San Francisco 49ers: Top 20 games in franchise history

20 of 21

1981 NFC Championship Game Against the Dallas Cowboys

You had to know this would be towards the top. The game contained perhaps the greatest play in 49ers history and, for that reason alone, it could make this list. In addition to Dwight Clark’s incredible catch, the game was the first time that the 49ers had managed to surpass the Dallas Cowboys and their own impressive dynasty.

The game was played at Candlestick Park and pitted two of the most famous head coaches of all-time against one another: Tom Landry of the Cowboys and Bill Walsh of the 49ers. Walsh’s 49ers were young but riding a 13-3 regular season record into the playoffs with their third year head coach.

The Cowboys regular season record was 12-4 behind the talents of running back Tony Dorsett. After losing the previous NFC Championship game, the Cowboys were looking to get back to Super Bowl XVI in Pontiac, Michigan.

Quarterback Joe Montana led the 49ers with three touchdown passes, none more important than the one to 49er tight end Dwight Clark.

Late in the game, trailing 27-21, Montana took the snap from the 6-yard line and drifted right, scrambling from Cowboys defenders. He pumped, nearly releasing the pass, and saw Clark coming across the back of the end zone, moving left to right. Montana threw for Clark  and put just enough air under the pass to reach him before the ball could be tipped.

The ball would either be caught or incomplete. It was Clark or nobody.

Clark needed every inch of his 6’4″ frame to haul in Montana’s pass with his fingertips. In later interviews, Clark would say he “double caught” the ball, barely hanging on for the touchdown.

The play became iconic for a 49ers team that was in the middle of developing a dynasty behind the players involved and their coach on the sidelines.

Next: The Drive to Say Goodbye to The Genius