On January 10, 1982, San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark makes a leaping catch in the end zone on a pass from quarterback Joe Montana with 51 seconds left in the National Football Conference (NFC) championship game against the Dallas Cowboys. “The Catch” set up a successful extra point kick by Ray Wersching that lifted the 49ers to a 28-27 victory and a trip to Super Bowl XVI.
The drive that set up Clark’s memorable catch began with 4:54 left in the fourth quarter, when the 49ers took over possession on their own 11-yard line, with the Cowboys leading 27-21. Over the next 12 plays, Montana passed seven times and called five running plays, effectively moving his team to third down-and-three at the Dallas six-yard line. Montana moved to his right at the snap, chased by three Cowboys. Looking for wide receiver Freddie Solomon, Montana spied Clark, wide open near the back of the end zone. Off balance, Montana lofted the ball in a high spiral towards the 6’4’’ Clark, who grabbed it for a touchdown to tie the score and enable Wersching to boot the game-winner through the uprights.
The win confirmed the dominance of Coach Bill Walsh’s offensive lineup, starring Jerry Rice, Montana, Solomon and Clark, as well as Montana’s meteoric rise to full-fledged hero status. In only his third season with San Francisco, the previously struggling 49ers were Super Bowl-bound for the first time since the franchise was founded in 1946. Three weeks later, Montana was named MVP of Super Bowl XVI after San Francisco defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 26-21 at the Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan. He would win the title twice more in the next decade, as the 49ers continued as one of the NFL’s most dominant teams throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s.