Letters to 87

Dwight Clark's 49ers teammates to attend 'Letters to 87' book launch

Dwight Clark's 49ers teammates to attend 'Letters to 87' book launch

SANTA CLARA – Dwight Clark stands so tall among Bay Area sporting greats that it took more than a hundred authors to capture his legacy.

“Letters to 87” (Cameron Books) is scheduled for release on Wednesday -- appropriately, 8/7 -- with a book launch party at Pete’s Tavern in San Francisco (across from Oracle Park) from 4 to 8 p.m. The event is open to the public and books will be sold.

Many of Clark’s former teammates are scheduled to attend, including Ronnie Lott, Eric Wright, Dwight Hicks, Keena Turner, Mike Wilson, Mike Shumann, Dwaine Board, and Steve Bono. Brian Murphy of KNBR will act as emcee for the event.

Clark is best known for “The Catch,” a leaping 6-yard touchdown grab of a Joe Montana pass that led the 49ers past the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game in January 1982 and into the organization’s first Super Bowl.

The book includes excerpts of letters from 118 fans. It captures the unique bond Clark had with the 49ers’ fan base. Edward J. DeBartolo Jr., Montana, Ronnie Lott and Kelly Clark, Dwight’s wife, also wrote essays for the book.

Clark passed away on June 4, 2018, from ALS. Two weeks earlier, a group of friends, including Lott and Turner, gathered around his bed at his home in Whitefish, Montana, to read him the letters from his fans.

The book is inspired by the NBC Sports Bay Area documentary, “Letters to 87,” produced and directed by Sean Maddison, which debuted last year. The documentary will re-air Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area.

One hundred percent of all royalties from the book will go toward Clark’s charity of choice, the Golden Heart Fund, which provides assistance to former 49ers in times of physical, emotional and financial need.

For a complete list of upcoming book events, go to LettersTo87.com. The page will be updated as new events are scheduled through the fall and winter.

Watch Letters to 87 -- a special tribute to 49ers legend Dwight Clark

Watch Letters to 87 -- a special tribute to 49ers legend Dwight Clark

NBC Sports Bay Area celebrates the life and legacy of of San Francisco 49ers legend Dwight Clark with Letters to 87 -- a 30-minute documentary featuring heartfelt stories from fans on what they were doing at the the time of "The Catch" and the impact Clark's iconic play had on their lives. 

Clark joined Matt Maiocco on the 49ers Insider Podcast on Feb. 22, and expressed his interest in collecting letters from fans sharing their stories about "The Catch" and its impact upon their lives. Maiocco put the word out, and the letters poured in. Two weeks before Clark passed away on June 4 following a valiant battle with ALS, Maiocco traveled to Whitefish, Montana with Clark's friends and former teammates to read him the letters. 

Over the next two hours, Clark heard from diehard fans whose devotion to the team was rewarded when “The Catch” propelled the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.  The letters contained heartfelt and poignant remembrances of “The Catch.”  He heard from people who were going through difficult times and experienced life-changing joy. He heard funny anecdotes about what occurred in people’s lives as the play developed. Most of all, he heard how “The Catch” enriched families and connected people.

Letters to 87 includes some of the letter-writers, as well as Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. and Keena Turner. Letters to 87 is produced and directed by Emmy Award-winning producer Sean Maddison and NBC Sports Bay Area’s 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco.

[MAIOCCO: The 'special' story of how Dwight Clark took a piece of 'The Catch' with him]

[READ: Heartfelt letters lifted Dwight Clark's spirit on a bad day]

[MORE: Letters to Dwight Clark make impact, reach a wider audience]

The 'special' story of how Dwight Clark took a piece of 'The Catch' with him

The 'special' story of how Dwight Clark took a piece of 'The Catch' with him

Dwight Clark’s March 2017 announcement of his ALS diagnosis was devastating news to the Foley family on multiple levels.

So when Matt Foley heard Clark’s wish to receive letters from his fans, he felt he could provide him with a unique memento of “The Catch,” which powered the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.

