In one of the great links between NFL dynasties, a four-year-old Tom Brady was in the stands to watch Joe Montana and the 49ers dramatically defeat the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game in January of 1982.
The game was made famous by Dwight Clark’s late touchdown grab, a memorable play that became known simply as “The Catch.” It helped to launch the 49ers as an NFL dynasty.
As news spread on Monday night of Clark’s death at age 61 after a prolonged battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Brady posted a message on Instagram about the 49ers receiver, whom he described as both an idol and hero:
“I was lucky enough to be at the game where my hero Joe Montana perfectly placed the game winning throw/catch to Dwight in the corner of the end zone to beat the cowboys in the 1981 season,” Brady wrote. “I was 4 years old and cried to my parents the entire first half because I couldn’t see the field when the grown ups would stand and scream for the 49ers.”
In 2015, Brady posted a photo of himself at the game, which San Francisco rallied to win 28-27 thanks to a late drive (culminating with Clark’s leaping catch).
Clark, not unlike Brady, became an NFL star despite not being a heralded draft prospect. As the story goes, Hall of Fame 49ers coach Bill Walsh serendipitously discovered the lanky wide receiver:
Dwight Clark was living with QB Steve Fuller sr year at Clemson. Bill Walsh was in town to work out Fuller and Clark answered phone. Walsh invited him to catch passes from Fuller. Walsh didn’t have 1st rd pick and took Joe Montana in 3rd. He loved Clark and took him in 10th.
— Gary Myers (@GaryMyersNY) June 4, 2018
“I never forgot the impact he made on me as all of our heroes do,” said Brady. “I am sad tonight hearing of his passing of ALS but I know he is now resting and at peace finally after many years valiantly fighting such a terrible disease.”