Bill Walsh

On 30th anniversary of “The Catch,” 49ers again searching for respect

I couldn’t sleep last night, so I tried reading. That didn’t work, and as my insomnia threatened to stretch past sunrise it got to the point where I needed to try something drastic. I don’t have Tiger Woods’ doctors so I don’t own any Ambien, so I tried the next-best thing. I turned on my clock radio and listened to “Mike & Mike in the Morning.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic were chatting about something that caught my interest: the 30th anniversary of Dwight Clark’s historic touchdown catch against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. You know it as “The Catch,” and Greenberg and Golic had some nice things to say about the play: how it changed football and what it was like to watch the play live; how Joe Montana wasn’t Joe Montana yet; what the field looked like with Bill Walsh on one sideline and Tom Landry on the other. Pretty good stuff.

Then they transitioned to how this relates to how things are currently going in the NFL. Surely they made the obvious comparison to how the 2011 San Francisco 49ers are facing the same situation, right? How they came out of nowhere to finish 13-3 a year after going 6-10, just like they did during the 1981 season? How a coach from Stanford came in and resurrected a franchise that was floundering under the guidance of a young owner from the DeBartolo family?

Think again. In the words of Greenberg and Golic, “The Catch” brings to mind … Tom Brady.

What a great comparison! You know, since the Patriots are the surprise story of the NFL this year, and Brady is out to make his name as a star quarterback in the NFL. Err…

I understand that Brady was a Bay Area kid who grew up idolizing Montana and the 49ers, and he’s one Super Bowl win away from tying Montana with four (although Montana’s Super Bowl record is blemish-free, unlike Brady’s). But at a time when the parallel between two 49ers teams 30 years apart seemed so obvious, it’s just like ESPN to instead use the anniversary of Clark’s catch to talk about a team that hails from Boston.

When history repeats…

While this blatant example of east coast bias is laughable, it’s not worth getting upset over. The 1981 49ers were so similar to the 2011 49ers, with their top-2 defenses and middle-of-the-pack offenses (a couple minor differences: the ’81 Niners were a better passing team and the ’11 Niners are a better rushing team), and they also share the same lack of recognition from the national media. Not in terms of individual talent possessed by the players and coaches (five First Team All-Pros and the eventual NFL Coach of the Year is a ton of hardware), but as a franchise that’s ready for playoff success.

And that’s fair. The Saints won a Super Bowl two years ago and their offense has only gotten better. The Packers almost had a perfect season and they’re the defending champs. The Patriots are the closest thing to a dynasty in today’s NFL. Including the playoffs, the Ravens have won 48 games over the past four seasons.

Before Jim Harbaugh showed up, the 49ers won 46 games in their previous eight seasons. Harbaugh’s led a transformation that nobody realistically expected, and the only step left is to prove they can win in the postseason against teams that — like the 1981 Dallas Cowboys — are universally feared and respected. That’s the way for the 49ers to rejoin the list of vaunted NFL franchises, and Saturday provides an opportunity for Harbaugh’s team to create its own signature play.

Knowing these 49ers, instead of “The Catch” such a play would probably go by the name of “The Hit” or “The Interception.”

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