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On This Day in The Bay: Bill Walsh’s First Draft

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Beth Atlas

Might 3, 1979

On this present day in The Bay, Invoice Walsh occupied the draft room on the crew’s headquarters at 711 Nevada Avenue in Redwood Metropolis. Walsh was main his first NFL Draft, aiming to construct his roster and make his mark on the 49ers franchise. He was no stranger to sourcing proficient soccer gamers, having spent the 2 earlier seasons as the pinnacle coach at Stanford. Whereas there, he led the Cardinal to a mixed file of 17-7. A number of of Walsh’s Stanford gamers had been drafted into the NFL, together with quarterbacks Man Benjamin and Steve Dils, vast receivers James Lofton and Ken Margerum, linebacker Gordy Ceresino and working again Darrin Nelson. Nonetheless, Walsh scoured the nation to supply expertise to fill the 49ers 1979 roster.

With no first spherical choose, Walsh used the membership’s second spherical choice on speedy UCLA working again James Owens. A standout on the gridiron, Owens additionally competed for the Bruins observe and discipline crew within the within the 110-meter excessive hurdles. Owens participated in that occasion on the 1976 Summer time Olympic Video games in Montreal, turning into the primary of a number of observe and discipline athletes drafted by Walsh to play skilled soccer.

In a coincidence, Owens’ pre-draft exercise put Joe Montana on the 49ers radar. The NFL Scouting Mix was not established till 1982, so groups arrange their very own periods with potential draftees. 49ers quarterbacks coach Sam Wyche organized a exercise at UCLA for Owens, then acquired phrase that Montana was in Los Angeles. Wyche contacted Montana and requested him to swing by UCLA and throw passes to Owens. Impressed by Montana’s agility and accuracy, Wyche persuaded Walsh to place Montana by one other throwing session.

The auspicious exercise proved profitable and within the third spherical, Walsh chosen Montana out of Notre Dame. A number of months earlier in the course of the Cotton Bowl, Montana was battling flu-induced hypothermia when the Combating Irish had been down 34-12 towards the Houston Cougars. After ingesting some heat broth, Montana led his squad on three landing drives within the final eight minutes of the sport to offer Notre Dame a 35-34 victory. This matchup, which got here to be referred to as the “Rooster Soup Recreation,” was a signature come-from-behind efficiency of Montana’s throughout his collegiate years. It was additionally a sign of Montana’s potential within the NFL, as acknowledged by Walsh with the 82nd-overall choose.

The subsequent day of the draft, Walsh chosen Clemson vast receiver Dwight Clark within the tenth spherical. Clark vividly recalled his first assembly with the first-year head coach.

“He was in Clemson to work out (quarterback) Steve Fuller,” Clark stated. “I used to be Steve’s roommate. I used to be strolling out the door with my golf golf equipment when the telephone rang. This man stated, ‘Hello I am Invoice Walsh.’ I did not know who he was, however I talked to him a bit and he stated he was going to look at Fuller throw a number of passes. He requested if I might like to come back alongside and run some routes for Steve, so I did. Afterward, Coach Walsh requested me if I had any movie on myself. I laughed and instructed him I solely caught 11 passes my senior yr so there’s not quite a lot of movie. I figured I might by no means hear from him once more.”

Walsh didn’t neglect. Hal Wyatt, the 49ers coach, recalled the ambiance within the conflict room on Day 2 of the draft.

“Invoice got here again into the draft room and commenced all of the playing cards of gamers left on the board. Out of quite a lot of vast receivers nonetheless undrafted, he pulled Dwight’s card off the board and stated, ‘I bear in mind this child, he’ll make a superb goal for our quarterbacks throughout camp. Let’s carry him in.'”

Walsh chosen Clark with the 249th choose within the 1979 NFL Draft. Almost three years later within the 1981 NFC Championship Recreation, Montana related with Clark for the game-winning landing, referred to as “The Catch” in 49ers lore, to beat the Dallas Cowboys and ship San Francisco to the franchise’s first Tremendous Bowl.

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