NFC West: Dwight Clark

Joe MontanaAP Photo
Score: 49ers 28, Cowboys 27
Date: Jan. 10, 1982
Site: Candlestick Park

The fans got it right picking The Catch.

Was this really a choice?

That is no disrespect to Joe Montana hitting John Taylor to win the Super Bowl in 1989 or to Steve Young and Terrell Owens hooking up with The Catch II to win a 1998 playoff game. Those were the two other finalists in our 49ers most memorable plays feature this week.

Fine, stunning, unforgettable plays. Both of them.

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However, in reality, The Catch is the only choice for the top play in 49ers history. It might be the most memorable play in NFL history.

Whether you were alive or not in 1982, you know this play. You can see Dwight Clark jumping into the sky over Everson Walls to snag Montana’s desperate heave right now, can’t you?

It is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. This play represents so much more than what it simply was at the moment. It didn’t just surge the San Francisco 49ers into their first Super Bowl -- it changed the course of NFL history.

It was the beginning of a dynasty. It was the arrival of Bill Walsh and Montana as NFL legends.

It knocked the Dallas Cowboys off their perch for a bit. It ignited one of sports' greatest rivalries.

Like all things great, The Catch’s impact was great and long lasting. There is no other play like it in 49ers history. It began the history of the 49ers in a lot of ways, and it certainly defined it.

There was no other choice.

49ers' top plays: Catch II

July, 9, 2014
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Terrell Owens BRUCE GORDON/AFP/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in San Francisco 49ers history. Yesterday, we covered the throw from Joe Montana to John Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII, and Monday we reviewed "The Catch." Please vote for your choice as the 49ers’ most memorable play.

Score: 49ers 30, Packers 27
Date: Jan. 3, 1999 Site: Candlestick Park

The Catch will always be The Catch.

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Montana to Clark will forever be The Catch in the NFL for every fan, no matter who they root for.

However, for 49ers fans, there was another catch. Young to Owens. It instantly became The Catch II.

The play itself didn’t have the immediate or future impact as the original catch did. But in its own right, the Catch II remains an iconic moment in the 49ers’ rich history. Other than the 49ers’ five Super Bowl victories and The Catch, it is difficult to imagine a more emotional postseason moment in franchise history.

It involved two wildly different historic figures in team history. There was Steve Young, a beloved Hall of Fame quarterback. Then there was also Terrell Owens. Owens was regarded in San Francisco like he was regarded everywhere in his career -- talented but not worth the trouble.

Yet, the 49ers were happy to have him on this day. It wasn’t a perfect day for Owens, only a perfect ending. He started the day with four drops, including one in the end zone. But when Young needed Owens most, he was there.

The Packers took a 27-23 lead with 1:56 to go. The 49ers had to go 76 yards to win. The drive culminated on a 25-yard pass from Young to Owens. The play was unlikely. Owens was completely unreliable that day. Young went to him while he was tightly covered by two Green Bay defensive backs at the goal line -- with the season on the line.

Yet, Owens found a way to secure the ball, leaving the Packers standing in the end zone in disbelief.

Owens ran to his coach, Steve Mariucci, and collapsed into his arms, sobbing like a newborn. It’s a memory etched in the minds of 49ers fans everywhere -- just like Dwight Clark leaping into the heavens to bring down The Catch.

49ers' top plays: The Catch

July, 7, 2014
7/07/14
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Joe MontanaAP Photo
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in the San Francisco 49ers' history. On Tuesday, we will feature Joe Montana's throw to John Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII and Wednesday, The Catch II. Please vote for your choice as the 49ers’ most memorable play.

Score: 49ers 28, Cowboys 27
Date: Jan. 10, 1982 Site: Candlestick Park

How could this play not be on this list of candidates for the best play in 49ers' history?

It is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.

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Say "The Catch" to any football fan and they will know what it is. Mention it to a 49ers’ fan and see that person erupt into unbridled glee. The Catch may have happened 32 years ago, but it is fresh in the minds of all 49ers fans, even fans who weren’t alive yet.

Everyone knows The Catch.

Montana to Clark.

It changed everything.

With the upstart 49ers trailing America’s Team 27-21 with 58 seconds to go, the home crowd was both buzzing and a collective nervous wreck at once. It was third-and-3 from the Dallas 6-yard line.

Even though the game was in the final minute, Bill Walsh had options. He could have gone for a first down or he could take two strikes at the end zone. Walsh wanted pay dirt.

When Joe Montana took the snap, the play was sprint right option. The initial option was receiver Freddie Solomon, but Solomon, already with a touchdown in the game, was blanketed.

Montana was being hotly pursued by three Dallas defenders and was backpedaling like a crooked politician. It appeared he was either going to be sacked, which would have been disastrous, or he was going to go out of bounds and create a fourth-and-long.

