Book review: “Letters to 87” a fitting tribute to the legacy of 49ers legend Dwight Clark

Jun 24, 2019 at 7:00 AM1


"No one has been defined by a singular moment more than Dwight Clark."

Those are Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s words, and that's how "Letters to 87: Fans Remember the Legacy of Dwight Clark" opens in a forward by the former San Francisco 49ers owner. "Letters to 87" is an interesting take on a 49ers-related book. It's not just a celebration of Dwight Clark, the former NFL wide receiver whose catch in the back of the end zone during the NFC Championship game following the 1981 season launched a dynasty, but a stroll down memory lane for anyone who remembers that game against the Dallas Cowboys.

For fans who are too young to remember the feeling of watching Clark leap into the air and wrap his fingertips around the Joe Montana-thrown football, the book offers a way to experience the moment through the eyes — or words — of fans who witnessed the franchise-altering moment.

"Letters to 87" features real letters from the die-hard Niner Faithful as they explain what that single play at Candlestick Park meant for them. For some, it ended years of misery and seemingly inept football. For others, it was a moment so fantastic that they were pulled into it and instantly became fans of the once-struggling franchise.

The 49ers and their fans went on to enjoy nearly two decades of dominance and five Super Bowl championships during that span.

Clark, who means so much to the fanbase, is no longer with us. He passed away on June 4, 2018, after a courageous battle with ALS. It was just weeks after NBC Sports Bay Area writer and 49ers insider, Matt Maiocco, gathered letters from fans, and delivered them to Clark's home in Whitefish, Montana. There, he and Clark's former teammates, Ronnie Lott and Keena Turner, his former strength and conditioning coach, Jerry Attaway, former Cleveland Browns executive Lal Heneghan, photographer Brad Mangin, and KNBR host and former sportswriter, Brian Murphy, read those letters to Clark.

Some are emotional. Some are humorous. Some are inspiring. The letters filled Clark with joy as he laid in his bedroom, listening to every word. His one hope was that one day, those letters could be gathered together and shared with the fanbase that brought him so much joy.

That's how "Letters to 87" was born.

Maiocco took it upon himself — along with some help from those in the publishing industry — to make the book happen.


"DC was such a great storyteller, but he also loved to hear what other people had to say about The Catch," wrote Clark's wife, Kelly, in the book. "It was never about him. He was interested in others, and he fully appreciated how that moment impacted lives. He was proud of that accomplishment. After all, he never thought he would make it in the National Football League. So to have that play and that career was a form of validation through the connection he had with his many fans."

Also included in the book are words from Montana and Lott embedded within the 118 fan letters — like Melissa Halmos'. At nine years old, she joined the Niner Faithful on the day of "The Catch." She found herself cheering for the players in red and gold as a way to spite her older brother — a Cowboys fan — who was cheering the 49ers' opponent in that championship game. Halmos has been a fan since.

The book features several black and white photos by Michael Zagaris and Brad Mangin, several of which have never been seen before. They perfectly capture Clark throughout his NFL career. The more recent images of him gathered with close friends show the impact he had on those who knew him.

"As the years moved on, Dwight totally understood how important [The Catch] was to all 49ers fans, players, and everyone associated with the team," wrote Montana. "It was great for him. It was something that enabled him to connect with fans on a personal level. He could look back on that play with great pride. It was a wonderful memory to be a part of something so important, not only in 49er history but NFL history."

"Letters to 87" is the perfect book for the die-hard Niner Faithful, whether it sits on a shelf within your collection or a coffee table as a conversation piece. The letters themselves would have been enough to make the book worth the price, but the inclusion of heartfelt essays by DeBartolo, Montana, Lott, Murphy, and Clark's wife is a bonus.

I was lucky enough to be among those who received a copy of "Letters to 87" in advance of the August 7 release date (yes, 8/7). I quickly read the included essays and have slowly been getting through the fan-written letters. It is an enjoyable experience for someone who grew up a fan of the team but was not old enough to remember watching "The Catch" live. Its impact, however, was made clear by my father's recollection of it.

"Letters to 87" embodies the nearly four decades of memories that started with a then-underrated receiver cementing his place in NFL history and becoming a Bay Area icon. It is a fitting tribute to the legacy of Dwight Clark.

Thank you to Matt Maiocco, a long-time friend of this site, for making this book happen. It is a privilege to have it in my collection.

You can pre-order "Letters to 87" on Amazon. It is currently listed with a $25.00 purchase price.

One hundred percent of the proceeds resulting from the book's sales will go to support Clark's charity of choice, the Golden Heart Fund.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


1 Comment

  • Bill Bird
    Did my letter make it in, David?
    Jun 25, 2019 at 10:52 AM
    0
    Response: It did indeed. It is on page 71.

Facebook Comments



More San Francisco 49ers News



Robert Saleh, Nick Bosa look forward to the challenge of stopping 49ers legend Frank Gore on Sunday

By David Bonilla
10 hrs ago

Everyone in the NFL has a tremendous amount of respect for Frank Gore. He remains a fan-favorite in the Bay Area, even this week as the San Francisco 49ers prepare to face the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. Gore is in his 16th NFL season. The future Hall of Fame running back figures to be a significant part of the Jets offense this weekend with Le'Veon Bell on injured reserve. Head coach Adam Gase confirmed this week that the 37-year-old running back would start against the 49ers — the team that drafted Gore in 2005. Second-year defensive end Nick Bosa was seven years old when Gore took his first NFL snap. His defense will try to stop the veteran running back on Sunday. Bosa, now 22, was asked about Gore after Thursday's practice and whether

Read the Full Article


49ers Final 53-Man Predictions

By Matthew Barr
Sep 4, 2020

The San Francisco 49ers are going to cut their roster down to 53 players by Saturday afternoon. Originally back in April, I took a way too early look at what the roster could look like. Now less than 48 hours away from the deadline, I reexamine my picks and predictions. Quarterbacks (3): Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard In: C.J. Beathard Out: N/A COVID-19 made keeping a third QB absolutely necessary this season. Much to the chagrin of 49ers fans, Beathard survives another year on the roster and could possibly steal an important spot on an exceptionally talented team. Running backs (5): Raheem Mostert, Jerick McKinnon, Tevin Coleman, Jeff Wilson Jr., Kyle

Read the Full Article


Brink's Best Bets: 49ers vs. Cards & All NFL Week 1 Predictions

By Gilbert Brink
Sep 4, 2020

Beginning this week, and following every week this NFL season, I will predict the scores of every NFL game. I'll sum up the results in one sentence for each game while providing an in-depth analysis of the 49ers' match-up. 2020 is set to be a unique season for fans, players, and the NFL as a whole. Quite frankly, I believe we're all just glad to have football back on Sundays after what has been an incredibly difficult year so far. Let's get to the picks! Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs (-9.5) - Texans' lack of firepower prevents them from keeping up with the champs. Chiefs 27 - Texans 16 Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings (+2.5) - Rodgers acts his age, Vikings surprise at home.

Read the Full Article

Featured

More Featured Stories

More by David Bonilla

All Articles by David Bonilla

More Articles

All Articles
Share 49erswebzone