Clemson, S.C.—Former Clemson player and NFL legend Dwight Clark passed away Monday after fighting ALS for the past two years. Clark, who played for Clemson from 1975-78, died in Montana surrounded by family and friends. He was 61-years-old.
Clark is the second former Clemson pass catcher who went on to NFL greatness to pass away in the last two months. Former Clemson All-American Bennie Cunningham died of cancer on April 23, 2018 at the age of 63.
Clark came to Clemson from Charlotte, NC in 1975 as part of one of the great recruiting classes in school history. That class included Steve Fuller, Jerry Butler, Joe Bostic, and Steve Kenney, all of whom joined Clark as Tigers who went on to play at least nine years in the NFL.
Clark caught just 30 passes for 571 yards in his Clemson career, but he averaged 17.3 yards per catch, still the seventh highest yards per catch rate in Clemson history. He had just three touchdown receptions in his career, but few longtime Clemson fans will forget his 62-yard touchdown catch at Maryland in 1978 in a 28-24 victory that clinched Clemson’s first ACC title in 11 years.
Clemson concluded the 1978 season with an 11-1 record and finished tied for sixth in the final UPI Coaches poll. Ironically for Clark, the Tigers were tied for sixth with Notre Dame, Joe Montana’s college team.
Clark teamed with Montana as one of the top passing combinations in the NFL for nine years (1979-87). Clark caught 508 passes for 6,750 passes and 48 touchdowns and almost all of those receptions came from Montana. In 1982 he was named the Most Valuable Player of the NFL by Sports Illustrated. He is the only former Clemson player to be named NFL MVP by any service.
He is still third in 49ers history in reception yardage. Only Jerry Rice caught more touchdown passes than Clark from Joe Montana. San Francisco won two Super Bowl Championships during Clark’s playing career.
One play stood out in Clark’s career. It was the 1981 NFC Championship game between the 49ers and the Cowboys. With less than a minute left, Clark caught the game winning touchdown pass from Montana in a 28-27 49ers victory, a victory that began an era of five Super Bowl Championships for the 49ers franchise.
The image of that catch was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, just one week after Perry Tuttle was on the cover of the same publication for the Tigers win over Nebraska to win the 1981 season National Championship.
Clark went into front office work for the 49ers after he retired and was a part of three more Super Bowl Championship teams in 10 years. He later became the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns.
“My heart breaks today,” said Clemson Head Football Coach Dabo Swinney. “When I was growing up, I remember watching Dwight Clark play. As a receiver he was someone I looked up to. I remember his catch against the Dallas Cowboys.
“Then I had the opportunity meet him and play golf with him when I became the head coach at Clemson. He sent me a signed ball with a diagram of that play against the Cowboys and I still have that in my office in a prominent place.
“About a month ago when he was inducted into the South Carolina Football Hall of Fame, I returned the favor somewhat in that I had a No. 30 Clemson jersey made with his name on it and I sent it to him with some other Clemson items. He called and left me a voice mail to thank me for the jersey and to tell me the jerseys today weren’t anything like the tear-away jerseys from his day.
“He closed by telling me how proud he was of our program. That meant a lot.”