *
My dad is a Salvadoran Civil War refugee who came to America to create a better life for me. He moved to San Francisco, where he became a die-hard 49ers fan. He sure does remember the 80’s and 90’s. He used to always tell me how great Ronnie Lott and Joe were, and how you kicked off the greatness.
* * *
Roman later watched a video of Hicks reading his letter. The first thing he noticed was how Hicks motioned toward Lott as he read his name.
“He pointed at Ronnie Lott when he was talking about Ronnie Lott,” Roman said of Hicks. “Ronnie was probably my dad’s favorite player.”
Hicks continued reading Roman's letter to Clark.
* * *
You have made believers out of generations past, present and generations to come. You have created more than you imagine. You’ve impacted relationships like mine and my dad’s all over the country -- maybe all over the world.
* * *
Daniel Roman, 28, never watched Dwight Clark play. Yet, “The Catch” remains as the most-important moment in the history of the team for which he grew up cheering. That was a point he wanted to get across in his letter to Clark.
* * *
I hope you know that for me, you created a bridge for me and my dad to relate and yell and laugh, and watch the games to this day. For that, we love you.
* * *
The 49ers helped unify a city that was going through difficult times while Bill Walsh’s team surprised the football world and captured the imagination of the Bay Area in 1981.
In 1979, more than 900 people died in Guyana, mostly from a mass suicide ordered by Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones. The group was headquartered in San Francisco.
Less than two weeks later the city was rocked again when Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were assassinated at City Hall.
San Francisco was also shaken and devastated by the growing number of cases of the AIDS epidemic.
“The Catch” provided relief and joy during some dark days in San Francisco.
Antonio Roman, Daniel’s father, was a young man when he escaped a war-torn country to come to the Bay Area. Antonio found interest in the local sports teams. It helped him build ties and connect with people in his new community. The 49ers brought people of all different backgrounds together to share something people in San Francisco could have in common: A passion for the 49ers. It was a point that was not lost on Antonio Roman’s son nearly four decades later when he wrote to Dwight Clark.
* * *
Dwight, in a way, you reached out to a foreigner who maybe wasn’t comfortable and gave him solace and helped him fit in. This in turn made me a Niners fan from birth.
* * *
"That’s the thing," Daniel Roman said. "I never saw Dwight Clark play, and I have an affinity for him. It’s amazing how far it does reach out."
Hicks elicited some chuckles from those at Grace Cathedral when he read the final line of Roman's letter.
* * *
My dad hates the Cowboys with a passion to this day.
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EDITOR'S NOTE: “Letters to 87,” a documentary that explores Dwight 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).