It’s one of the most iconic images in pro football history: Dwight Clark leaping into the air in the back of the end zone in Candlestick Park to snag a touchdown pass from Joe Montana and defeat the Dallas Cowboys 28–27 in the 1982 NFC Championship Game. To this day, every football fan simply knows it as “The Catch.”
While millions have watched the clip of Clark making a catch that ended one football dynasty and started another, it might have been the last moment anyone could definitively prove that a single individual was in legal possession of the ball. Back in 2005, Clark told Sports Illustrated that he had reclaimed the ball, albeit after it had been in the possession of a number of different 49ers employees.
But only a month after Clark told his story to the magazine, a 49ers ballboy named Jack McGuire said he had sold the actual ball for $50,000 to a San Francisco building contractor named William F. McDonagh Jr.
Clark tried his best to throw some cold water on McGuire’s claim, but proving the absolute authenticity of either ball is essentially impossible after so many years have passed.
Fast-forward to 2008. Clark, who worked for the 49ers for a decade after retiring from playing, was forced to declare Chapter 7 bankruptcy after his Charlotte, North Carolina construction business failed. Among the assets scheduled to be auctioned to satisfy his creditors are a signed lithograph of late 49ers head coach Bill Walsh (one that includes a hand-drawn diagram of the winning play) as well as the ball Clark had always believed was the one he caught to beat the Cowboys.
In 2011, Clark told the San Jose Mercury News that he didn’t mind parting with the ball. “It was relatively easy to let it go (in the bankruptcy settlement) because I wasn’t sure it was ‘The Catch’ ball,” he said. But now that the bankruptcy trustee is getting ready to auction the ball and the lithograph, it appears Clark has changed his mind.
According to documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of California, the trustee has already received a bid of $5,000 for the two items, but is accepting competing bids until close of business on February 20, 2012. The Daily Caller has learned that despite publicly casting doubt on the authenticity of the ball in the past, Clark is now telling his former teammates not to bid on it, or on the lithograph, so he can reacquire them for himself.
Is the ball the actual piece of pigskin Clark caught that Sunday afternoon in San Francisco? Can we ever really know? Or is the bankruptcy trustee simply disappointed in the price these items can fetch? Stay tuned.
Have $5,001 burning a hole in your pocket? Click here to read the court notice, including information about who to contact if you want to bid.
Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.