Suddenly, Montana whipped the ball. It looked like it was going to be out of the end zone. But then Dwight Clark jumped into the San Francisco heavens. Clark out jumped Dallas cornerback Everson Walls and came down with the ball, and the 49ers had their first trip to the Super Bowl.

The 49ers became a dynasty, and The Catch poured fire on what would become one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries.

Last December, when Candlestick Park was closed, The Catch was celebrated. But make no mistake, it is celebrated every day in San Francisco.

NFC West links: Rams, Jackson still waiting

February, 15, 2013
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Arizona Cardinals

Pete Prisco, of CBSSports.com, says Cardinals CB Greg Toler highlights his list of lesser-known free agents who will make some NFL teams happy if they can get them signed. Also, Arizona's ABC 15 has video of Toler speaking to students on the topic of bullying at Horizon High School on Thursday.

Who will be the next quarterback for the Cardinals? ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio shares a few strong suggestions on the matter.

Nicole Bidwell, daughter of Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell, is helping out former Cards receiver Roy Green by participating in a dance event to raise funds for the National Kidney Foundation. Green, 55, talks about the rough adjustment from being an athlete playing in the NFL to a man suffering from kidney disease.

San Francisco 49ers

"There’s got to be something to be learned from a franchise that acquired so much talent in recent years. As if they’re smarter than everybody else, the Niners also will have 13-14 picks going into this year’s draft," writes the San Diego Union-Tribune's Tom Krasovic.

What do the 49ers do with QB Alex Smith? The San Francisco Chronicle's Kevin Lynch offers one idea.

The Sacramento Bee's Matt Barrows does his homework, and lists six front-four players that may be within striking distance of the 49ers, who pick 31st in April's draft.

Former 49ers great Dwight Clark talks with middle school students about eating a healthy breakfast.

Seattle Seahawks

Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner talks on an NFL.com podcast about the top rookies of the 2012 season, coach Pete Carroll, teammate Richard Sherman’s trash-talking and the team’s last-second playoff loss in Atlanta.

St. Louis Rams

The planned meeting between the Rams and running back Steven Jackson’s agent has yet to take place, reports Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Kenny Washington became the first African-American to sign with a professional sports team in what is considered the modern era when he inked a deal with the Los Angeles Rams on March 9, 1946. Nick Wagoner, of stlouisrams.com, profiles Washington's legacy.

Former Rams quarterback Kurt Warner's six-bedroom home will go on the auction block on Feb. 27 after the Super Bowl champion got tired of waiting for it to sell, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Better hand Randy Moss a butterfly net

February, 5, 2013
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Four-time Super Bowl winner Bill Romanowski blasted San Francisco 49ers receiver Randy Moss for showing "alligator arms" on the pass Baltimore intercepted in the second quarter Sunday. Upon review, I don't think Moss could have caught that pass with a butterfly net.

Camera angles sometimes distort the actual height of a pass, but replays available for this one show the ball sailing over Moss' head by a wide enough margin to render the receiver's reaction irrelevant to the play. The alligator-arms theory breaks down further in the absence of an imminent threat to Moss from an approaching defender. Moss never retracted his arms or flinched as if to protect himself.

Dwight Clark, who retired from the 49ers one year before Romanowski joined the team in 1988, acknowledged this aspect of the play. But in comments Clark made with Romanowski on a Comcast postgame show, the former receiver said he wanted to see at least some effort from Moss for effort's sake.

"He didn't even reach up for it," Clark said. "He watched it sail over his head. Yes, it was high. Kaepernick was a little nervous. ... But make some kind of movement for the ball."

Clark might have a point there. The appearance of effort can positively shape perceptions. But it's not like Moss showed up Kaepernick, either. He didn't shrug or point fingers.

In the big picture, I wouldn't hold this play against Moss to the degree Romanowski and Clark did, even if emotional postgame reactions from players associated with the 49ers' championship history is understandable.

49ers stat sheet: Crabtree up, Davis down

December, 31, 2012
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Michael Crabtree has given the San Francisco 49ers their first 1,000-yard receiver since Terrell Owens in 2003.

Owens reached the milestone five times as a 49er. Jerry Rice did it 12 times for the team. John Taylor was the only other 49ers player with more than one such season. He had two.

Crabtree, drafted 10th overall in 2009, enjoyed a career-best season. With 85 receptions for 1,105 yards, Crabtree joined Rice, Owens, Dwight Clark, Dave Parks and Gene Washington as the only 49ers player with at least 1,100 yards in a season.

Thanks to Adusoron the Brave for asking about Crabtree in the comments below this item.

The chart compares Crabtree's per-game stats this season to what they were for his previous three seasons. I added a column showing the change for teammate Vernon Davis over the same period.

Crabtree was up. Davis was down.

QBR ranks: Alex Smith's playoff victory

January, 16, 2012
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History cares little about how Joe Montana and Dwight Clark played before combining for "The Catch" to send the San Francisco 49ers into the Super Bowl.

