Winslow caught 13 passes—a playoff record—in the four-hour, three-minute game for 166 yards and a touchdown. He blocked superbly. On a Miami interception he tackled interceptor Lyle Blackwood, who as he fell lateraled to teammate Gerald Small. Winslow quickly righted himself and tackled Small, too. After the game, Miami Coach Don Shula, normally a man of restraint, told reporters, "When you think about Winslow, you think Superman."
Even though San Francisco had whipped Dallas 45-14 earlier in the year, the Cowboys seemed confident that they would win the rematch with the 49ers for the NFC Championship. After all, how seriously could they take an opponent that had finished 2-14 just two years before? But, then, how could the Dallas braintrust underestimate Clark? In the previous Cowboy-49er game Clark had caught four passes for 135 yards and a touchdown. In the playoff game he caught eight passes for 120 yards and two touchdowns, including The Catch.
Clark, who was drafted in the 10th round out of Clemson, had fooled the experts before. "He's a big, tall white kid," says 49er Quarterback Coach Sam Wyche. "So people figure he can't be fast or that tough." But Clark has run the 40 in 4.6; in the first Dallas game he turned a 10-yard out pattern into a 78-yard touchdown by outracing two defensive backs across "the swamp," as he calls the center of the Candlestick Park gridiron, and into the far corner of the end zone. And as for toughness, Clark enrages opponents because of his kamikaze downfield blocking. "He just infuriates defensive backs," says 49er Running Back Coach Billie Matthews. "He'll get into a little something with one of them about every game."
One thing that makes Clark hard to appraise is his running style. His nickname on the 49ers is Herk, which comes from herky-jerky, which describes the way he stutters his way through pass patterns. "Dwight's routes aren't fluid," says Wyche. "They're abrupt, with a lot of starts and stops and sudden changes in direction and body leans and shoulder fakes. All the action looks awkward to a defensive back, but the back reacts to it. He can't help himself."
In the first half of the NFC Championship game Clark gave a demonstration of what being herky-jerky can do to a defender. He ran a three-move, double-post pattern on Cornerback Dennis Thurman that sent Thurman spinning off toward Sausalito by way of Oakland. "They were blitzing and I threw the ball low, but Dwight was alone in the end zone and he cradled it for a touchdown," says Quarterback Joe Montana. "Later we watched the game film and it was amazing because Thurman never even appeared on the screen."
In a seesaw game, Dallas took a 27-21 lead early in the fourth period. With 58 seconds to play, San Francisco had the ball on the Dallas six-yard line, third-and-three. Walsh called Montana to the sideline and told him to run the Sprint Right Option.
The Sprint Right Option, as everyone in the free world now surely knows, is the play in which Montana rolls right with the option to run or pass; Flanker Freddie Solomon, lined up on the left side of the formation, cuts right to the flag; and Clark, on the right side, drives downfield, turns sharp left and then slides from left to right in the end zone should Solomon, the primary receiver, be covered. The Dallas end zone was ringed with cameras as this Sprint Right Option unfolded, and all were clicking as Clark leaped high and stretched to snare a pass that everyone in Candlestick Park thought was being thrown away.
Clark remembers only fragments of The Catch—the fear he'd jumped too soon; the way the ball bounced off his fingertips, obliging him to recatch it; the thought that maybe Montana was heaving the ball out of bounds. "Dwight used all his ability on that play," says Walsh.
The Catch propelled San Francisco into the Super Bowl and has made a famous and much-photographed man of the dashing, white-toothed Clark. He still can't quite get a handle on what happened that day, on how a midair 10th of a second could mean so much to so many. But whenever the crush of the autograph hounds and the praise of the writers and the flacks threaten to inflate Clark's opinion of himself, he knows enough to ask himself one question. "I just say, 'Dwight, what if you'd dropped that thing?' "