EDITOR'S NOTE: “Letters to 87,” a documentary that explores Dwight Clark’s unique bond with his fans, will premiere commercial-free on NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at approximately 8 p.m. (following Giants Postgame Live).
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The words of 17 fans are heard in the 27-minute documentary “Letters to 87.”
In all, nearly 150 letters were taken to Dwight Clark at his ranch in Whitefish, Montana, just two weeks before he died of ALS.
The sentiments expressed to Clark ran the gamut of experiences and emotions.
Here is just a sampling of the letters Clark heard when a group of close friends sat around his bed on May 20 and read what his fans sent for him:
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San Francisco 49ers
I was 9 years old. My friends and I gave up and went outside to toss the football around. My memory is vivid of my mom coming out to the front porch to tell us the Niners had scored a touchdown.
While none of us imagined how iconic "The Catch" would become, it did immediately teach me a lesson. And that lesson? Never give up and continue fighting. You have continued to teach myself and others this lesson.
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We moved to So Cal in ‘79 from No Cal. Back then there were no highlights or Internet. We’d looked at the stats, but there were no pictures attached. Truth be told, until ‘80 due to no TV coverage in SoCal, we thought the Dwight Clark who was making these catches in the stats was a “speedy lil black receiver from Clemson.” True story.
During the NFC Championship game, our cable kept going on and off. So we scrambled and had a TV with rabbit ears in the living room. The game would go out. We’d sprint to the rabbit ears. It would come back. We’d sprint back. When you caught the ball, white stuff was raining down on me. It was the popcorn ceiling stuff that I hit when I jumped up in jubilation.
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We watched the 49ers march to our end of the stadium. Everyone was on their feet and the place was rocking. When you caught that ball, the old place shook. The roar was incredible. My friend, Charlie, leaped on me and we both tumbled down a few of the walkway stairs. That was the happiest we’d ever been as fans. Once the final seconds ticked off, it was bedlam.
We’ve kept our tickets all these years. My daughter, son-in-law and our two grandsons use the tickets most games. Both of our daughters turned out to be Niners fans. The grandsons are big fans, and "The Catch" had a big influence on cementing that relationship.
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I was watching the game with my wife Jan, father-in-law Bill, who went to a lot of games at Kezar, my mother-in-law Bea and my wife’s grandmother, 79-year-old Nan. We were all diehards.
Nan knew nothing about football. She just enjoyed being around people and was a great lover of brandy and water. As you can imagine, we were extremely nervous throughout the entire game. Hell, the entire week before.
When you caught that ball, Dwight, it was pandemonium. My father-in-law actually ran into the street yelling, “We won!” Of course, Jan and I were jumping all over the place. My mother in law was stunned. And Nan . . . remember, she was 79. She came out of the chair and actually jumped a few inches off the floor. We talked about that day for years.
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I was old enough to remember Dallas ended every previous 49ers chance at a Super Bowl. I was also conditioned to believe that championships happened for fans of other teams in other cities. Not San Francisco. And then Montana rolled right. And you climbed high into the sky. And you came down with the ball. We went crazy! We shouted from the balcony. We hugged and jumped and screamed some more. I remember it still. . . like it was yesterday.
Lincoln, Rhode Island
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Oh, man, it was a huge game. I was with all my buds, watching the game in Santa Clara. My father, Eddie Forrest, was on the original 49ers team in 1946. As you can imagine, my blue blood made me the most popular one at the party.
There we were, packed in this room like sardines. When you made "The Catch," it was like a bomb went off.
My good friend, Pierce, was the first to hit the floor. Then, the darndest thing happened. Every single one of us, at least 30 people, jumped onto the pile. We were like college kids stuffing a telephone booth. I don’t think it unraveled in time to watch the end of the game.
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My dad lived in San Jose and was neighbors with Leo Nomellini and some other 49ers, and I grew up a 49er fan from a young age. I am 63 now and 2 weeks ago gave a speech at my dad's celebration of life gathering, as he recently passed away. He was 93, and some of the best memories I have of him involve our sports time together. "The Catch" was definitely one of the best sports and life memories that we had.
These memories are priceless and will live forever in our hearts. Thank you for being a part of our lives.
Jean Paul Martinet
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Words cannot express how much you have meant in my life. You occupy a place in my heart that is reserved for childhood heroes that exceed your expectations in real life. These are the people that, when you meet them and get to know them, you find out that they are more than you ever dreamed possible. That is what you are to me. You are a Superhero, one that will occupy a place in my heart forever.
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I was sitting on my pillow couch and when you caught the ball from Joe, I leaped up, hitting the hanging lamp above me along with shorting out all the power to our house. There was obviously time left in the game, so I had to scramble into our basement to find another fuse and we were able to barely watch the exciting finish.
Keith Van Dyke
Cottage Grove, Oregon
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When Joe threw that ball to you and you made THE CATCH, my dad, who grew up in The City and suffered through bad seasons and previous heartbreaks to the Cowboys, was so happy and excited, he jumped up!
But when he did, he jumped up, went backwards and wound up knocking himself out. He had friends over at our house and was watching in one room while I was watching the game in another room with my mom. My dad told me that his friends helped him regain consciousness. He came up to the room where my mom and I were, and he had a big smile on his face.
Brazell Carter II
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I was only 7 years old in 1982. I lived in the same small town that I still live in today. My parents weren’t football fans. My friends weren’t football fans. My extended family weren’t particularly football fans, either, except one – my grandfather.
I don’t think I ever asked who he considered his team in any sport. I knew my grandfather watched for the sport, but I do remember asking one time who he thought would win a particular game we were watching and he said, “49ers.” So that was my team from then on.
I don’t remember knowing it was the NFC Championship game. But I knew I wanted to watch that game. It’s the first memory I have of feeling like I understood what was happening on the field. I felt the intensity of the game and the excitement of “The Catch.”
To me, “The Catch” wasn’t about watching my team win. It defines the moment I started to become the fan I am today. Thanks to my grandfather, and the excitement of the 49ers’ 1981 team, I am a fan for life. And, from the looks of it, my kids are following right behind me!