Originally posted by dtg_9er:
The original catch signaled the end of the era of "also rans" and the beginning of the championship era. That places it above the others historically. Can't judge which was more difficult or well played, but it certainly doesn't get better than Montana to Clark.
That's my take on it.
At the franchise level, The Catch signaled our entry into the rare air of teams with actual dynasties and iconic named plays. You only pop your cherry once, and The Catch was it. In comparison, the other catches are just memorable plays. Ask a Browns fan what The Catch II was, he'll have no clue. Catches after The Catch are merely internal issues for Niners fans to debate. On the other hand, even Carolina fans know what The Catch is.
I'd also argue that The Catch had wider implications for the league as a whole. It marked a sea change in the NFL's history as it ushered in the west coast offense and the birth of what we currently think of as the modern NFL. It's not just a play, it's a bookend to one era and the beginning of a revolution.
However spectacular Catches II and III were, they happened within the normal expectations of the modern NFL. The original Catch happened to the NFL, and the NFL will never be the same again. Be it to the history of the franchise, or the the NFL at large, it's a tall order to unseat The Catch.