That single moment defined the 49ers' 1981 season. It still defines Clark and, to a degree, Montana as well.

The fact that Montana finished that NFC Championship Game against Dallas with three touchdowns, three interceptions and an 81.4 NFL passer rating is irrelevant.

Thirty years later, Alex Smith's 28-yard touchdown run and winning 14-yard scoring pass to Vernon Davis -- all in the final 2:11 of the 49ers' 36-32 playoff victory over New Orleans -- have given NFL history two more iconic plays.

We know those plays were pivotal and Smith deserves credit for his role in them. The question is always, how much?

Not long after the game, several people wanted to know what ESPN's quarterback metric said about the most significant performance of Smith's NFL career.

Hey, I wonder if Total QBR gave Smith his due. It did, but probably to an unsatisfying extent.

The figure was 78.1 out of 100, third-best in the divisional round, behind those for Tom Brady (95.1) and Eli Manning (88.8). Aaron Rodgers (66.9) and Drew Brees (62.0) also fared above the 50-point level representing average play.

"If Smith only had a [78.1] QBR, that system is horrible," came one response. "Four TDs and no picks?"

I'd give Smith a perfect score for coming through in epic fashion. QBR measured Smith's performance on different terms. To what degree did his play affect win probability throughout the game?

On the bad side, Smith took three of his four sacks on third down. He fumbled twice, losing one on third down. On the good side, he won the game with clutch fourth-quarter throws, including well down the field. His QBR for the game jumped from 25.7 to 64.2 on his 28-yard scoring run. It rose to 78.1 with his 14-yard pass to Davis for the win.

Better yet for Smith, his fourth-quarter QBR was 99.7, the third-highest for any player in a fourth quarter this season. His score for the game was his fourth-highest of the season. The team is 12-0 when his QBR exceeds 41.4 (50 is average).

The first chart shows Smith's QBR scores by game in descending order.

The chart below shows scores for all quarterbacks in the divisional round. The columns with "EPA" show how many expected points were added through the quarterback's contributions. Every situation carries a certain amount of expected points. A negative play reduces the expected points for a given situation.

The clutch-weight average column reflects game situations, not how well players performed during those situations. Any clutch average above 1.0 reflects a quarterback performing in higher-pressure situations.

Conventional wisdom says the San Francisco 49ers need to score touchdowns, not field goals, to defeat the New Orleans Saints in the divisional playoffs Saturday.

But if the 49ers play the game their way, on their terms, they'll win with David Akers hitting at least a couple field goals — perhaps even the game-winner. After all, Akers set a 49ers franchise record for scoring on his way to the Pro Bowl this season.

ESPN's Rick Reilly explains why that would be a fitting scenario after all the Akers family has been through over the last year. Just one year ago, doctors discovered that Akers' 6-year-old daughter had a cancerous tumor. Akers himself had lost most of his career earnings to a fraudulent investor. He missed two field-goal attempts during the Eagles' 21-16 playoff defeat and soon found himself out of work. Reilly: "So there it was, the trifecta — nearly broke, a sick kid at home and silently dumped by the team he'd given 12 terrific years. Akers is a guy who's insecure about his footing in the NFL anyway. He'd been a waiter at a Longhorn Steakhouse in Atlanta, a substitute teacher and a kicker for NFL Europe in Berlin, where he nearly died during a one-month hospital stay for salmonella. The man who saved him from that life was then-Philadelphia special teams coach John Harbaugh, who called him up for a tryout in 1998. Akers stuck. And he's been terribly fond of Harbaughs ever since."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News goes back in time with 49ers legends as they reminisce on the 30th anniversary of Dwight Clark's winning catch from Joe Montana in the NFC title game against Dallas.

Lowell Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Clark sees parallels between that 1981 team and the current one. Clark: "It's way similar. We shocked everybody that year and this team has shocked everybody. I see similarities between Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh. Bill was a genius. Harbaugh comes up with some schematic thing on the field and I shake my head and say, 'Where the hell did he come up with that?' They have a similar way of creating plays."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch updates the Rams' search for a coach and general manager. Tennessee's Lake Dawson interviewed for the GM job, Atlanta's Les Snead was on his way to do so and Arizona's Steve Keim was also expected to interview. Thomas: "Meanwhile, the Rams expressed interest in Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, but Gruden quickly let it be known that he's staying put with the Bengals and would not interview for any head-coaching jobs." Noted: Keim would fit best if the Rams hired Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton as head coach. Dawson would fit best if the Rams hired Jeff Fisher.

