With the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys matching up on this week’s NFL schedule, picking the Throwback Thursday feature was a no-brainer. It’s one of the most memorable games in NFL lore, the 1981 NFC Championship game played between these two franchises. Played on January 10, 1982, it was a classic game whose outcome signified a “changing of the guard” in power in the NFC from the Cowboys, who dominated the 1970s, to the 49ers, who would go on to win multiple Super Bowls in the 1980s. It was a tough, close, exciting game, and the final drive by the Niners, led by Joe Montana in what was his introduction to pro football fans as “Joe Cool”, culminated in the play that would be forever known as “The Catch”. Trailing 27-21, Montana guided his club downfield and on a crucial third down play from Dallas’ 6 yard line, he took the snap, surveyed the field, and, unable to find an open receiver, sprinted out to the right with Cowboy defenders in hot pursuit. Just inches away from being pushed out of bounds, Montana launched a high pass into the corner of the end zone, which receiver Dwight Clark leaped up and snatched for the winning touchdown.
Some observers felt that Montana was actually throwing the ball away to try again on fourth down, but he and Clark claimed that they had practiced for just such a situation and that Montana knew exactly where his tall receiver would be. Niner coach Bill Walsh, when the pass was thrown, was supposedly already looking down at his play sheet for a play to call on fourth down. Regardless, the completion was made, San Francisco went on to win 28-27, and “The Catch” went into NFL history as one of it’s classic, unforgettable moments. There were some other classic moments in the ending of the game, actually. On the final play, there was an exchange between Montana and the Cowboys’ massive defensive end, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, that was an example of Joe Cool’s competitiveness. As he released the ball, Montana was crushed by Jones, and never saw Clark catch the ball. He only knew the result when he heard the home crowd cheering. Jones, lying on top of the 49er quarterback like a predator on his prey, told Montana “you just beat America’s Team”, to which Montana replied “well, now you can sit at home with the rest of America and watch the Super Bowl!” Another forgotten moment came after “The Catch”, when Dallas, with 51 seconds still left to play, started to drive downfield. Danny White hooked up with his star receiver, Drew Pearson, on a long pass and the Cowboy star appeared poised to break free to the end zone. Eric Wright, safety for San Fran, saved the day by running down Pearson and bringing him down with a horse-collar tackle, a move that is illegal in the NFL today. It’s certainly not a household play with NFL fans, but 49er faithful still refer to Wright’s game-saving tackle as “The Grab”.
San Francisco’s Dwight Clark makes “The Catch”