Dwight Clark

How Clemson plans to honor Dwight Clark in 2019 CFP National Championship

How Clemson plans to honor Dwight Clark in 2019 CFP National Championship

SAN JOSE -- The Clemson Tigers will have more than revenge on their minds when they play the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night in the College Football Playoff National Championship. 

They'll also have the rare chance to honor a school legend.

Dwight Clark, who died in June after a battle with ALS, forever will be remembered at Levi's Stadium -- site of the national title game -- with a statue depicting his famous role in "The Catch."

Senior linebacker Jalen Williams -- who wears No. 30, as Clark did at Clemson -- knows how he and his teammates will feel when the team bus rolls up to Levi's. Clemson will have even more motivation, thanks to the memory of the former 49ers All-Pro receiver, who played three seasons as a Tiger, from 1976 through 1978. 

“To have his statue right outside the stadium, when we pull in and get dressed for the game, the whole team’s gonna be fired up," Williams told NBC Sports Bay Area at media day Saturday at SAP Center.

Williams didn't know he was wearing the same number as Clark did when he first arrived at Clemson. He now realizes just how big of a deal it is. 

“I kind of dug into it myself," Williams said. "I found out about his statue just recently, so I just realized how significant the number is." 

Dabo Swinney, Clemson's coach, is making sure his team understands the opportunity it has. When the Tigers arrived in the Bay Area on Friday, Swinney explained what Dwight Clark the person, not the football player, meant to him. 

"It’s really kind of unique. He actually called me not long before that (Clark's passing) and I had sent him a jersey," Swinney said. "I kept his voicemail. I couldn't delete it. It took him a while to get the message out, but he was so appreciative of that jersey.

"I mean, here’s a guy who’s got Super Bowl rings and you name it, and he was talking about how he couldn’t wait to frame that jersey and put it up in his office and how he still roots for his Tigers.” 

Swinney also said there are plans for Clemson to honor Clark in Monday's game, and taking a team picture in front of the statue is expected, if the weather holds up.

This will be the fourth time Clemson has played Alabama in the College Football Playoff and the third time in the championship game. This time, it's about more than hardware. 

"At Clemson, our culture and our dynasty, it didn’t start with us. It started 30 years ago with people like Dwight Clark," Williams said. "We’re just trying to do anything we can to fight for the ones who came before us.”

Dwight Clark's Clemson ties will bind CFP national championship at Levi's

Dwight Clark's Clemson ties will bind CFP national championship at Levi's

Dwight Clark and Joe Montana always will be connected. Posthumously, Clark gave his old quarterback a friendly reminder of that Saturday.

Clark's Clemson Tigers trounced Montana's Notre Dame Fighting Irish 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl to reach the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Back in 1978, Clark's final year in college, Clemson finished 11-1. The school was voted No. 6 in the final college polls, ironically tied with Montana and Notre Dame. Now, Clark's alma mater will face Alabama for the title where the 49ers legend, who died in June after a battle with ALS, will be forever remembered.

The national championship game will be played Monday, Jan. 7, at Levi's Stadium, home of the 49ers and recently erected statues of Clark and Montana to commemorate "The Catch."

Clark used to tease Montana that the duo's iconic play was called "The Catch" and not "The Throw" for a reason.

“He’s here. I wish he were here in person,” Montana said at the statue unveiling in October. “We all miss him a lot. I just want to say thank you on behalf of both of us. It is truly, truly an honor to have these statues and be remembered forever.”

The story of how Clark became a 49er is nearly as incredible as his NFL career. Bill Walsh set out to scout Clemson quarterback Steve Fuller and asked Clark to catch passes for him that day. The legendary coach was so impressed by the sure-handed receiver that he picked him in the 10th round of the 1979 NFL Draft.

Clark had just 33 catches and three touchdowns during his three years at Clemson. His No. 30 jersey now is worn by Tigers linebacker Jalen Williams, who entered the Cotton Bowl with 19 tackles in 13 games played.

“My heart breaks today,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said at the time of Clark's death. “When I was growing up, I remember watching Dwight Clark play. As a receiver, he was someone I looked up to."

At the home of the 49ers, Clemson can honor Clark as he'd always want to be remembered -- a champion.

Dwight Clark would have 'absolutely loved' statues of 'The Catch'

Dwight Clark would have 'absolutely loved' statues of 'The Catch'

SANTA CLARA – The highlight for the 49ers on Sunday occurred four hours before kickoff.

Statues of Dwight Clark and Joe Montana were unveiled in front of a group of approximately 200 invited guests that included more than 70 former 49ers players outside Gate A at Levi’s Stadium.

Clark is captured at the apex of his memorable leap, ball resting at his fingertips. Twenty-three yards away, Montana’s arms are raised, signaling touchdown.

The iconic play catapulted the 49ers past the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game on Jan. 10, 1982, and onto the organization’s first Super Bowl title.

Next year is the NFL’s 100th anniversary, and the league has asked teams to vote on the best moments in franchise history, 49ers CEO Jed York said.

“For us, there is absolutely no question about the best moment in the history of the San Francisco 49ers, the best play,” York said. “The only argument is, was it the best play in the history of the NFL?”

“The Catch” was the springboard for the 49ers’ dynasty of the 1980s and the organization’s five Super Bowl titles. Montana recognized his teammates and gave special mention to the team’s defense that preserved the win over Dallas.

“While there are two statues here, this is not about two people,” Montana said. “This is about a team, an organization, going back to Mr. (Edward) DeBartolo, Bill Walsh and the organization that put together a team that came along to be where we are today.”

Clark died on June 4 after a two-year battle with ALS. He was 61.

“He’s here. I wish he were here in person,” Montana said. “We all miss him a lot. I just want to say thank you on behalf of both of us. It is truly, truly an honor to have these statues and be remembered forever.”

Kelly Clark, Dwight’s wife, reacted after the statues were revealed.

“It’s difficult to be back here without D.C.,” she said. “I know he would have absolutely loved this. It’s a very beautiful tribute to him, so thank you.”

* * *

There are plans for a book based on the NBC Sports Bay Area documentary “Letters to 87.” We are asking for you to share your experiences of “The Catch” in letter form.

Dwight Clark enjoyed hearing stories about what people were doing during “The Catch” and/or how the play impacted lives.

Please send your letters to:

Letters to 87
NBC Sports Bay Area
360 Third Street, Suite 200
San Francisco, CA 94107