By Tim Kawakami
The (San Jose, Calif.) Mercury News
They have had more and bigger and grander celebrations than anybody would hope to ever count, more reason for them, and they have had all too many sad and struggling moments, also.
They are together, though, still and always — the members of the 49ers dynasty, bonded decades ago by nearly perfect football, by death through the years, and by ever-lasting solidarity.
Which brought them and us all to Sunday night’s startling announcement that Dwight Clark — the lighthearted wide receiver who started it all with “The Catch” — had been diagnosed with ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
At about 6 p.m., Clark, 60, broke the news himself with a thoughtful public letter, and that was followed by the release of emotional statements of support and hope from all of the dynasty stalwarts via the DeBartolo Holdings website.
This was all precisely timed and powerful, like an old Bill Walsh game plan.
And it was another convening of the dynasty, another moment when Eddie DeBartolo Jr., Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig, Jerry Rice and yes, Clark — and everybody else from those days — stood together.
Through five Super Bowl titles. Through this, too, now.
“As much as we’ve been together in glory,” former team president Carmen Policy said Sunday night, “it seems like this group gets even tighter in adversity. It’s really noble to behold.”
They call themselves a family, like a lot of sports organizations do, and sometimes, with other groups, that seems trite and mostly exaggerated.
They played football, and, as Clark suggests, it seems likely that the violence of that sport contributed to this condition — and to the deterioration of so many other players.
But beyond that, because these 49ers figures have been through so much more than football, they speak about unbreakable family ties because they have them.
A few months ago, the San Jose (California) Mercury News’ Daniel Brown and I had lunch with Roger Craig — just to catch up and talk football — and Craig rattled off updates for his old comrades just as easily as he might have when they were all playing together.
Roger did not mention Clark, though I think the teammates all knew most of it and by then they knew that Eddie D was, as usual, trying to move heaven and earth for Clark to get the best treatment and see the best doctors.
That it did not leak is another tribute to the unity of all this group, which kept it quiet because Clark wanted it quiet for a while longer.
It would be Clark’s letter, then the statements from his friends and teammates.
And that would be it for this sad, shocking, and essentially 49ers night.
“Every single one of my 49ers teammates that has contacted me has said whatever I need, anytime I need it, they will help,” Clark wrote. “That’s just the kind of guys they are. They were so giving as players and now they are the same as friends.
“I can’t thank my teammates and friends enough for their support. Mr. D always treated us like family and that family is still together.”
The dynasty lost its architect when Walsh died in 2007, and it has lost other great members — including Freddie Solomon and several beloved behind-the-scenes members.
As Policy describes it, the dynasty teammates are all “circled around Dwight now,” which is wholly expected and utterly meaningful.
They won their last Super Bowl after the 1994 season — with a different set of players from the first Super Bowl team in 1981 — and many have gone many different ways, but they are still a team and a family.
“When I heard the news, I like others in the 49er family, was devastated,” former tackle Harris Barton said in a statement. “D.C. changed the course of the 49ers with ‘The Catch’. Don’t be surprised if he changes the course of this disease as well. Love you brother!”
Or as Craig himself said in his statement: “Dwight is like a brother to me. This news crushed me. I’ve vowed to him to be here for whatever he needs from me. Whenever or wherever. He deserves all our heartfelt support.”
You think these guys were great back when they were winning titles? Of course they were.
There will never be another team like this, certainly not in the Bay Area, and there probably will never be another moment like Montana floating to his right, flicking a high pass to the back of the end zone, and Clark reaching to grab it and win that NFC championship game over Dallas in January 1982.
That is immortal. They are retired now, some are doing fantastically, some are struggling, and there is Clark, facing this overwhelming disease.
They were great back then.
But you should see them now, shoulder to shoulder with Clark, embracing each other today, and the next day, and the day after that, and if they could, this would last forever. If it’s up to them, it will.