If you’re a 49ers fan, Dwight Clark is, and will always be, one of your heroes. It doesn’t matter if you weren’t a fan back in January 10, 1982. If you’re a fan now, Dwight Clark had something to do with it. Some 49ers fans hadn’t been born yet, others didn’t live in this country yet, but the team you love, the 49ers, was indelibly shaped by Clark, and The Catch back in 1982.
NBC Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco has covered the team for well over 20 years and through his career became very close to Clark. When he learned about Clark’s diagnosis of ALS, it rocked him to his core, as it did many of us. Sometimes, however, out of tragedy comes hope and inspiration. This is exactly what happened when Clark expressed to Maiocco his interest in having fans share their stories about The Catch and how it impacted their lives. He initially was going to put them into a book to sell that would raise money for the 49ers Golden Heart Fund.
Over 150 letters found their way to Maiocco, and he read all of them. While he would have loved to read them all to Clark, unfortunately time was running out, so he carefully selected several to share. Maiocco traveled to Whitefish, Montana where he and several of Clark’s closest friends and colleagues read those letters aloud to him.
Keena Turner, Ronnie Lott, Brian Murphy, Kirk Reynolds, Jerry Attaway, Lal Heneghan, Fred Formosa, Clark’s friend, Rick Winters and Maiocco all took turns reading the touching letters to Clark. This, on a day that started out very challenging for the iconically handsome and athletic man that changed the course of the 49ers franchise. Seeing how the letter changed his mood and spirit on that day makes you realize how something as simple as a single play in football can bring so much joy into people’s lives.
The “Letters to 87” concept is not only touching and moving for what it did to raise the spirits of our hero, but because we are allowed to experience it too. Maiocco and fellow producer Sean Maddison delicately and thoughtfully take us through the journey of Clark’s history up through when the letters were shared with him. It is enhanced with pictures taken by Brad Mangin and letters narrated by 49ers legends Joe Montana, Eddie DeBartolo and Keena Turner.
We are so lucky. Lucky to have had Dwight Clark be a part of our team’s franchise. Lucky to have had “The Catch” be the turning point of the San Francisco 49ers. Lucky to have a glimpse into how the moment that brought so much joy into the hearts of 49ers fans everywhere was returned to the man who gave it to us, even if it was just for a short time.
The “Letters to 87” documentary will be shown on NBC Sports Bay Area this coming Tuesday August 21 at approximately 8:00 p.m. PT after the Giants baseball game. We will notify you of links to the video once they are up. This is a must watch — and keep your tissues nearby.