My friend Ryan Bronson and I are going to have to agree to disagree on “The Catch.”
Ryan is a long time Cowboys fan, and a lifelong resident of North Idaho. He was previously a sports writer on The Press, and later the news editor.
“It’s been almost 40 years since that game, and it has to be one of the most overplayed highlights in NFL history,” Ryan said. “I mean, we won the next two NFC Championship games we played against the Niners, but all we ever see is that highlight, over and over again. As a Cowboy fan, for the longest time, I’m just sick of them playing that replay … 15, 20, 25 years after the fact, over and over.
“As time went on, I realized a few things: One, it was a nice catch … as nice as 40 other catches I’ve seen this season. Two, it is, without a doubt, one of the most iconic moments in NFL history and deserves its place in football lore … especially because it beat the Cowboys.”
AS FOR ME, you may have noticed, I’ve been a 49ers fan since the late 1960s, and I grew up in Salem, Ore., at a time when the only two West Coast teams in the NFL were the 49ers and the Rams. I rooted for John Brodie … then Joe Montana … then someone else who wore the red and gold.
In fact, if I were asked to sum up my happiness in just a few words, I would answer with this:
SF — Clark 6 pass from Montana (Wersching kick)
The 49ers and Cowboys – or the Cowboys and 49ers – have had some pretty storied playoff matchups over the years. But until last season, when S.F. won in a wild-card game in Dallas, they had not met in the postseason since 1995.
Today, they meet in the playoffs for the first time in Santa Clara, with the winner advancing to the NFC Championship.
MOST everyone remembers “The Catch,” whether they saw it live or not.
Folks of a certain age remember the three straight meetings between the 49ers and the Cowboys in the NFC title game in the 1990s.
Folks of a “real” certain age (re: old) remember the three straight playoff meetings in the early seventies.
The Cowboys were the better team at the time, and won the first two, both in the NFC Championship.
But the 49ers should have won Round 3, in the 1972 divisional playoff. Vic Washington (who you probably don’t remember) returned the opening kickoff on the carpet in Candlestick for a touchdown, and the Niners led by 12 points late in the game. But Roger Staubach (who you probably remember) led the Cowboys to a 30-28 comeback victory, the winning TD set up after 49ers wide receiver Preston Riley, on the “hands” team, decided to treat an onside kick as if it were a human backboard.
The Cowboys went on to be Super Bowl regulars for the rest of the 1970s, while the 49ers went into a tailspin after that loss … until Bill Walsh came along in 1979 to save the day.
“I became a Cowboys fan in the late ’70s, mostly because my closest uncle was a Cowboys fan, but also because they were on TV a lot and they had like ‘Too Tall’ Jones and, of course, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders,” he said. “I was a big Tony Dorsett fan. In January 1982, you couldn’t find a more invested 9-year-old.
“What I remember about that game is that I really wanted the Cowboys to win, and it felt like they were the better team for most of the game. So then Montana hits Clark in the back of the end zone … I’m not sure there’s any other way to describe it other than just utter disbelief. Of course, we still had a chance to win after that play, but there was a different aura about the game up until then. In my entire life, only one game — out of the games I’ve played in — has brought me to tears. Only one.”
Opinions differ on whether “The Catch” – followed by the shirt-grab tackle, followed by the strip-sack – completely changed the fortunes of the two franchises.
What is certain is that the 49ers went on to win the Super Bowl two weeks later – the first of five in a span of 14 seasons.
The Cowboys reached the NFC title game the following season, but then suffered through five losing seasons before returning to glory under coach Jimmy Johnson and that owner who is still around that you’ve probably heard of.
When Dallas won those three Super Bowls in four years in the 1990s, they beat the 49ers in the NFC title game the first two years. S.F. denied the Cowboys three touchdowns — “They stole one from us,” Ryan said — before Dallas won its last Super Bowl during the 1995 season.
THE RIVALRY between the 49ers and the Cowboys was on again, off again. Other than the back-to-back meetings in the early 1970s, the three straight matchups in the 1990s and “The Catch” game, it’s hard to be a rival when you haven’t met in the playoffs in 27 seasons.
The 49ers’ rival? In the old days, it was the Rams, when it was S.F. vs. L.A., rivalry started again when the Rams returned from St. Louis a few years ago.
For a few years in the 90s and early 2000s, they were the Packers in the playoffs.
Nowadays? Besides the Rams? Maybe that team in Seattle.
“I think Cowboys fans have different opinions about which team is our most hated No. 1 rival,” Ryan said. “I’m sure some Cowboys fans are like me: The team we dislike the most is whoever happens to be the second best team in the NFC East that year. Seriously though, all those Eastern teams are great rivals. Outside of the division, the Niners are probably up there with the Steelers and Packers, in no particular order. Born for this, for me, is that I was born and raised here. I like the Seahawks (when the Cowboys don’t play), so yeah, I have a particular dislike for the Niners … now more than ever.”
It’s understandable. When I’m not rooting for the 49ers, I’m usually rooting for the Cowboys — how can you not cheer for “America’s Team,” after all — and probably would next week if they win today.
WHO ARE YOU rooting for, both teams were on a title drought.
Some teams consider it a successful season when they enter the playoffs. The 49ers and Cowboys measure success by winning Super Bowls.
San Francisco went five for five in Super Bowls from the 1981-94 seasons. The 49ers have only been back twice since then, losing in the Super Bowl after the 2012 and ’19 seasons.
You’d think 49ers fans would be satisfied with five Super Bowls — after all, only the Steelers and Patriots, with six each, have more, meaning 28 of the 32 teams have won fewer.
But once you get that taste that wins them over…
Dallas appeared in eight Super Bowls (all from the 1970-95 seasons) and won five.
“It’s been quite a drought for us since then,” Ryan said. “Our last NFC Championship Game appearance was what, 27 years ago? That’s a long time for “America’s Team” to not even reach a conference championship game, but it’s not like we were awful. In the last 20 seasons, not including the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys had a losing record only four times. In contrast, the Niners had 12 losing seasons during that same stretch.
As for the Cowboys’ Super Bowl drought…
“All I can say is, let’s hope it ends sooner rather than later,” Ryan said.
Mark Nelke is sports editor of The Press. He can be reached at 208-664-8176, Ext. 2019, or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @CdAPressSports.