Candlestick Park saw its final game this past weekend, an exhibition flag football contest between San Francisco 49ers legends and other NFL greats, but three plays, known simply by one name, will live on forever. The Catch, volumes 1-3, all lifted the Faithful, a city, a team and will live on in football lore. And, despite their moniker, all three have another intriguing similarity. All came on 3rd & 3.
The NFC Championship game on January 10, 1982 featured an upstart 49ers team led by head coach Bill Walsh and a young quarterback Joe Montana against Tom Landry’s juggernaut Cowboys, America’s Team and winners of two Super Bowls in five appearances. Despite Montana’s three interceptions (and six turnovers as a team), the 49ers had a chance to win and took over at their own 10 yard line trailing 27-21 with 4:54 left to play. Joe Cool marched the Niners down to the Dallas 6, when they took a timeout and dialed up Sprint Right Option on 3rd & 3. Originally intended for Freddie Solomon, who slipped on the play, Montana was flushed out of the pocket and rolling right as three Cowboys chased him. On what looked like a throw-away, Dwight Clark ascended into the heavens, grabbed the ball and reversed the fortunes of two franchises. The 49ers would turn that victory into four Super Bowl titles in the 80s. You can relive The Catch here.
The Catch II aka Owen’s Redemption
Fast forwarding nearly 17 years, the Niners faced an equally daunting task in Brett Favre’s Packers, who had owned the Red and Gold throughout the decade. As the two teams battled through a hard fought contest, Green Bay grabbed a 27-23 lead after a Favre strike to Antonio Freeman. San Francisco had 76 yards and only 1:56 left, when Young led the Niners to the Packers 25. Again, on 3rd & 3, Young stumbled, regained his balance and found Terrell Owens with a perfect strike to vanquish the Cheeseheads with three seconds left. Owens shed tears of joy as he placed a bear hug on head coach Steve Mariucci and the 49ers got the Green Bay monkey off their back. Here’s the drive with the legendary Pat Summerall and John Madden on the call.
The Catch III aka The Grab
The 2012 NFC Divisional Playoff game between the Niners and Saints was one of the best playoff games in recent memory. Two great teams, New Orleans, led by Drew Brees and their high-powered passing attack, locked up with San Francisco’s suffocating defense. A back-and-forth battle, it looked over when Jimmy Graham split two defenders to put New Orleans up 32-29. With under two minutes and 85 yards in front of them, the 49ers went right down the field, largely thanks to a big catch and run by Vernon Davis. With 14 seconds left at the Saints 14, on (you guessed it) 3rd & 3, Alex Smith connected with Davis on the “Vernon Post” and the 49ers won 36-32. Much like Owens in 99, Davis shed tears of joy celebrating the moment. Here’s the dramatic touchdown.
Three plays. One down. Is it coincidence? Is it fate? Whatever it is, it’s history. 49ers history. And no one has it better than that.
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