Like all 49ers fans, the Foleys held Clark in the highest esteem. They felt shock and sadness that the man who authored the greatest play in franchise history was stricken with a deadly disease for which there is no known cure.

But the impact might have been even more disheartening for the Foleys because of the family’s cruel history with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Eight family members have died from ALS from 1968 to 2012.

“ALS is something that’s personal to our family,” said Matt Foley, 41, of San Rafael.

Foley lost both grandfathers (Walt Mishork, 42; Lawrence Foley, 81), three uncles (Jeffrey Mishork, 34; Jimmy Mishork, 49; Johnny Mishork, 55), one aunt (Marilyn Silva, 51) and two first cousins (Megan Mishork, 27; Tim Silva, 34) to the progressive neurodegenerative disease.

His parents, Don and Margy Foley of Sonoma, watched the NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys in January 1982 from their eastside seats at Candlestick Park. Afterward, as fans were allowed to do, they emptied onto the field to exit through the northeast tunnel and into the parking lot.

“On his way out, and through his euphoria, my dad ran to the spot where you leaped into the air and landed, and grabbed the biggest piece of turf that he could,” Foley wrote in his letter to Clark.

“He kept it for more than three decades, and at Christmas a few years ago, he gifted me a bag of the turf . . . Today, for the first time ever, I have opened that bag of Candlestick grass and have re-packaged some of that turf for you.”

That letter was the final one read to Clark in his bedroom on May 20, when a group of close friends, including Ronnie Lott and Keena Turner, sat in chairs around him to serve as the voices of those letters from the fans.

Turner read the final portion of Foley’s letter:

“My dad is now 82, and when I told him that I would have the chance to share the turf with you, he cried. That’s how much ‘The Catch’ and the 49ers meant to him and my family.”

Turner then opened the envelope to remove a zip-lock bag that contained a piece of turf. The red paint from the end zone was still visible. Turner placed the swath of history in the hands of an awestruck Clark.

“It was special,” Turner said. “We all felt it. What came across was how special he was to that family and how important it was for them to give that moment back.

“You could hear it in Dwight’s voice and with his reaction that he felt it.”

When Turner prematurely reached for the turf in Clark’s hands to put it back in the envelope, a big smile came across his face.

“Hey, give that back to me,” Clark said.

In the short time he became aware of the turf and saw it up close, Clark already had made a powerful and poignant decision.

“I’m taking that with me,” Clark said. “I’m taking a piece of ‘The Catch’ with me.”

Said Turner: “To hear him say he wanted to take it with him, to take a part of the moment with him, to take a part of all of these stories with him, to take a part of all of the fans and all of us who were part of it at the time with him. . . . I was just so amazed after all these years that all that interaction was so special to him.”

When former 49ers owner and close friend Eddie DeBartolo visited later that week, Clark told him how much that piece of sod from the spot of “The Catch” meant to him.

“It moved him,” DeBartolo said. “It moved him a lot to have somebody be that much of a fan and for that to have meant so much to the father, the son and the family. I think it just kind of sunk in.”

Clark’s close friend, Rick Winters, stood in the back of the room as the letters were being read. Clark passed away on June 4. He was 61. And Winters made sure the connection between Clark and his fans was complete.

“That turf represented how much he touched the lives of so many people, even those he’d never met,” Winters said. “So for them to bring that back around full circle to him was a gift he absolutely cherished.

“Dwight had such huge hands, but it rested there just as softly as any football. You could tell it just seemed perfect. It seemed perfect that he would take that with him. That’s the last time I saw him.”

Kelly Clark gave some of her husband’s ashes to DeBartolo. He commissioned a memorial to Clark near the old Candlestick north goalpost on his Montana ranch in the precise location where Clark would have made “The Catch.”

Some of his ashes, along with that piece of Candlestick turf, were placed at the site.

It is a tribute to the man who turned the fortunes of the 49ers franchise.

And it also serves as a reminder of the mutual admiration between Dwight Clark and the fans – the ones he impacted along the way and those who lifted him when he needed it most.