Also from Thomas: a chat transcript with a different take on how much money the Rams will save now that Josh McDaniels is working for New England. Thomas: "As I wrote about today, McDaniels will receive $1.5 million from the Rams next season. But whatever the Patriots are paying him gets subtracted from that total. Say the Patriots are paying him $1 million, then the Rams are on the hook for only $500,000 and they get $1 million freed up to hire the new coaching staff. Also, whatever McDaniels gets paid for the rest of this season with New England gets subtracted from McDaniels' $1.5 million he earned from the Rams this season." Noted: I thought that would have been the case if the Rams fired McDaniels, and that the Patriots would assume the full salary given that St. Louis never did fire him. I'll follow up on this.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams should hire an offensive-minded head coach if they fail to land Fisher. Miklasz: "If the Rams hire a defensive coordinator, what kind of staff would he be able to put together on offense? Again, it's imperative for the Rams to expedite Bradford's progress, ratchet up this offense, and join the NFL's modern age. An offense-oriented HC would have the necessary acumen to supervise the development of the QB and the offense. He would have a better feel (and a better chance) for putting together a quality staff on offense. NFL people will tell you that it's easier to find a defensive coordinator than an offensive coordinator."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the team knows it must improve on offense. Urban: "The Cardinals’ first drive of the season went for a touchdown, starting at the Cards’ own 46-yard line and ending with Beanie Wells’ seven-yard run for a score. The next week, a first-quarter interception set up a short (37 yards) drive for another early touchdown. But the Cardinals didn’t score a first-quarter touchdown after than until the final game of the season against Seattle, far too long a drought. The Cards only scored 36 first-quarter points all season, putting them in a near constant hole. The flip side, of course, was the often strong finishes, especially once the defense became stout. In the fourth quarter and overtime, the Cards outscored opponents by 54 points. The big plays would pop up — 22 total on the season of more than 40 yards — and the Cards did gain 4.2 yards per rush attempt, but it didn’t happen enough. During the Cards’ 7-2 closing kick to the season, the most points they scored in a game was 23."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says NFL analyst and former quarterback Rich Gannon does not expect improvement from Tarvaris Jackson. Gannon: "I think what you see is what you get. I don't know if it's going to get a whole lot better with Tarvaris Jackson, and that's really my concern. Is he a good player? Certainly. Is he ever going to be a dominant player at his position? Is he ever going to be one of the elite players? Is he going to be a Pro Bowl player? I don't think so." Noted: Gannon might be right. That was the sort of thing people thought about Gannon years ago. Gannon went from Chiefs backup and sometimes starter to league MVP with Oakland. That path is obviously unlikely for Jackson, but it seemed unlikely for Gannon as well.
Walter Jones was the best player on the best teams in Seattle Seahawks history.

In my view, there wasn't a close second on those mid-2000s teams even though quite a few players reached Pro Bowls. One, Shaun Alexander, was league MVP.

It's fitting, then, that Jones, above all other recent Seahawks, will receive a statue in his honor at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Team and airport officials plan to unveil the statue Tuesday as part of a new Seahawks-themed restaurant at the airport.

The Seahawks made Jones the sixth player chosen in the 1997 draft even though Jones was a junior-college transfer without much experience at the highest level of college football. The team's offensive line coach at the time, Howard Mudd, initially didn't believe scouts when they said Jones clocked 4.6 seconds in a 40-yard dash before the draft.

How incredible was that time for an offensive tackle with a frame big enough to comfortably carry 320-plus pounds? Well, running back Ryan Williams and receiver Austin Pettis, both drafted by NFC West teams in the first three rounds this year, finished the 40 in 4.61 seconds at the 2011 combine.

Jones' athletic ability, durability and consistency set him apart from other tackles of his era. The athleticism in particular was freakish.

"It was one of those things where you look at the tape and you say, 'God,' " Mudd said after the 1997 draft. "Then you look at another tape and you say, 'Well, we'll see if it's for real.' Then I saw another tape and I just went, 'Wow!' "

Nearly 15 years later, Jones is going from fixture on the offensive line to fixture of another kind.

Airport tributes to legendary athletes carry some appeal. Most of us aren't going to make special trips to see statues or other tributes at local halls of fame. But if we're sitting in an airport during a layover and unable to find one of the two or three working power outlets available at some of these terminals, why not sample the local sporting flavor?

The Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame has an exhibit at the airport in San Francisco. Bronze plaques honoring enshrinees appear there before finding homes near where the athletes made lasting impacts. San Francisco 49ers greats Dwight Clark and George Seifert were enshrined this year.

Visitors to the airport in Pittsburgh can find themselves face to facemask with Steelers great Franco Harris, depicted making the Immaculate Reception.

