49ers family pledges support for Dwight Clark in battle with ALS

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AP

49ers family pledges support for Dwight Clark in battle with ALS

Dwight Clark’s public announcement of his diagnosis of ALS came as no surprise to many of his former 49ers teammates and friends.

Clark’s battle with the degenerative disease has been suspected as far back as when former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.

On Sunday, Clark released an open letter to confirm he has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“Dwight has been an integral part of my family’s life for almost four decades,” DeBartolo wrote in a statement. “We are absolutely devastated. We vow to do everything in our power to support Dwight and (wife) Kelly and help them fight this horrible disease.”

Clark has shown support for ALS charities for several months, as former New Orleans Saints defensive back Steve Gleason wages his battle. Gleason’s eyes are the only body parts he is capable of moving on his own.

In November, the NFL announced it teamed up with Steve Gleason to fight ALS. A marketing campaign was created, "Game-Changing Moment," which featured a series of commercials. Clark’s “The Catch” was featured. The message: "The NFL has had 1,000's of game-changers. ALS needs 1."

Two months earlier, Clark was among the former and current NFL players who donated memorabilia for a Gleason-supported auction to raise funds for Answer ALS, a nonprofit organization for research toward a cure.

Clark has lost strength in both hands -- making opening a pack of sugar or buttoning his shirt impossible, he said. He can no longer run, play golf or walk for an extended period.

“There is nothing tougher than watching a great friend go through a serious health challenge,” former 49ers teammate Brent Jones said in a statement. “Dwight is handling this adversity with uncommon strength and the heart of a courageous champion, and our family’s thoughts and prayers are constantly with Dwight and Kelly.

“I know that they are fully aware that we will continue to walk alongside them, and do anything and everything possible to help them through this tough time.”

Many of Clark’s teammates expressed support and a commitment to do anything possible to assist him in the difficult times ahead.

“Dwight is like a brother to me,” Roger Craig said. “This news crushed me. I’ve vowed to him to be here for whatever he needs from me. Whenever or wherever. He deserves all our heartfelt support.”

“To live with another of my best friends struggling with a disease like ALS is devastating,” Ronnie Lott said.

Eric Scoggins, a member of USC’s 1978 national championship team and friend of Lott, died from ALS in January 2009.

“I’m asking all of us to not only send their prayers but I’m asking you to do whatever you can to fight this disease,” Lott said. “Dwight will be a champion, which he has been able to show since I met him, since the first time he’s hugged me and to this day moving forward.”

Said former 49ers linebacker Keena Turner, “We are here for Dwight. We are teammates for life and we will not allow him to go through this challenge alone. I am proud of the courageous way he is approaching this challenge. I will be here for him and with him.”

Clark, who turned 60 in January, played nine season for the 49ers from 1979 to ’87. The 49ers retired his jersey No. 87 in 1988.

“D.C. has done so much for me as a player and friend,” Jerry Rice said in a statement. “My rookie year he showed me how to run that out route! We know him for the catch but he’s a great individual who cares about people. Please pray for him Faithful through this adversity!!! I love the guy!!!!”

Said Joe Montana, “Jennifer and I are saddened by the diagnosis of Dwight. This is a difficult time for Dwight, Kelly and all of us who love him. He is family, and in our continual thoughts and prayers. We hope the public will be cognizant of Dwight’s desire for privacy.”

Clark is responsible for the most iconic play in 49ers history – his leaping 6-yard touchdown catch of a Joe Montana pass in the NFC Championship game against the Dallas Cowboys in January 1982. “The Catch” sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl title.

“Dwight Clark is one of those guys that lights up the room – always smiling and making you feel great,” Harris Barton said. “When I heard the news, I like others in the 49er family, was devastated. D.C. changed the course of the 49ers with ‘The Catch.’ Don’t be surprised if he changes the course of this disease as well.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”

Bills sign two former 49ers

Bills sign two former 49ers

The Buffalo Bills have signed two 49ers free agents within the past two days.

After signing wide receiver Rod Streater on Wednesday, the Bills announced the signing of linebacker Gerald Hodges on Thursday.

The 49ers acquired Hodges in a 2015 trade with the Minnesota Vikings for center Nick Easton and a sixth-round draft pick. Hodges started 12 games last season and ranked second on the team with 92 tackles.

Hodges left the 49ers shorthanded for a late-season game against the Atlanta Falcons when he violated team rules. Then-coach Chip Kelly did not disclose the nature of Hodges infraction. Hodges offered no explanation or apology.

The 49ers entered the game against the high-powered Falcons with just two healthy inside linebackers due to Hodges’ deactivation. Starter Nick Bellore sustained an elbow injury on the third play of the game, and the 49ers were forced to use safeties Antoine Bethea and Vinnie Sunseri, and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks at various points of the game.

The 49ers showed no interest in re-signing Hodges as a free agent.

Streater, a five-year NFL veteran, saw action in all 16 games last season after being acquired in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs in September. He caught 18 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns.