Former 49ers Pro Bowl cornerback Eric Wright, who preserved the legacy of "The Catch" with his horse-collar tackle that prevented another heartbreaking playoff loss to the Dallas Cowboys, experienced it all in his career.
And he knows as well as anyone how important it is for the 49ers to get off to a good start Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Levi’s Stadium.
Wright, speaking on The 49ers Insider Podcast, remembers the letdown after the 1987 regular season when the Vikings upset the 49ers in the playoffs at Candlestick Park. But he also has four Super Bowl rings to remind him of what it takes to win at this time of year.
“Minnesota caught us one time,” Wright said. “We had a run going and we didn’t come into that game firing on all cylinders. That’s the key. You got to get off to a fast start and you got to keep it going. Because if you have that week off and then you think you can get it going, you got to come out of the box hot and firing on all cylinders and that means all three phases of the game.
“You got to set the tone in that first game because you’re fighting for your dear life every week, and every week the team has to have the mentality – the veteran guys like (Richard) Sherman, (Jimmy) Garoppolo and the guys who are the leaders in the locker room, they got to preach that.”
Wright’s place in history is set.
After Dwight Clark made his leaping 6-yard touchdown grab of a Joe Montana pass to give the 49ers a 28-27 lead over the Cowboys on Jan. 10, 1982, the defense had to lock it down.
On the first play after the kickoff, Cowboys quarterback Danny White found wide receiver Drew Pearson open in the middle of the 49ers’ defense. Pearson looked as if he had a clear path to the end zone, but Wright famously reached out and brought down Pearson by the back of his shoulder pads to hold him to a 31-yard gain.
On the next play, Lawrence Pillers sacked White, forcing a fumble, and Jim Stuckey recovered to clinch the and send the 49ers to their first of five Super Bowl titles.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said Thursday that only one team ends the season happy. Wright knows that nothing in the future can ever be taken for granted, so teams that get this far have to do everything to keep their seasons going.
“The worst thing in the world is for you to have a good season, but you want to make it a great season,” Wright said. “And a great season is going to the Super Bowl and finishing. If you get to this time of the year, and you get there, you got to finish.
“That’s what these guys have to set their goals on. You got to take it up a notch when it’s this time of the year. If not, you’re one and done, and you’re going to be at home.”
NOTE: Eric Wright, along with Steve Young, Dwight Hicks and Brent Jones, will take part in a panel discussion, “Letters to 87 Live!” on Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek. The Super Bowl-winning players will discuss the legacy of Dwight Clark and how the 49ers teams of the past lit the torch for the current squad. For more information, visit the Lesher Center for the Arts.