CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Former San Francisco 49ers receiver and Cleveland Browns executive Dwight Clark has ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Clark made the announcement in a blog post published Sunday evening.
“Those words are still very hard for me to say,” Clark wrote. “While I’m still trying to wrap my head around the challenge I will face with this disease over the coming years, the only thing I know is that I’m going to fight like hell and live every day to the fullest.”
Clark said that he began experiencing weakness in his left hand in September 2015 and after months of tests and treatment that saw him visit 6 neurologists and 3 ALS specialists, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
“In addition to losing strength in my left hand – which makes opening a pack of sugar or buttoning my shirt impossible – I have now experienced weakness in my right hand, abs, lower back and right leg,” Clark said. “I can’t run, play golf or walk any distances. Picking up anything over 30 pounds is a chore. The one piece of good news is that the disease seems to be progressing more slowly than in some patients.”
Clark served as the first top football personnel executive of the expansion era for the Browns as vice president and director of football operations after being hand-picked by late Browns owner Al Lerner shortly after he was awarded the franchise from the NFL.
Clark oversaw the 1999 expansion draft that saw the team select center Jim Pyne from the Lions with their first pick and he was instrumental in the selection of Tim Couch with the No. 1 pick in the 1999 NFL Draft. His other first-round picks included defensive end Courtney Brown with the top pick in 2000 and defensive tackle Gerard Warren third overall in 2001.
Clark resigned on May 14, 2002 after new head coach Butch Davis assumed control of the personnel decisions for the franchise.
Clark, a 2-time Pro Bowler, was drafted with the first pick of the 10th round of the 1979 NFL Draft by Bill Walsh. In 8 seasons for the 49ers, Clark totaled 506 catches for 6750 yards and 48 touchdowns in 134 career games.
“I’ve been asked if playing football caused this,” Clark said. “I don’t know for sure. But I certainly suspect it did. And I encourage the NFLPA and the NFL to continue working together in their efforts to make the game of football safer, especially as it relates to head trauma.”
Clark made one of the most memorable plays in NFL history when he leaped in the back corner of the endzone to catch a 6-yard touchdown pass from Joe Montana in the final minute of the 1981 NFC championship game against the Dallas Cowboys to give the 49ers a 28-27 victory to advance to Super Bowl XVI.
“I can’t thank my teammates and friends enough for their support,” Clark said. “Mr. D [former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr.] always treated us like family and that family is still together. I also want to thank all the great 49ers fans. Your support over the last 35 years has allowed me to remain connected to you. Rarely does a day go by when I’m not asked about ‘the Catch,’ when we were able to get past the Cowboys and go on to win our first Super Bowl.”