When I first discovered the NFL in the early 1970s, the league had a handful of Harlem Globetrotters, and pretty much everyone else was the Washington Generals.
It was the Dolphins, Steelers, Cowboys, and Raiders, with each winning at least two Super Bowls from 1971 through 1980. At the other end of the spectrum were the teams that couldn’t get out of their own way.
Leading the way among the teams that couldn’t get out of their own way was the 49ers. And in the first year after Cowboys, Dolphins, Dolphins, Steelers, Steelers, Raiders, Cowboys, Steelers, Steelers, Raiders, the 49ers took over.
But even after a 13-3 season that gave the 49ers the No. 1 seed in the NFC (and the best record in all of football), no one believed that the 49ers could finish the job. Especially with the Cowboys standing in the way for a berth in Super Bowl XVI.
Then came the game that culminated in The Catch. And that’s what made Dwight Clark’s feat even more impressive. Making the moment even more unforgettable was the fact that it represented a break from the same-old NFL.
The Generals had finally beaten the Globetrotters, opening the door for a greater range of championship possibilities. And while the 49ers quickly became the Globetrotters in their own right, that Clark-and-Joe-Montana-fueled ascension of the 49ers was special because it went so decidedly against what had become the norm for anyone who had been paying attention to the NFL — and especially for those of us who first noticed the NFL on the front end of a decade that consisted of only four haves and 24 have-nots.