Former 49ers great Dwight Clark passes away after battle with ALS

Dwight Clark, who made one of the most famous catches in NFL history, died Monday -- 15 months after he announced he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig's disease. He was 61.

Clark's wife, Kelly, announced his death on Twitter, saying that she had lost her "best friend and husband."

"He passed peacefully surrounded by many of the people he loved most," Kelly Clark wrote. "I am thankful for all of Dwight’s friends, teammates and 49ers fans who have sent their love during his battle with ALS."

Clark is survived by his wife and three children from a previous marriage, daughter Casey and sons Riley and Mac.

"We extend our condolences and prayers to Dwight's wife, Kelly, his family, friends and fans, as we join together to mourn the death of one the most beloved figures in 49ers history," the organization said in a statement. "For almost four decades, he served as a charismatic ambassador for our team and the Bay Area. Dwight's personality and his sense of humor endeared him to everyone he came into contact with, even during his most trying times. The strength, perseverance and grace with which he battled ALS will long serve as an inspiration to so many. Dwight will always carry a special place in our hearts and his legacy will live on as we continue to battle this terrible disease."

A two-time Pro Bowler, Clark played for nine years with the San Francisco 49ers and became known as one of quarterback Joe Montana's most reliable receivers. But his career was defined by a play known simply as "The Catch."

With less than a minute to play in the 1981 NFC Championship Game, the 49ers trailed Dallas 27-21. Facing a third down at the Dallas 6, Montana rolled out to his right and lofted a pass that appeared to be sailing out of bounds.

A native of Kinston, North Carolina, Clark played collegiately at Clemson before he became a 10th-round pick of the 49ers in the 1979 NFL draft. As the story goes, legendary 49ers coach Bill Walsh discovered Clark when he was at Clemson to scout quarterback Steve Fuller. As Clark was heading out to play golf, he got a call from Walsh asking him to handle receiving duties for Fuller in the workout. Walsh came away so impressed with Clark, who had just 33 catches and three touchdowns in 34 college games, he decided to draft him.

Clark spent his entire career with San Francisco, earning two Pro Bowl berths and a pair of Super Bowl titles. He still ranks third on San Francisco's receiving yards list (6,750), fourth in receptions (506) and seventh in touchdown receptions (48).

When his career ended in 1987, Clark moved into the team's front office, where he earned three more Super Bowl rings as an executive. He joined the Cleveland Browns in an executive role in 1999.

"All of us in the NFL are saddened by the passing of Dwight Clark," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Dwight made many memorable contributions on the field as a two-time Super Bowl champion and later as a member of the front office of the 49ers and Browns. He will forever live on in our memories for The Catch but also for his kind, gentle and courageous spirit."

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