Note: In other statue-related NFC West news, Sam Bradford is getting one at the University of Oklahoma.
Five things I saw on the second of three days at San Francisco 49ers camp:

  • Justin Smith, Patrick Willis, Alex Smith and all their 49ers teammates wearing red kitchen aprons with their names and jersey numbers in white lettering. It was all part of the "Pasta Bowl V" fundraiser at the Santa Clara Convention Center across the street from 49ers' headquarters. Players sat with and tended to fans during the event, which included an auction. All five 49ers' Super Bowl trophies were on display. Memorabilia included a black-and-white photo of "The Catch" featuring Dwight Clark's signature next to a freehand rendering of the offensive formation, pass route, etc. Coach Jim Harbaugh addressed the crowd briefly and emphasized pushing the tempo in practices and, eventually, "overwhelming" opponents with said tempo.
  • Players responding to fans' hollering during practices. Frank Gore, upon hearing someone in the crowd joke about a lady wanting a hug from him, peeled off and hugged her. The crowd loved it.
  • Coaches repeatedly adjusting some receivers' splits before the snap. There's much to learn in a short period of time. For some of the younger players, getting lined up properly is a big part of the battle. Rookie Ronald Johnson caught a deep pass moments after a coach ran into the drill to narrow his split.
  • Tight end Vernon Davis making an overhead, ghost-to-the-post reception from Alex Smith deep down the right side of the field.
  • Ted Ginn Jr. dropping two passes. One pass from Smith bounced off Ginn's hands and into Phillip Davis' grasp for an interception. The drop, on a pass from Colin Kaepernick, came on a simple slant route. Players drop balls in practice periodically. Ginn has dropped a few too many over the past couple days.

The 49ers are back on the practice field at 2:30 p.m. PT Wednesday. I'll be there continuing to gather for the "Camp Confidential" piece scheduled to run later in the week (tentatively set for Thursday). These trips help provide a more accurate feel for teams. The 49ers have been harder to read this offseason given the coaching change and extended lockout. That is changing as camp continues.

Best of NFL: NFC West teams

June, 30, 2011
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Best of NFC: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

As part of Best of the NFL Week on ESPN.com, here are five bests for the NFC West:

[+] EnlargeCardinals field
AP Photo/Roy DabnerThe Arizona Cardinals boast having the first fully retractable field in the country.
Best stadium innovation: I'm all for downtown stadiums with open roofs and cityscape views. That wasn't practical in Arizona, where temperatures exceed even Kurt Warner's sizzling playoff passer rating. The Cardinals made the most of their climatic predicament by going with a retractable roof and, remarkably, what they hail as the first fully retractable field in the country. The natural-grass surface spends about 150 days each year basking in the Arizona sunshine, requiring only about an hour to slide back inside on a massive tray weighing 17 million pounds (the rough equivalent of 47,200 Deuce Lutuis). Cardinals players get to escape the heat on game days while playing on a natural-grass surface that ranks among the very best in biannual player surveys.

Best alumni assimilation: This one isn't close. Keena Turner is the 49ers' vice president of football affairs. Guy McIntyre serves as director of alumni. Jesse Sapolu, Steve Bono and Eric Wright are alumni coordinators. Dwight Clark is a business consultant. Team president Jed York grew up around the team during its 1980s glory days. He was a fan first and it shows in how eagerly the 49ers embrace their past. The other NFC West teams also employ former players, but not to the same degree. Retired Rams great Jack Youngblood has even accused that organization of failing to adequately embrace its alumni.

Best team facility: Few team headquarters in any sport can compete with the $75 million facility Seahawks owner Paul Allen constructed on Lake Washington, south of Seattle. The practice fields overlook the water, with swank homes staring back from the opposite shore. Giant doors slide up for an open-air experience in the players' weight room, offering views of the practice field and, nearby, the water. The team has flown in free agents via seaplane, docking right at the facility. Square footage is right around 200,000 -- second highest in the NFL, according to the team -- and includes an indoor practice facility adjacent to the locker room. No other facility in the division comes close.

Best billionaire owner: Allen has the clear edge for now based on the Seahawks' success over the past decade, but Stan Kroenke's prospects deserve our attention. Kroenke has proven himself as a capable owner in other sports. He has also engaged his fellow NFL owners in ways Allen simply refuses to do. That gives Kroenke the ability to make the Rams more relevant at the league level. Seattle's profile has suffered with Mike Holmgren and Tod Leiweke leaving the organization in recent years.

Best training camp venue: The Seahawks have it nice on Lake Washington, but there's something special about going away to camp if the venue is right. Northern Arizona University fits the profile for the Cardinals. It's far enough from Phoenix to escape the blistering heat, but close enough for fans to turn out in large numbers. The high-desert scenery and nearly 7,000-foot elevation combine to set apart NAU from other camp venues in the division and the league overall.
Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com says San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree remains limited after aggravating a foot injury during a June 6 workout session. Maiocco: "Crabtree attended the Alex Smith-led classroom session Tuesday morning at San Jose State. He joined his teammates on the field at Spartan Stadium, and caught some warm-up passes from the team's three quarterbacks. But Crabtree did not run any full-speed pass routes. Instead, he remained close to the 49ers' quarterbacks and referred repeatedly to a copy of the practice script he held in his hands." That level of engagement beats the alternative. Crabtree previously appeared somewhat indifferent to the 49ers' practice sessions when he continued working out on his own, missing a chance to learn more about the offense while engaging his teammates. The stress fracture Crabtree brought into the NFL wasn't considered serious. What to make of his current foot trouble? It's tough to say without information coming from the 49ers' team doctors.

