As Jim Stuckey spoke about his best friend facing the fight of his life, Dwight Clark’s iconic image was featured over Stuckey’s right shoulder.
The leap. The outstretched fingertips. The trailing Dallas Cowboys defensive back.
“That’s it,” Stuckey said as he turned to a projector screen showing the Sports Illustrated cover from Jan. 18, 1982.
“The Catch” still resonates today as one of the most famous plays in NFL history. Joe Montana sprinted right, pumped once and tossed high in the back of the end zone for his receiver. Clark’s leaping grab gave the San Francisco 49ers a last-minute win over the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. Two weeks later, the Niners would capture their first of five Super Bowl titles.
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Stuckey on Tuesday morning at Brookland Baptist’s banquet center spoke on behalf of Clark, his teammate at Clemson and in San Francisco. Clark, 60, isn’t catching passes anymore. When Stuckey visited him in April, he had to carry Clark’s coffee mug. When Stuckey saw him again two weeks ago, Clark was in a wheelchair. His speech slurred.
Clark announced in March that he’s been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better know as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“I didn’t know that much about ALS, but now it’s the power of giving,” Stuckey said. “We’ve got to find something for this insidious disease. Hopefully we can find a cure.
“I was just here to help a little bit, to see if we could raise some money for the South Carolina ALS society.”
Stuckey, Clemson’s all-time leader in tackles among defensive linemen and a seven-year NFL veteran with the 49ers, is an Airport High School alumnus. Tuesday, the Charleston resident was the guest speaker at the “The HOPE Breakfast to defeat ALS.”
Talking to a crowd that included current Airport students and former USC quarterbacks Jeff Grantz and Erik Kimrey, among others, Stuckey was using his platform to share information that he’s only recently gathered.
“I wasn’t aware of ALS until it affected my friend and teammate,” Stuckey said. “I mean, I knew about it – I knew about Lou Gehrig’s disease – I didn’t know that your mind is always clear and that it takes all of your physical abilities away.
“I would just like to help and encourage people here in the Columbia area and the surrounding area to become maybe a little bit more aware of ALS because it can strike anyone. It struck the prettiest wide receiver I’ve ever seen in my life, and one of the most athletic I’ve ever seen. And he is 60 years old, and it’s not good.”
Gerald Talley, executive director for South Carolina’s ALS Association chapter, emceed Tuesday’s event. He shared the story of Columbia’s Suzy Shealy, an ALS patient sitting in the crowd, before introducing Stuckey.
“It’s such a devastating disease,” Talley said. “I think if you had a friend or family member that was very active and to see how it can change their body in a short amount of time, it’s eye-opening when you experience it firsthand.”