top of page

Tuesday's with Dwight Clark

My brother got engaged after just nine months of dating his now wife.


I had met his girlfriend Sarah briefly before I moved to Australia. She was spicy and confident; she didn’t necessarily wear her heart on her sleeve like my brother did, which complimented him well, actually.


I loved her immediately. And I loved her for him because she made him the happiest I had ever seen him.


When I returned from my travels, roughly eight months later, the two were still going strong. Not even a month after I arrived home, around Christmas time, they were engaged. Now, in our big Italian family, this seemed quite early. But my brother just knew. And he loved her so much, that he was determined to marry her in time for her father to be able to walk her down the aisle.


Sarah’s dad, Colin, had just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease – a progressive degeneration of nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain.


I didn’t talk to her much about it then. It seemed too heavy at the time. We were all trying to stay positive for her and her family. And despite his disease, her dad was sunshine in human form. Our families would get together, pre-planning wedding activities and getting to know each side before my brother and Sarah would eventually tie the knot. All the while, Colin wore a proud smile every single moment we were in his presence.


You’d never know the devastation that he and his family were experiencing each day.


“To watch a person that you love go through something so debilitating and degrading is one of the worst and hardest things I’ve ever been through,” my sister-in-law recalls.


“I had to watch my hero decay slowly over time and become completely dependent on others.”


Around 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year. And honestly, I didn’t know much about the disease before Sarah shared her dad’s heart-breaking news.


Well a few years later, the man known for The Catch, former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark, suffered the same fate with an ALS diagnosis.


I was new to the Faithful at that time. I became a fan of the team in 2011 and watched every iconic moment from years past, including Dwight’s legendary catch in 1982 that sent San Francisco to their first Super Bowl.

49ers WR Dwight Clark's iconic catch against the Dallas Cowboys in 1981
Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

“Dwight went out of his way to make any fan who approached feel like they’re his best buddy,” said Kirk Reynolds, former 49ers PR director and co-founder of the Dwight Clark Legacy Series.


“It was magical the way he did that. And he did it for everyone.”


Kirk came on board when Dwight was the general manager of the team and says he had a profound impact on his career.


“He went out of his way to make me and any other new people in the organization feel like they belong. He made me feel right at home.”


Dwight’s leadership and guidance helped shape the way the 49ers handled PR and marketing. Kirk’s confidence in the role skyrocketed thanks to his GM. But beyond the day-to-day musings of the franchise, the two became close friends outside of work.


Before Dwight passed away in 2018, he had said in separate conversations with Kirk and Matt Maiocco, 49ers beat writer for NBC Sports Bay Area, that he’d like to create a book that captured all the letters fans wrote to him about what The Catch meant to them.


“He said the stories were always so cool and he had such an incredible relationship with the fanbase,” Kirk recalled. “He really wanted to kind of tie himself back to the fans before he died and keep that relationship alive forever because those letters really meant a lot to him.”


Matt put out a call to action to his followers and asked them to send in letters. After receiving 150-200 submissions, the book “Letters to 87” came to be.


Sadly, the book was published after Dwight lost his battle to ALS, but Kirk and Matt were able to read him many of the letters at his home prior to his passing.


“It was incredibly emotional.”


Once the book hit the shelves, Matt did a series of signings with former players, including a grand finale event at Lesher Center in Walnut Creek.


“We sold 800 tickets for the event. Sold the theatre out. Steve Young, Brent Jones, Eric Wright, Dwight Hicks, all former teammates of Dwight’s, took the stage with Matt and just told stories,” Kirk reminisced.


“I was sitting there marvelling at the moments. How quiet it got at times. How the theatre was filled with laughter at other times. Every fan there was kind of on the edge of their seat and it made them feel like they were sitting right there in the locker room with these guys. And that’s when the light bulb went off.”


This could really be something to bring the fans together and keep Dwight’s spirit alive.


