Sportsnight #40: 1982, “The Catch”

by Charlie_East_West on October 29, 2014

Good evening and welcome to Sportnight. Tonight’s action comes from Candlestick Park, San Francisco on January 10th 1982 and the 1981 season NFL NFC Championship Game between the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers.

The match is widely regarded as as one of the most memorable events in NFL history. The game represented the end of The Cowboys domination in the NFC, and the beginning of San Francisco’s domination in the 1980s – and with it the start of superstardom for the most famous player ever to put on shoulder pads and a helmet – Joe Montana.

The game featured the most talked about and revered moment in NFL history – in what has become known as “The Catch“.

Going deep into the fourth quarter, Dallas held a 27–21 advantage. San Francisco had the ball at their own 11 yard line. They had 4:54 left in the game to somehow get the ball up the entire field for a touchdown – against one of the meanest defences in NFL history – the Dallas Cowboys.

Montana then led the 49ers 83 yards right up the field to the Dallas 6-yard line.

Following the 49ers second timeout, they faced 3rd and 3 on the Cowboys 6-yard line with 58 seconds in the game.

When Joe Montana took the snap, San Francisco Head Coach, Bill Walsh, called a play that was intended to be a pass to wide receiver Freddie Solomon. However, the Cowboys covered Solomon perfectly. The Cowboys defence then started chasing down Montana, forcing him to backpeddle and skip towards the sideline. He seemed certain to either end up out of bounds or get sacked. But at the last moment, and after at first faking the throw, 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 touchdown grab with his fingertips to tie the game with 51 seconds left. The extra point by kicker Ray Wersching gave the 49ers a 28–27 lead to win the game.

This game was the beginning of the end of the golden era for the Cowboys, and the start of dominance for the 49ers. After being a consistently mediocre 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 ten years. 49ers quarterback Joe Montana went on to gain all time great status. Meanwhile, Dallas, the most successful team in the NFC in the 1970s with five Super Bowl appearances, never made it back to the Super Bowl in the 1980s.

I knew very little about American Football until about a month ago. My nine year old son now loves to watch the Channel 4 NFL highlights package – which is what I did back in the 1980s – before largely forgetting about the game due to the ridiculous stop-start 3 hours of action – largely enforced for commercial television. But now, thanks to my son, I watch the highlights packages, and it features some of the most athletic, stupendous fears of sporting endeavour that you will ever see. It makes Rugby Union look like a medieval lumpen game by comparison.

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