Also from Maiocco: play-by-play coverage from the 49ers' practice session Tuesday.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says 49ers players, led by Alex Smith, are checking out video from previous versions of West Coast offenses. Barrows: "Smith's classroom work includes film cups of an array of West Coast offenses, including college (Stanford) and pro clubs. The NFL clips include Steve Young and the 49ers, Rich Gannon and the Raiders and recent Philadelphia Eagles footage. Players said it was helpful to get a bird's eye view of the plays they are running on the practice field."

Also from Barrows: Colin Kaepernick can get the football to its target in a hurry. Left tackle Joe Staley: "He doesn't have that rookie, deer-in-the-headlights mentality. I think he's going to be a good quarterback. The ball comes off his arm pretty fast. He's a real, real intelligent kid. I think he'll pick up this offense pretty quickly."

The 49ers' website catches up with former coach George Seifert, who has this to say about his fondest fan-related recollections: "I was there when San Francisco lost to Detroit in 1957, when it appeared they were going to win the game and go on to the championship. That was certainly a downturn, but to be there when Dwight Clark made 'The Catch' and Eric Wright made the tackle to help us beat Dallas to put us in the Super Bowl was such a high. Having had my background, I’ve been very fortunate to appreciate those moments like our fans."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says the 49ers' receivers will have to adjust the velocity Kaepernick puts on his throws. Branch: "The bad news for Niners receivers is they might need to place their hands in ice baths this week. But the good news for Kaepernick is that he was able to participate fully in the first day of the four-day camp at San Jose State. Kaepernick was limited at the first camp -- only tossing warm-up throws -- in early June after undergoing a minor surgical procedure on his lower left leg following the NFL draft."

Also from Branch: One pass from Kaepernick seemed to knock down receiver Lance Long.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says 49ers tackle Alex Boone has been working with former NFL center LeCharles Bentley in Ohio.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News says 49ers players have bonded during their offseason camps.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com considers whether Joey Galloway had the most impressive rookie season in franchise history. I might go with Galloway or Curt Warner. Farnsworth on Warner: "Coach Chuck Knox traded the team’s first-, second- and third-round draft choices to move into the third spot so he could select the back needed for his Ground Chuck offense. Warner did not disappoint, rushing for 1,449 yards (on 335 carries), catching 42 passes and scoring 14 touchdowns to earn AFC offensive player of the year honors."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune takes a closer look at the Seahawks on third down last season. Williams: "Seattle might be looking to take more chances on third down this year after drafting players like linebackers K.J. Wright and Malcolm Smith, corners Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell and safety Mark LeGree, in addition to Kam Chancellor, Walter Thurmond and Roy Lewis -- all fast, explosive players who can tackle and cover. Specifically, the Seahawks will look to free up safety Earl Thomas more and allow him to use his play-making ability, as they did against St. Louis in the final game of the year."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com traces the roots of Dennis Green's famous they-are-who-we-thought-they-were outburst back to training camp that season. Urban: "Bears coach Lovie Smith was asked about Leinart’s good game in the preseason and talked about that game meaning nothing, as a 'glorified practice.' Green, hearing this, clearly didn’t agree and said as much, although it wasn’t exactly 'who takes the third game of the preseason like it’s bull.' At least, not yet. Then came the game. The Cards dominated, and they lost. Green calmly answered most of the questions and then the one hit him the wrong way, especially with the leftover irritation with Smith’s comments percolating all week and the frustration of the season building (for instance, kicker Neil Rackers missing what should have been a game-winning field goal that night)."

Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World says Rams receiver Mark Clayton is eager to resume contract negotiations with the team. Clayton: "I would love to stay. I love playing with Sam [Bradford]. The organization is great. Coach 'Spags' [Steve Spagnuolo], I love him. I love his passion. He's a real fiery dude. He's a defensive guy and I play offense. Opposites attract, I guess." Getting a deal done with Clayton shouldn't be too difficult. The team has improved its depth at the position, but with Clayton and several other receivers coming off injuries, the Rams need numbers. Clayton developed an instant rapport with Bradford last season. He's coming off surgery to repair a torn patellar tendon suffered at Detroit in Week 6 last season.
Examining the most crucial event in the history of every team in the division.

A longtime Cincinnati Bengals assistant named Bill Walsh was having a hard time convincing NFL teams to hire him as a head coach.

The Bengals had promoted another assistant, Bill "Tiger" Johnson, when Paul Brown retired after the 1975 season. Walsh spent 1976 as offensive coordinator with the San Diego Chargers before leaving the NFL entirely for the best head-coaching job he could get. Years later, Walsh accused Brown of conspiring to keep him from advancing.

