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

clark-dwight-rice-jerry.jpg
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.”

49ers legend Dwight Clark announces ALS diagnosis

clark-dwight-ap.jpg
AP

49ers legend Dwight Clark announces ALS diagnosis

Dwight Clark, who authored the most iconic play in San Francisco 49ers history, announced on Sunday he has been diagnosed with ALS.

Clark turned 60 in January. He played nine NFL seasons, all with the 49ers, from 1979 to ’87.

According to the ALS Association, approximately 6,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with the disorder each year and an estimated 20,000 may be living with ALS in the U.S. at any given time.

He issued the following statement:

In September of 2015, I started feeling weakness in my left hand. I was mildly paying attention to it because since my playing days, I’ve constantly had pain in my neck. I was thinking it was related to some kind of nerve damage because it would just come and go.

After months of tests and treatment, I got some bad news. I was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

I have ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Those words are still very hard for me to say.

While I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest.

There is no test that will positively diagnose you with ALS. You have to eliminate the possibility of all other diseases and disorders and then wait to see what additional symptoms you develop. I visited six neurologists and three ALS specialists. I also was treated for a B12 deficiency, which sometimes can mirror the symptoms of this debilitating disease.

In addition to losing strength in my left hand – which makes opening a pack of sugar or buttoning my shirt impossible – I have now experienced weakness in my right hand, abs, lower back and right leg. I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.

I’ve been asked if playing football caused this. I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.

What I do know is I have a huge battle in front of me and I’m grateful for the strength and unconditional love from my wife Kelly. She has been my rock. She keeps thinking positive and convinces me each day that we can beat this, as does my daughter Casey and my son Mac. My brother Jeff, his wife Debra and their family also have been unwavering with their love and support. I get the same pep talk from the Boss, Eddie D. His support has been incredible. So rest assured, I know I’m not alone in this fight.

Every single one of my 49ers teammates that has contacted me has said whatever I need, anytime I need it, they will help. That’s just the kind of guys they are. They were so giving as players and now they are the same as friends.

I can’t thank my teammates and friends enough for their support. Mr. D always treated us like family and that family is still together. I also want to thank all the great 49ers fans. Your support over the last 35 years has allowed me to remain connected to you. Rarely does a day go by when I’m not asked about ‘the Catch,’ when we were able to get past the Cowboys and go on to win our first Super Bowl.

I’m not having a press conference or doing any interviews. That time will come. Right now, I’ve got work to do. I’ve got to devote all my energy preparing for this battle and I would hope you can respect my family’s privacy as I begin this challenge. My ultimate hope is that eventually I can assist in finding a cure for ALS, which disrupts the lives of so many and their loved ones.

Sincerely,
DWIGHT CLARK

Clark attended an autograph show in Chicago this weekend. He also traveled to watch his alma mater, Clemson, defeat Alabama in the national championship game in January.

Clark and quarterback Joe Montana teamed up for "The Catch" to propel the 49ers to their first Super Bowl. Clark made a leaping 6-yard touchdown reception for the winning points in a 28-27 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park on January 10, 1982. Two weeks later, Clark recovered the onside kick to seal the 49ers' 26-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XVI.

The 49ers retired his No. 87 in 1988, He finished his career with 506 catches for 6,750 yards and 48 touchdowns. He ranks fourth all-time in 49ers history in receptions and third in receiving yards. He was named to the first-team All-Pro teams in 1982 and '83.

***

San Francisco 49ers CEO Jed York issued the following statement below: 

Clemson's winning play stirs memory of 'The Catch'

Clemson's winning play stirs memory of 'The Catch'

The play Dwight Clark made famous as the second man in the progression turns 35 years old on Tuesday.

On Jan. 10, 1982, Clark made “The Catch” – a leaping 6-yard touchdown reception of a Joe Montana pass along the back line of the end zone to send the 49ers to a 28-27 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park.

The play propelled the 49ers to their first of five Super Bowl championships over the next decade-and-a-half.

On Monday night, Clark was in Tampa, Florida, to watch his alma mater, Clemson, win its first national championship since 1981.

And with :06 remaining, trailing by three points, the Tigers had one opportunity to beat Alabama in regulation from the 2-yard line.

Clemson calls the play, “Crush.” But in the Bill Walsh playbook it was called, “Sprint right option.” That’s right, Clemson ran the same basic concept to win the title that Walsh called in the 49ers' critical moment 35 years ago against the Cowboys.

Earlier in the NFC Championship Game, Freddie Solomon, the inside receiver on the right side, caught an 8-yard touchdown pass. But on the deciding touchdown, Solomon slipped coming out of his break, Montana waited and waited and waited before lofting a high pass. Clark, who lined up on the outside, ran toward the post, then glided back along the back of the end zone to make himself available for Montana's pass.

On Monday night, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, while sprinting to his right, went with the first option, Hunter Renfrow, for a 2-yard touchdown pass with :01 remaining for the winning points in a 35-31 upset victory over Alabama. Renfrow was wide open in the front of the end zone after the defender assigned to cover him got tied up in traffic caused by the outside receiver and cornerback.

Immediately after the game, Clark answered a text message that pointed out the similarities of the two historic plays.

“The guy running my route got pushed to the ground,” Clark responded.

* * * 

The 49ers-Cowboys NFC Championship game came be watched in its entirety here. The NFL posted the video in September.