Walsh's influence still felt on each football Sunday

Of course former San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh would have his fingerprints and brainpower all over what might be the most memorable play in NFL history. Walsh called it.

He diagrammed The Catch, shipped it to Joe Montana, and on third and goal, watched the play and his legend come to life.

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And here's a little known fact surrounding the Catch that Dwight Clark made that day, and in every replay ever since. For the potential next play, the fourth-and-goal play, Walsh was planning to call for a run.

Instead, the play started Bill Walsh's run as the most influential football figure over the past quarter century.

Nobody devised sharper offensive schemes, more detailed game plans, or more precise practice schedules than the ever meticulous Walsh.

Along with Sid Gillman, Walsh was one of the founding fathers of the West Coast offense that we still see Sunday after Sunday.

Walsh's ideas -- ball-controlled passing attacks based on rhythm and timing -- spread to the multiple descendents of his far-reaching coaching tree. They were all over the Super Bowl victories that George Seifert achieved in San Francisco, Mike Holmgren in Green Bay, Mike Shanahan in Denver, Brian Billick in Baltimore and Jon Gruden in Tampa.

Even now, every coach uses some of the crafty elements Walsh deployed in creating the 49ers dynasty. Other prominent coaches would not be where they are without Walsh, who was instrumental in setting up the minority coaching fellowship program that helped African-American coaches get jobs and, in the mid 1980s, brought to the 49ers training camp a young, aspiring coach named Marvin Lewis.

Without Walsh, wide receiver Jerry Rice probably is not drafted by San Francisco, nor is quarterback Joe Montana. And who knows if then-washed up Tampa Bay quarterback Steve Young even lands in San Francisco, which at the time, because of Walsh, was the only team willing to trade for him. But Walsh revived Young's career, just as he did for a San Francisco franchise that went 2-14 in both 1978 and 1979 before he took over as head coach.

This is how it always seemed to be. The football Gods constantly shined on Walsh. Unfortunately, other Gods didn't.

Around 1999, Walsh's wife, Geri, suffered a stroke that left her, in her husband's words, "severely handicapped." Then in May 2002, Walsh's 46-year-old son Steve, a TV reporter in Denver, died of leukemia. And Walsh got hit with the third decimating blow in 2004, when he discovered that he had the onset of leukemia that the public only learned of in November.

Walsh kept the secret hidden as if it were some game plan. But there's no secret about his place in history.

A man whose influence still is evident on each football Sunday -- fittingly and sadly - has passed.

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