January 10, 1982 • Candlestick Park • San Francisco, CA • CBS • 2:00 PST
Dallas Cowboys 1981 NFC Championship Game San Francisco 49ers
400px-NFC Helmet DAL 27
Team 1 2 3 4 Totals
Cowboys 10 7 0 10 27
49ers 7 7 7 7 28
NFL-NFC-SF49ers-1964 1994 Helmet-Right-Face 28

First Quarter
Second Quarter
Third Quarter
Fourth Quarter

The Catch refers to the winning touchdown reception by Dwight Clark off a Joe Montana pass in the January 10, 1982, NFC Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers. The Catch is widely regarded as one of the most memorable events in NFL history.


In a game where the lead shifted back and forth repeatedly, the 49ers took over the ball at their own 11-yard line trailing 27-21. San Francisco marched down to the Dallas 6-yard line, where they faced third down and three with 58 seconds left on the clock. When Joe Montana took the snap, the play, known as Sprint Right Option, was intended to be a pass to wide receiver Freddie Solomon; earlier in the game, Solomon had scored a touchdown on that play.[1] However, the Cowboys covered Solomon perfectly. Making matters worse, the pass rush of the Cowboys collapsed the 49ers offensive line. Two of the Cowboys defensive ends Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Larry Bethea, plus linebacker D. D. Lewis chased a backpedaling Montana toward the sideline, and seemed certain to either send him out of bounds or sack him. But at the last moment, and after pump-faking to get 6-foot 9-inch "Too Tall" Jones to jump, Montana threw a high pass to the back of the end zone that seemed destined to sail out of bounds until 49ers receiver Dwight Clark made a leaping grab with his fingertips for the go-ahead touchdown with 51 seconds left in the game. Clark finished the game with 8 catches for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The play, remembered in 49er lore as "Red Right Tight - Sprint Right Option" had called for both the primary receiver, Solomon, and Clark to line up on the right. Montana was supposed to roll to his right and find Solomon. Clark's pattern called for him to cut left across the end zone, stop, and immediately reverse his path to the right. If Solomon were covered, it would be up to Montana to find Clark. Due to the pressure, Montana's pass was high, but Clark was in position to make his memorable grab.

A photograph of the catch by Walter Iooss, Jr., with Clark at the height of his leap and Everson Walls reaching out to try to block the ball, was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated the following week.

Other contributors on the final 89-yard drive that led to the play now referred to as “The Catch” included Lenvil Elliott (RB), Earl Cooper (FB), Mike Wilson (WR), Charle Young (TE), Dan Audick (LT), John Ayers (LG), Fred Quillan (C), Randy Cross (RG), and Keith Fahnhorst (RT).

Clark and Montana re-enacted The Catch in observance of the 25th anniversary of the play as part of San Francisco alumni day activities at halftime of the Minnesota game November 5, 2006, at Candlestick Park.


Some people claimed that Montana was trying to throw the ball away, leaving time for a fourth down. Clark disputes that assertion, claiming that it was a backup plan that they practiced many times. Montana confirmed that he could not see the end zone through the defenders, but claims that he knew exactly where Clark would be. The 49ers coach, Bill Walsh, assumed that it was a throw-away play and immediately began planning for the fourth down until he heard the cheers from the crowd.

As for the height of the catch, Montana has said that he didn't feel that he threw the ball very high. However, Clark leapt as high as he could only to get his fingertips on the ball. In the Sports Illustrated article, Montana explained that he never saw The Catch, since he had just been knocked to the ground by Too Tall Jones, but "I saw Dwight's feet touch the ground. I heard the crowd scream." Later, in the locker room, he expressed his amazement at how high Clark had jumped.

Clark reported that Too Tall Jones reacted to the play by stating "You just beat America's Team" to Joe Montana after Clark had caught the pass; Montana replied "Well, you can sit at home with the rest of America and watch the Superbowl."[2][3]

Aftermath and legacyEdit

While The Catch is well known, there were still 51 seconds left on the clock after Clark's touchdown, and with Dallas needing only a field goal to win, the game was far from over. After the ensuing kickoff, Dallas receiver Drew Pearson caught a long pass, but defensive back Eric C. Wright made a touchdown-saving horse collar-type tackle (then a legal tackle) to keep him from scoring. This play was known as "The Grab". On the next play, quarterback Danny White fumbled the ball while being sacked by Lawrence Pillers, and San Francisco’s Jim Stuckey recovered the ball, sealing a victory for the 49ers.

The 49ers won 28–27 and went on to win Super Bowl XVI over the Cincinnati Bengals.

This game was a watershed in the historic fortunes of both the 49ers and the Cowboys. After being a losing team in the 1970s, San Francisco went on to win four Super Bowls in the 1980s, and made the playoffs eight out of the next 10 years. Meanwhile, Dallas, the most successful team in the NFC in the 1970s, never made it back to the Super Bowl in the 1980s, and suffered losing seasons in the last part of that decade.

The Catch was immortalized by two dramatic broadcast play-by-play calls. Vin Scully described the play on CBS Television:

Montana...looking, looking, throwing in the end zone...Clark caught it!

Meanwhile, Jack Buck had the call over on CBS Radio:

Montana lines up at the five...and on third-down-and-three he rolls right, looking to throw...looking to throw...and he throws into the end zone...Touchdown! Touchdown! Touchdown, San Francisco, by Dwight Clark!

Dwight Clark while discussing The Catch in America's Game: The Super Bowl Champions documentary about the 1981 49ers had this to say about the legacy of that play.

"It's humbling really. I feel honored people are still talking about it, 25 years later. I am honored to be able to be a part of a play that was kind of the culmination of just this incredible surprise season. It's great to give 49er fans that moment that they can relive over and over and over, and I know they do because when I am in San Francisco and a lot of places, people want to talk about that play and how it crushed the Cowboys and sent them into submission for a decade. I never get tired of talking about it; I never get tired of seeing it, because I sign pictures and send them to people. I see that catch every day. I may sit and think about that moment couple of times a year, and how awesome it was to be a part of that play and to be a part of the 49ers in the '80s."

Cultural referencesEdit

For several years in the 1980s and 1990s, Kodak featured a television ad to the tune of Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" featuring The Catch, as shown by NFL Films. Kodak also featured a photo still of The Catch in their magazine ads, accompanied by the caption, "The 49ers grab a TD and a title."

In 2002, the NFL ran a series of advertisements promoting the playoffs, using famous plays as a uniting theme. Actor Don Cheadle demonstrated the height of Clark's catch by standing on a stepladder in the end zone.

In 2005, a commercial for the Gatorade sports drink, known as "The Winning Formula", portrayed an alternate version of The Catch, in which the ball bounced out of Clark's fingertips. Following the Gatorade logo, the real version was shown with Dwight Clark's completion. This is also done with Derek Jeter's "flip play" going wide of home plate and Michael Jordan's famous buzzer-beater against Cleveland going off the rim.

On August 5, 2007, The Best Damn Sports Show Period did a special show commemorating the top 50 amazing sports catches of all time. The Catch is listed as #17.


  • Referee: Jim Tunney
  • Umpire: Bob Boylston
  • Head Linesman: Ed Marion
  • Line Judge: Bob Beeks
  • Field Judge: Ed Merrifield
  • Side Judge: Dean Look
  • Back Judge: Ray Douglas

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit


  1. Keown, Tim. "49ers finally put away Cowboys To begin their Super Bowl run", December 15, 1997, p. C4. 
  2. Shumann, Mike (January 10, 2007). 25th Anniversary Of 'The Catch'.
  3. Template:YouTube

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.