Bill Walsh
Malcolm Emmons/.US PresswireThe 49ers won three Super Bowls under coach Bill Walsh.
While Walsh was building a winner at Stanford, the sputtering San Francisco 49ers were running through four head coaches in less than two calendar years. Young owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. made Walsh the fifth in 1979.

"Caution should be exercised in proclaiming Bill Walsh the savior of the 49er franchise," Bay Area columnist Ed Jacoubowsky wrote at the time. "But the selection of Walsh as director of the club's football operations probably is the best step the young owner could have taken."

Probably? Let's make that a "definitely" in hindsight.

The organization would never be the same. Offensive football would never be the same. The balance of power in the league itself would shift for a decade, and then some. This was the most crucial event in 49ers history and more significant than any the team's current division rivals have experienced.

That message came through clearly at the SportsNation ballot box, where Walsh's hiring received significantly more votes than any other NFC West Flash Point among the more than 129,000 ballots cast across the division. The 49ers' Flash Points drew more than 44,000 votes, most in the NFC West, and Walsh's hiring commanded better than half of them.

"If the 49ers never hired Bill Walsh, they would not have changed the organizational structure of the team, how players are graded and drafted, how to prepare those players for the season and utilize them on the field of play," razzberry80 wrote. "Bill changed EVERYTHING. Joe Montana was the best, but without Bill Walsh, Joe is probably not drafted by the 49ers."

Another 49ers fan, servegmo, credited Walsh for drawing him in as a fan living in Costa Rica.

"He is the reason people from all over the world started watching football," servegmo wrote. "He put the 49ers in a position where they changed football as a whole -- the offseason preparation, the inclusion of black coaches, the practices, the West Coast offense, how he managed the draft (drafting the best players EVER at quarterback, wide receiver and safety). How many coaches can say that?"

The 49ers won three Super Bowls in 10 seasons under Walsh, who qualified as a football visionary in strategy, philosophy and personnel evaluation. Walsh became famous for scripting plays to separate in-game emotions from the decision-making process. His personnel moves and broader philosophy scripted more lasting success: five Super Bowls, including two won after Walsh retired from the sideline.

With full support from DeBartolo, who had learned from past mistakes, Walsh showed an exceptional eye for talent. Has any coach possessed a superior vision?

"When he drafted Ronnie Lott, he thought, 'He's a corner now, but he'll be a longtime All-Pro safety,'" former Walsh assistant and two-time NFL head coach Dennis Green said for this project. "When he drafted Roger Craig, he saw him as a fullback now, but a little small for the fullback we really needed, so we would draft a fullback and Craig would make the transition to running back.

Trent Green
AP Photo/Harold JenkinsTrent Green's knee injury paved the way for Kurt Warner to step in at quarterback.
"Bill did that sort of thing constantly when he thought players could fit in a certain way and be very unique players."

Walsh's hiring commanded 53 percent of votes cast for the 49ers' Flash Points, with "The Catch" ranking second at 37 percent. Of course, there never would have been such a signature play if Walsh hadn't put together a 1979 draft class featuring Montana in the third round and Dwight Clark in the 10th.

RAMS: Trent Green's injury pivotal

The Kurt Warner story might never have been told if the San Diego Chargers' Rodney Harrison hadn't knocked out Green with a severe knee injury during the 1999 preseason.

Fans voted that moment supreme with 49 percent of more than 28,000 votes. Only Mike Jones' Super Bowl-saving tackle against Kevin Dyson (36 percent) came close to challenging.

The comments section of the Rams-related item drew barely more than a dozen contributions, however. So much for exit polling.

[+] EnlargePaul Allen
Robert Giroux/Getty ImagesPaul Allen helped bring an NFC title to Seattle.
"The ownership change [in 1972] precipitated everything that has happened to the Rams in 'modern' times," patdpenguin wrote. "The true answer to the question would be the ownership change, but as a lifelong fan, speaking with my heart, I would choose the Trent Green injury. Prior to that, the team had not proven anything, and was spinning its wheels."

SEAHAWKS: Paul Allen trumps all

The Seahawks were planning a move to Los Angeles during their darkest days of the 1990s, at one point even conducting free agency from an elementary school parking lot in Southern California.

Allen wasn't much of an NFL fan at the time, but he rallied to the cause of keeping the team in Seattle. Allen led a push to secure a new stadium, contributing $130 million of his own money in exchange for $300 million in public funding, as part of a deal to purchase the team.

Within a couple years, the team had landed Mike Holmgren as coach and general manager. Multiple division titles and the first Super Bowl in franchise history followed.

"I went with Allen buying the team," DiLune2 wrote. "It is hard to point to any one of those [other] moments as the one point where it all changed. They were part of a long, ugly slide. Allen buying the team, though, was the one point in time where you can look and say, 'It all changed right there.'"