And so in 2021, the inaugural Dwight Clark Legacy Series opened its doors to 49ers teammates and fans to celebrate the iconic wide receiver’s legacy through a charity speaker series. Each year, a panel of players take the stage to have meaningful conversations in hopes of building lasting connections with the fanbase, while also raising money for The Golden Heart Fund – a support system for former 49ers who are facing a range of challenges in their lives following their playing career.


During the event, the Dwight Clark Legacy Award is presented to a current player who best exemplifies Dwight’s spirit for teamwork and camaraderie. George Kittle was the first recipient, followed by Arik Armstead in 2022 and Fred Warner in 2023.


Warner will be presenting the award to Dre Greenlaw this year on May 16th at the California Theatre in San Jose. The event will be hosted by NBC Sports Bay Area’s Laura Britt and of course, Matt Maiocco.

Steve Young returns to the panel, as well, alongside former 49ers quarterbacks, Jeff Garcia and Alex Smith, and Mr. Relevant, Brock Purdy.


“Steve alone could carry a room, but to have those other guys with him will make it very, very special,” Kirk smiled.


There’s a twinkle in his eye when he talks about this series. It all means just a bit more to the former 49ers PR director.


When Dwight asked Kirk to help plan his memorial service, the two met up for lunch in Capitola to share ideas. A few others joined: a guy named Rodney Knox, who hired Kirk at the 49ers, Fred Formosa, their head of security for a number of years, and even Ronnie Lott.


“It was a two and a half to three-hour lunch, just telling stories and laughing. And you could see just how much fun Dwight was having. And, you know, he’s sitting in a wheelchair, so you know things aren’t great in his life as he’s dealing with this horrific disease.


“But for those three hours, it all washed away.”


That legendary lunch became a weekly tradition.

Kirk Reynolds and Dwight Clark meet for lunch every Tuesday along with many friends and former 49ers co-workers
Kirk, far left, surrounded by a cast of characters (that would change weekly) for Tuesday lunch dates with Dwight

“We called them, ‘Tuesday's with Dwight.’ We’d round up a different set of players or employees from the 49er days and just get together with him for a few hours and tell stories.”


Even on a day where Dwight’s wife called Kirk crying to tell him he’d be late, since he was having a rough morning.


“The moment he got there, all that kind of washed away and this energy came back to him. So, it was really meaningful.”


I think the biggest catch of all is the human connections we cling to through adverse situations. It’s the reason I reached out to cover this event.


My sister-in-law recently confided in me about how much her father’s ALS diagnosis affected her; how hard it must’ve been for him to know everything that was happening and what was to come. And how he couldn’t do a damn thing about it.


On her birthday, January 18th 2012, Sarah brought her dad a black coffee with a straw and a hard-boiled egg wrapped in tinfoil. He hated the food at the hospice.

Sarah hugging her dad, Colin
Colin and Sarah

“I’ll never forget when I walked in his room, his eyes lit up and he stuck up his one finger that he could still move and wiggled it at me as if he was forming the words ‘Happy birthday, muffy.’ As I walked up to him, I could see how happy he was that he made it to my birthday. I’ll cherish that day forever because I whispered in his ear that if he needed to go today, I was okay with it and that it would be our special day.


“That if it was his time to walk along the waves in Hawaii, we were all going to be okay.”


Colin passed away that same day.


The Dwight Clark Legacy Series holds a special place in my heart because of my sister and her dad’s story. That’s why The Golden Heart Fund is so important – not just for the players we adore, but for their families, too.


After all, football truly is family.


"[Dwight] was one of those guys that could bring people together. And so, the idea of creating this program that we could run annually, raise money for a cause that meant a lot to him and keep his spirit alive is really why this took place," Kirk's eyes twinkled again.


"He was such a special guy."


If you’d like to attend this year’s event, visit www.dwightclarkaward.com for tickets and more information.

Comments


crys website_edited.jpg

ciao, thanks for poppin' by!

with a degree in journalism, experience in sports broadcasting as a hockey host & incredible interviews with nfl players and analysts, Crystal's love for writing stems from a deep connection with humans who inspire others both on-and-off the field.

Let the posts
come to you.

Thanks for submitting!

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
bottom of page