Clark draws tears, cheers with speech

The Mercury News Weekend - - SPORTS - By Daniel Brown dan­brown@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

SANTA CLARA » A vin­tage re­play of “The Catch” had a Bay Area crowd cheer­ing again.

But it was a new video of Dwight Clark that brought the house down Thurs­day night at the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in­duc­tion cer­e­mony.

Un­able to at­tend the event in per­son be­cause of his de­clin­ing health, Clark, 60, sent along a taped ac­cep­tance speech that ad­dressed his dire con­di­tion. The for­mer 49ers re­ceiver an­nounced in March that he has amy­otrophic lat­eral scle­ro­sis (ALS) and the symp­toms are pro­gress­ing.

“Now, I’m pray­ing for an­other Catch — a cure for this dreaded dis­ease,” Clark said, look­ing di­rectly into the cam­era and stay­ing up­beat. “I’m pray­ing for a re­search doc­tor out there with the equiv­a­lent arm of Joe Mon­tana.

“You know that pat­tern, Doc. Just launch that cure like a Mon­tana pass. I’ll be wait­ing again at the back of the end zone. I’ll even take a high one again just to make us both look good.”

By the end of his speech, some in the crowd at the SAP Cen­ter were dab­bing their eyes.

Clark was one of five new in­ductees into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame. Also hon­ored were for­mer base­ball star Ken Caminiti, long­time Stan­ford base­ball coach Mark Mar­quess, rodeo na­tional cham­pion Jack Roddy and Olympic-medal win­ning soc­cer player Danielle Sla­ton.

Each new mem­ber will have a bronze plaque per­ma­nently in­stalled along the con­course at the SAP Cen­ter. This year’s class brings the to­tal in­ductees to 106.

Clark’s in­duc­tion into this Hall of Fame for the South Bay took some cre­ativ­ity. He was raised in North Carolina, went to col­lege in Clem­son and spent his NFL play­ing ca­reer in San Fran­cisco.

But as his in­duc­tion video Thurs­day­made clear, Clark’s “Catch” against the Dal­las Cow­boys in the 1981 NFC Cham­pi­onship gal­va­nized the Bay Area.

He also got a boost be­cause of the cri­te­rion that looks at how a can­di­date “con­trib­uted in some ex­tra­or­di­nary way to the San Jose com­mu­nity.”

Clark used the fame from his play­ing days to raise money on be­half of the In­tero Founda- tion, which pro­vides re­sources to chil­dren in need through­out the greater San Jose re­gion. He was cred­ited for help­ing to gen­er­ate more than $ 4 mil­lion in grants and sup­port.

As Mon­tana said in a high­light reel salut­ing Clark: “He’s a peo­ple per­son, so help­ing peo­ple comes nat­u­rally to Dwight. You can just see it in his face. The ‘ tell’ is all there.”

Clark had hoped, un­til re­cent days, to at­tend this event in per­son. He was last seen in pub­lic on Oct. 22, when the 49ers hon­ored him at half­time of a game against the Cow­boys at Levi’s Sta­dium.

But he re­al­ized as early as Mon­day that he would be un­able to at­tend this cer­e­mony.

“He wanted to be here re­ally, re­ally badly. But I just think it was too much for him,” said Gino Ble­fari, who ac­cepted on Clark’s be­half at the podium.

Ble­fari, now the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer for HSF Af­fil­i­ates LLC, was the driv­ing force be­hind much of Clark’s char­ity events. They at­tended many fundrais­ers, and Ble­fari al­ways mar­veled at Clark’s abil­ity to con­nect with the pub­lic.

“To me, it not how high he jumped for The Catch, but how low he bowed to helped the kids,” Ble­fari said.

Clark, in his taped ac­cep­tance speech, com­pared ALS to the fear­some Chicago Bears de­fenses of the mid-1980s.

“As you might imag­ine, my con­di­tion, ALS, is a tough op­po­nent,” he said. “But I am bat­tling ev­ery day. Like the Bears de­fense, it hits you in all direc­tions.”

• The 23rd an­nual event benefits Spe­cial Olympics North­ern Cal­i­for­nia and high school sports pro­grams.

PHO­TOS BY JOSIE LEPÉ — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Dwight Clark de­liv­ers a mov­ing ac­cep­tance speech by video dur­ing his in­duc­tion into the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame.

Gino Ble­fari, right, a friend of Dwight Clark, ac­cepts Clark’s plaque from­mas­ter of cer­e­monies Randy Hahn at the SAP Cen­ter.

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