[+] EnlargeLarry Fitzgerald
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images Larry Fitzgerald caught nine passes for 152 yards and three TDs in the NFC Championship Game.
CARDINALS: Beating Eagles to reach Super Bowl

Sixty-eight percent of more than 26,000 Cardinals voters pointed to the team's victory over Philadelphia in the NFC Championship Game. No option for any team drew a higher percentage.

The runner-up for the Cardinals -- securing a new stadium in 2006 -- lagged with only 16 percent. But some felt strongly it should have prevailed.

"Wow, this is a slam dunk," longtime blog contributor Leesters wrote. "The stadium changed this team overnight. It went from the least competitive financial situation in the league to one of the best, in one year. Free agents could be afforded, better coaches, better home-field advantage. If it wasn't for this stadium, there would be no NFC Championship win."
NFC West teams will be well represented at the 2011 NFL draft when retired players announce second-round selections.

Cornerback Aeneas Williams is scheduled to go first among the four when his original team, the Arizona Cardinals, selects with the 38th overall choice.

Receiver Dwight Clark, a steal for the San Francisco 49ers as a 10th-rounder in 1979, is scheduled to announce his old team's selection at No. 45

Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk entered the NFL with Indianapolis before amassing Hall of Fame credentials with St. Louis. He'll announce the Rams' pick at No. 47.

Two-time Hall of Fame finalist Cortez Kennedy, the third overall choice in 1990, will do the honors for the Seattle Seahawks at 57.

The four combined for 25 Pro Bowls and 688 regular-season NFL games. If their teams trade out of the second round, they'll make the announcement whenever their team makes its next selection.

Getting former players to participate in the draft during the ongoing labor dispute qualifies, on the surface, as a small political victory for the league. But with the NFL Players Association structuring its draft-related activities in a way that will not threaten the event itself, the draft has become less of a battleground than it could have been.

See also: Clark's thoughts via Matt Maiocco regarding the 1987 strike and the factors he weighed before ultimately joining Joe Montana and Roger Craig among 12 49ers players to cross the picket lines.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in with former 49ers receiver Dwight Clark for thoughts on how players handled the NFL work stoppage in 1987. Clark: "We had organized practices, 7-on-7, with no pads, of course. We were running to stay in shape and we'd run routes vs. DBs and linebackers." That situation was different from a timing standpoint. Those practices would have taken place in September. Clark cited a fondness for 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. in explaining why he joined Joe Montana and Roger Craig in crossing the picket line back then. Clark said he expected 1987 to be his final season, and the decision gave him ulcers.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the 49ers have a predraft visit set up with LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Also from Barrows: University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker generally had a tough time against Jim Harbaugh's Stanford team.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com recalls the late Dave Brown for his latest piece on the 35th anniversary team. Eugene Robinson: "I had some really good role models and mentors in front of him to teach me how to play. ... No one knows, but I was at Dave Brown’s house every Wednesday watching film. And that was before it was cut up like it is now into third downs, first downs, mixed downs and all the different ways they prepare film for the players. Guess what? I had to do that by myself, with Dave Brown. Every Wednesday. Without exception. Talk about an education."

Brady Henderson of 710ESPN Seattle says draft analyst Rob Rang is now projecting Wisconsin tackle Gabe Carimi as the Seahawks' first-round draft choice for 2011. Rang: "Carimi, a four-year starter at left tackle, lacks the elite athleticism to remain there in the NFL, which could push him into the second portion of the round. The 2010 Outland Trophy winner has the bulk, strength and physicality in the running game to star on the right side." Coach Pete Carroll recently said Stacy Andrews would compete for the starting job on the right side. Drafting Carimi would make Andrews' salary pretty much prohibitive. It's on the high side, anyway.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic does not expect Cardinals players to gather for informal practice sessions this offseason. Somers: "The Cardinals seem among the least likely teams to organize such off-season workouts. Many of their key players -- receiver Steve Breaston, center Lyle Sendlein, guards Alan Faneca and Deuce Lutui -- have no contract for 2011. Why would Breaston, Lutui and Sendlein, for instance, risk injury for a team that has not seriously tried yet to sign them to long-term deals? Many Cardinals players are working out under the supervision of personal trainers, or on their own. Some, such as Larry Fitzgerald, have [spent] the off-season traveling."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com sent LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson to the Cardinals at No. 5 in a mock draft after Cam Newton, Marcell Dareus, Von Miller and A.J. Green came off the board in the top four spots.

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch sends defensive end Robert Quinn to the Rams with the 14th overall choice in his mock draft. He has Miller going to Arizona at No. 5, Peterson going to San Francisco at No. 7 and quarterback Christian Ponder heading to Seattle at No. 25. Will Quinn be available? He was not on the five other mock drafts listed along with the one Thomas submitted. Not that anyone knows for sure.

Tim Klutsarits of examiner.com thinks the NFL's new rules for kickoff returns will help the Rams. His reasoning: The Rams do not have a great returner, their kicker hasn't produced many touchbacks and the team should have an easier time avoiding injuries now.

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