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Off On The Wrong Foot
Paul Zimmerman
January 18, 1982
...but right on target was 49er Joe Montana as he took aim at the NFC title
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January 18, 1982

Off On The Wrong Foot

...but right on target was 49er Joe Montana as he took aim at the NFC title

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A minute and a half left now. Montana hit Solomon on an underneath pattern for 12, down to the 13-yard line, and the 49ers called time with 1:15 showing. Clark slowly sank to the ground. Hal Wyatt, the co-trainer, went out to him. "You O.K.?" he asked. "Water, gimme some water," Clark said. Half a dozen Cowboys were on one knee, heads down, chests heaving. "I looked over at them," Cross said. "They had, well, I don't want to say, a beaten look, but I saw on their faces the same look Thomas Hearns had when Sugar Ray hit him a few times. They had had us backed up, but now they were no longer the aggressors. They were fighting for their lives."

The 49er coaches had taken off their head sets. Walsh talked to McKittrick. They conferred with Montana. The play would be 29-Scissors, the big banana, Solomon dipping inside and then breaking for the left corner, behind a semipick by Mike Wilson, who'd replaced Clark. A TD play. Solomon got clear, but the ball sailed wide. Walsh, who seldom shows emotion, let out a yell and leaped high in the air.

"I jumped as high as I've ever jumped in my life," he said. "I thought that was the championship right there. We were never going to get that open again. It had worked perfectly to get Solomon free in the end zone, and we missed it."

"The timing on it was a little off," Montana said. "Yeah, I did happen to see Coach Walsh's reaction. He looked pretty disgusted."

Second and 10 from the 13. "Eighteen or 19-Bob," McKittrick told Walsh. "Pick one." He picked 19, sweep left. It gained seven yards, down to the Cowboy six. "I wasn't thinking TD in that situation," Elliott said. "I was thinking, 'Hold on to the ball, get as much as you can, try to get out of bounds.' "

"They were executing with guys that I didn't even know who they were," Cowboy Strong Safety Charlie Waters said. "I mean who is No. 35? [Elliott]. Who was that No. 30 [Bill Ring] who was in there? I don't mean to be demeaning, but they're not exactly Tony Dorsetts."

"I felt like running out on the field and tackling somebody," said Cowboy Quarterback Danny White.

The 49ers called time with 58 seconds showing. The Cowboys got out of their nickel defense and put three linebackers back in. "Bob-18," McKittrick told Walsh. Sweep right. Walsh shook his head. "We'll pass," he said. "Sprint right option." In the press box Wyche smiled. It was the play that had given the 49ers their first touchdown, Solomon slotted inside Clark on the right side and breaking to the corner after Clark had cleared out underneath in a semi-pick. But it was Step Two of the play that Wyche really enjoyed. Step Two, if Solomon were covered, involved Clark's cutting across the end zone, right to left, doing an about face and breaking back right. Montana, rolling to his right, had to find him.

Clark, 6'4" and 210 pounds, is one of the NFL's great possession receivers. The 49ers drafted him out of Clemson in the 10th round in 1979 when they'd gone there to scout Steve Fuller, the quarterback. They had liked the way Clark worked with him in practice. The stop and reverse move is something Clark and Montana have going together. They'll work on it on their own time in practice. "We practiced it from Day One in training camp in Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.," Wyche said.

"Surround Joe," Quillan told the linemen in that final huddle. "Give him time." The Cowboys gathered themselves for one last rush. Montana scrambled right. Solomon was covered. Too Tall Jones and Larry Bethea and a blitzing D.D. Lewis were closing in, forcing Montana to the sidelines. "I wasn't going to take the sack," he said. "I couldn't see Dwight open. I knew he had to be at the back of the end zone. I let the ball go. I got hit and wound up on my back. I rolled over. I saw Dwight's feet hit the ground. I heard the crowd screaming."

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