Freddie Solomon, who died Monday of cancer, should have been the receiver who made the most dramatic catch in 49ers history, but the fates decreed otherwise, so it is Dwight Clark who is remembered.
As the 49ers drove for what would be the winning touchdown in the 1982 NFC Championship Game, Solomon made three big plays — a 6-yard reception that gave the Niners their initial first down on the drive, then a 14-yard reverse later in the drive that gave them a first down at the Dallas 35-yard line at the two-minute warning and, finally, a 12-yard reception for a first down at the Dallas 13 with 1:15 left.
Coach Bill Walsh called timeout and pulled up the play he thought would get them a touchdown, with Mike Wilson and Solomon going together to the left end zone. Wilson broke right, taking a defender with him. Solomon broke left to the corner and was wide open. But Joe Montana’s pass sailed beyond him, out of bounds.
On the sidelines, Walsh screamed with frustration.
“We had worked hard to get Freddie open and then, we missed the pass,” Walsh had said in the past. “I thought that was the championship. We’d never have that good an opportunity again.”
Solomon was also supposed to be the targeted receiver on the next play, running a pattern just inside the goal line. But he was closely covered, so, as Montana rolled to his right, he lofted a pass to a leaping Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone for “The Catch” that everybody remembers.
And Freddie Solomon’s contributions were forgotten.
That was Solomon’s fate throughout his career. Though he played 11 seasons with the Miami Dolphins and 49ers, and was on two Super Bowl champion teams with the Niners, he became the forgotten man, always overshadowed by more flamboyant teammates. There was Montana, of course, and Clark, and Ronnie Lott with the first two champions, then Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Steve Young. All of them got far more attention than Solomon.
But Freddie was always very popular with his teammates and with the media, because he was always cooperative. In retirement, he lived in Florida, but would come to San Francisco whenever the 49ers had a ceremony honoring their heroes of the past, and he always had a good word for everybody. He didn’t wait for anybody to make the first move, either. On at least three occasions, I remember him coming up to me and saying hello and asking about me.
Solomon had played college ball at the University of Tampa, and he returned to that area to work with the Sheriff’s Office in Hillsborough County’s youth programs, teaching young boys both athletic skills and life lessons.
Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo had become close to Solomon and spent much of his time with the former 49er after he was diagnosed with liver and colon cancer. Though DeBartolo was a candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he spent Super Bowl week in Tampa with Solomon, planning the 59-year-old’s memorial service.
“He was one of the most gentle and best men I have ever known,” DeBartolo said.
All of us who knew him would agree.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.