The Catch: One Play, Two Dynasties, and the Game that Changed the NFL
By Gary Myers
Crown, 252 pages, $26.00
“To this day,” says Joe Montana in the forward to Gary Myers’s The Catch, “the Cowboys still think I was tying to toss the ball into the upper deck of Candlestick Park … I just had no idea what a great catch Dwight made until somebody told me he jumped out of the stadium to grab it. I was on my back after running for my life and only knew he caught the ball because of the crowd reaction.” (p. xi)
Dwight Clark’s spearing of Joe Montana’s pass in the fourth quarter of the 1981 NFC championship game is football’s equivalent of Willie Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series. Myers — now a columnist for the New York Daily News but 28 years ago covering the game for the Dallas Morning News — uses that one play as a focal point for the change in fortunes of two dynasties. Actually, Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys were on the verge of becoming a dynasty, winning the Super Bowl in 1978 and losing it the next year when, as ever Cowboys fan remembers, Jackie Smith failed to make a difficult catch in the end zone. The ’49ers would go on to win three championships over the next decade.
Myers practically puts you in the end zone: “The ball actually rattled around in his hands, and for one moment, he lost control and only had it with his left hand, but he quickly secured it with his right hand – all this while he was in the air — and came down with it just in front of the back line. It went beyond acrobatic … If The Catch was a classic, so was Montana’s throw.” (p. 233)
In its evocation of the time and the importance of that game, Myers’s writing and research are faultless. The one big flaw in The Catch is visual: there’s no excuse for not including a photo sequence showing the play frame-by-frame from quarterback to receiver.