I can remember watching the game with my dad. He wasn’t that much of a football fan, he preferred baseball, but got interested in the NFL at playoff time. He was rooting for the Cowboys, like most of the residents in this part of the country. Dallas is about 300 miles to the South. We’re about halfway between “Big D” and Kansas City, but the Chiefs never caught on that much, especially since they were losers for so long.
I, on the other hand, was a Raider fan going back to to my childhood days. There was just something about the silver and black colors and the long passes launched by Daryle Lamonica. I know Raider fans are not supposed to root for the Niners. In the Bay area, the 49er fans are regarded as white wine sipping snobs, as opposed to the blue collar Raider nation. Gertrude Stein once referred to Oakland by saying “there’s no there there”.
Anyway, the Raiders were not in the playoffs that year and there just seemed to be some sort of magic surrounding Bill Walsh, joe Montana and the 49ers that year. Besides, they were playing the hated Cowboys (hated by many of us anyway).
The 49ers had defeated the ‘Boys in the regular season, soundly, in fact. No Tom Landry coached team had ever lost to the same team twice in the same season since Dallas started winning. The Cowboy hype machine had been whirring all week in anticipation of an easy victory over the upstart 49ers. All I heard the entire week leading up to the game from friends, colleagues at work, etc, was “this is the Cowboys’ year, Super Bowl here we come”. But Joe Montana and co. had other ideas.
I had forgotten that the 25th anniversary of “the catch” was Jan. 10. What refreshed my memory was one of the NFL greatest games series on the NFL Network. With this being conference championship weekend, it was a natural. Watching that game again for the first time since that day 25 years and 10 days ago, virtually half my lifetime, brought back many pleasant memories. Most fans have forgotten that Jerry Rice had not come along yet, he would have been a freshman in college at tiny MS. Valley St. in the tiny hamlet of Itta Bena, Ms.at that time. That years 49ers were made up largely of castoffs from other teams and players in their first 2-3 years in the league. They had three rookies starting in the secondary, almost unheard of, at least for a championship team.
In interviews done years later, Danny White and other Cowboys denied the significance of this game in the changing of the guard in the NFL. In my opinion, that is so much denial or “sour grapes”. I don’t see how any one with any objectivity can deny that that game turned the tide in the NFL. Sure, the Cowboys made it to the NFC championship game the following year, but they lost that one also. There is no question in my mind that they started to decline that January day in 1982 and even though San Francisco struggled with their newfound success for a couple of seasons, the Niners used that game as a springboard to win Super Bowls in 84, 88 and 89. Only the Steelers of the 70’s won that many Lombardi trophies that close together.
Without that first big win, the others would have been tougher to get, and maybe wouldn’t have happened at all. As my Dad and I exchanged trash talk that day, the main thing I remember is the Howard Dean-like whoop I let out upon the Montana to Clark play. Dad just looked at me in that stern Fatherly way, like “don’t you say another word”. I did, of course, but I was much more subdued the last 52 seconds of the game.
It’s easy to forget that Dallas came back and got to midfield with the ball. Without a precarious open field tackle of Drew Pearson and a fumble by the not ready for prime time Danny White, the Cowboys might have won yet. But they didn’t. The tide had turned in the NFC, with the two teams slowly going in opposite directions, with Dallas 1-15 by the end of the decade of the 80’s. It all started with that game, my pick for one of the Top 5 in NFL history, maybe the greatest. For sure, the catch has to rank very high as far as individual plays. #1 in my book.