Back in April 2013 the San Francisco 49ers were coming off a three-point loss in the Super Bowl, but were looking like a juggernaut in the NFL with that defense, then head coach Jim Harbaugh, and an exciting young talent behind center in Colin Kaepernick. That offseason I visited with renowned photographer Michael Zagaris, a brilliant mind who’s been shooting the team with unlimited access and intimate connections since 1973, to get the ultimate perspective on where things were headed.
I flew out from New York with a co-collaborator and we did a tour of Zagaris’ home in San Francisco, which included a close examination of his treasure-filled archive in Haight-Ashbury, a place walled with books and albums, and littered with memorabilia, and black and whites of immortal figures like Rick James, Eric Clapton and Deion Sanders. That week we also walked a quiet, empty Candlestick Park, from the multi-leveled locker room on out to the field, where he told stories every point of the way based on where we were standing and what came to mind.
We documented as much as we could with photos and video.
One of the highlights from the day at The 'Stick was when Zagaris recreated the play from January 10, 1982 that launched the 49ers dynasty under Bill Walsh. Tracing the same route Dwight Clark ran in the very same end zone, with arms outstretched in the precise area, Zagaris for the first time told his first-person account from that historic day, and we were fortunate enough to capture it on video.
Together we relived the Sprint Right Option from the 1981 NFC Championship in its entirety, heard about the photographers' positions prior to the play and the iconic photo that was captured of a levitating #87 (pictured above), solidifying the moment known as “The Catch.” Zagaris also shared the interaction he had with Clark in the instant aftermath of the play.
The raw footage had been sitting, uncut and unseen on an external hard drive in my closet for the last five-plus years. Fast forward to today, and Candlestick Park, the site of “The Catch,” has since been torn down, the 49ers are on their third head coach since Harbaugh, and the world lost Clark after a difficult battle with ALS at the age of 61.
Leading up to and since his passing, Clark has been honored with touching tributes, stories and gestures by many. Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo was there every step of the way, orchestrating what was an incredible weekend reunion of Clark's teammates and friends in Montana. “Letters to 87” produced by Matt Maiocco and Sean Maddison of NBC Sports Bay Area is a beautiful homage to the franchise’s greatest legend, in the purest sense of the word. The team is also remembering Clark this year, and has a special week planned to commemorate his catch with a No. 87 marking in the north end zone of Levi's Stadium.
For all those reasons, I was inspired to dig this out and share this moment with one of Dwight Clark's longtime friends, which contributes to his memory and offers a perspective of his shining moment that until now had never been told.
[NSFW – headphones encouraged]
Media courtesy Walter Iooss, Michael Zagaris
Donate to Dwight Clark's charity of choice, the Golden Heart Fund
Head to our video page for more shorts from our trip with Michael Zagaris