The $100,000 Question

Wait a minute! Who really has the football that made Dwight Clark famous?
Wait a minute! Who really has the football that made Dwight Clark famous?
February 28, 2005

IN A STORY last month about the whereabouts of the football that former 49ers receiver Dwight Clark snagged to make the Catch that won the 1982 NFC championship (SI Players, Jan. 24), Clark told us about the ball's travels over the past 22 years and how he now had it stored in a cardboard box at his home in Charlotte. One reader, longtime 49ers season-ticket holder William F. McDonagh Jr., wasn't buying it. He wrote in: "Dwight Clark does not own the catch ball. I own it."

McDonagh, 55, a San Francisco building contractor and memorabilia collector, says that in 2002 he bought the ball for $50,000 from Jack McGuire, who was a ballboy the day Clark made his historic grab at Candlestick Park. In an affidavit signed by McGuire at the time of the sale, McGuire affirms the ball's authenticity as the one Clark caught. What, then, about the football Clark received in the postgame locker room? "I gave Dwight a ball, but it wasn't the ball," McGuire told SI earlier this month.

McGuire says ballboys were allowed to keep a game ball, and "[the catch ball] was just the ball I kept." He says Clark never asked which ball he was getting. For his part, Clark recalls getting the ball from then 49ers assistant equipment manager Ted Walsh. Now the clubhouse manager for the Seattle Mariners, Walsh doesn't remember whether he gave a ball to Clark but says, "If Jack McGuire says he kept the ball, well, I wouldn't know if he did or didn't."

McGuire, who still serves as a ballboy at 49ers games, says he sold the ball to McDonagh, a longtime acquaintance, to pay for tuition for McGuire's two children. He worries that news of his ball handling might cost him his 49ers job. McDonagh is concerned that controversy over the validity of the ball could hurt its value; memorabilia experts say the real article could fetch up to $100,000.

"There can't be two balls," says McDonagh, and Clark agrees. When reached by SI, Clark seemed at once perturbed at McGuire's claim and confident he had the real ball. "Was the guy dishonest then or dishonest when he signed the affidavit?" asks Clark, 48. "I have seen [McGuire] several times since that game. He was the first guy who hugged me after I made the catch. If he did what he said, I don't know why he would do that to me at that time. But I could see why he would make up a story later on to make some money." --George Dohrmann

COLOR PHOTOCOURTESY OF THE CLARK FAMILY (CLARK)PRECIOUS PIGSKIN Clark (above) used to display his ball in his Bay Area restaurant, but collector McDonagh has given him food for thought. COLOR PHOTOMICHAEL ZAGARIS (MCDONAGH) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTOWALTER IOOSS JR. (SI COVER) [See caption above]

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