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San Francisco 49ers great Dwight Clark dies at age 61

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San Francisco 49ers legend Dwight Clark passed away Monday at the age of 61, his family confirmed. An All-Pro and two-time Super Bowl champion, Clark was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease, in March of 2017.

"The San Francisco 49ers family has suffered a tremendous loss today with the passing of Dwight Clark," the team announced in a statement. "We extend our condolences and prayers to Dwight's wife, Kelly, his family, friends and fans, as we join together to mourn the death of one the most beloved figures in 49ers history.

"For almost four decades, he served as a charismatic ambassador for our team and the Bay Area. Dwight's personality and his sense of humor endeared him to everyone he came into contact with, even during his most trying times. The strength, perseverance and grace with which he battled ALS will long serve as an inspiration to so many. Dwight will always carry a special place in our hearts and his legacy will live on as we continue to battle this terrible disease."

Clark was on the receiving end of the iconic game-winning touchdown -- memorialized as "The Catch" -- in the 1981 NFL Championship Game. That era-defining play shifted the balance of power in the NFC, ending the hegemony of the 1970s Cowboys and launching the 49ers' dynasty of the 1980s.

The Niners would go on to win Super Bowl XVI, the first professional sports championship the city of San Francisco had ever experienced.

Clark spent the entirety of his nine-year career with the 49ers, ranking third and fourth in franchise history in receiving yards (6,750) and receptions (506), respectively. A big, physical target at 6-foot-4, Clark emerged as Hall of Famer Joe Montana's go-to receiver as Bill Walsh's West Coast offense reigned supreme throughout the 1980s.

If not for a serendipitous phone call intended for former Clemson quarterback Steve Fuller, Clark's career might have been a dream. When Walsh called to arrange a workout for Fuller, Clark happened to answer the phone. Walsh invited the receiver to come along and catch passes for his roommate. Weeks later, the 49ers drafted Clark in the 10th of 12 rounds, pairing him with their third-round quarterback from Notre Dame. The rest is history, as Montana-to-Clark became one of the greatest connections in NFL lore.

Overseeing the entire operation was Hall of Fame owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr., who released his own statement on Clark's passing:

"My heart is broken. Today, I lost my little brother and one of my best friends. I cannot put into words how special Dwight was to me and to everyone his life touched. He was an amazing husband, father, grandfather, brother and a great friend and teammate. He showed tremendous courage and dignity in his battle with ALS and we hope there will soon be a cure for this horrendous disease.

"I will always remember Dwight the way he was -- larger than life, handsome, charismatic and the one who could pull off wearing a fur coat at our Super Bowl parade. He was responsible for one of the most iconic plays in NFL history that began our run of Super Bowl championships, but to me, he will always be an extension of my family. I love him and will miss him terribly. Our hearts and prayers are with his wife Kelly, his children and the entire Clark family."

Following his sterling career on the field, Clark worked his way through San Francisco's front office, ultimately rising to general manager. He went on to become Director of Football Operations for the reconstituted Cleveland Browns from 1999-2002.

In a moving tribute to Clark's legacy, NFL Network's Michael Silver wrote last September that the former player and executive "carried an aura of awesomeness into his post-football existence: Handsome, charming and perpetually cheerful, the man lit up a room without acting as though he owned it."

"More importantly," Silver recalled, "Clark taught me that a man could live out a remarkable dream, emerge as a beloved icon for one of America's most storied cities, receive the spoils that come with such a regal role -- and never, ever act as though he were owed a morsel of it."

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