San Francisco 49ers

Former 49ers receiver Dwight Clark, known for ‘The Catch,’ reveals he has ALS

Former 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark sign autographs before the NFC championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Jan. 19, 2014.
Former 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark sign autographs before the NFC championship game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Jan. 19, 2014. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Dwight Clark, whose 1982 touchdown catch in the back of the end zone is the most iconic moment in 49ers history, announced Sunday he is suffering from ALS.

The longtime 49ers wide receiver wrote that he started experiencing symptoms in September 2015, when he felt a weakness in his left hand. Clark, 60, said he thought the sensation was related to neck pain he’s dealt with since his nine-year playing career ended.

Further testing revealed he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, it’s an incurable neuro-muscular ailment that impairs the muscles needed to move, speak, eat and breathe.

“In addition to losing strength in my left hand – which makes opening a pack of sugar or buttoning my shirt impossible – I have now experienced weakness in my right hand, abs, lower back and right leg,” Clark wrote. “I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.”

Clark’s revelation triggered an outpouring of support from former teammates and co-workers, including quarterback Joe Montana, who threw the famous pass in the 1981 NFC championship that led to “The Catch” and sent the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.

“Jennifer and I are saddened by the diagnosis of Dwight,” Montana wrote in a statement. “This is a difficult time for Dwight, (wife) Kelly and all of us who love him. He is family, and in our continual thoughts and prayers. We hope the public will be cognizant of Dwight’s desire for privacy.“

Said former owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.: “Dwight has been an integral part of my family’s life for almost four decades. We are absolutely devastated. We vow to do everything in our power to support Dwight and Kelly and help them fight this horrible disease.”

Team CEO Jed York wrote that Clark had the “full and unconditional support” of the 49ers.

“Many know Dwight as an iconic figure in 49ers lore, whose accomplishments on the field brought joy to fans around the world,” York wrote. “Our organization is fortunate to know him much more intimately as a wonderful man who has given so much of himself as an ambassador to the entire Bay Area.”

Clark wrote that he’s been asked if football caused his condition.

“I don’t know for sure,” he said. “But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.”

At least six former NFL players have been diagnosed with ALS in recent years. In 2011 former Saints safety Steve Gleason revealed he had it. Gleason’s blocked punt in a 2006 game became symbolic of New Orleans’ recovery from Hurricane Katrina and he became a local hero in that city. His family’s experiences with the disease over a five-year period were documented in the film “Gleason,” and he’s become a tireless advocate for ALS research.

Clark finished his career with 506 catches, 6,750 receiving yards and 48 touchdowns. He was inducted into the Clemson University Hall of Fame in 1988, the same year the 49ers retired his No. 87 jersey.

Matt Barrows: @mattbarrows, read more about the team at sacbee.com/sf49ers.

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