and American football
, "The Catch" is the name of two plays so famous, they need no further description to be instantly identified by fans of the each sport.
The Catch, Willie Mays, 1954 World Series - Game 1, The Polo Grounds, September 29, 1954
In baseball, "The Catch" refers to a dazzling defensive play made by New York Giants centerfielder Willie Mays on a line drive by the Cleveland Indians' Vic Wertz more than 460 feet from home plate at New York's Polo Grounds to save Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
With the score tied at 2-2, the Indians had Al Rosen on at first and Larry Doby on at second with nobody out and were threatening to pull ahead for the win. With the left-handed Vic Wertz coming up to bat, Giants manager Leo Durocher elected to pull right-handed starter Sal Maglie in favor of lefty reliever Don Liddle.
On a 1-2 pitch, Wertz hit the ball right on the screws, a long soaring line drive to dead center field. 22-year-old Willie Mays, finishing up his first full season in the major leagues, played the shallowest center field in the game, but he got a perfect jump on the ball. As soon as the ball was hit, Mays turned around, and with his head down and his back to the plate and the ball, sprinted more than 100 feet to the deepest part of the ballpark. At the last moment, on the dead run away from home plate, Mays put his glove up and made a two-handed, over-the-shoulder, basket catch an estimated 462 feet from the plate.
Way back, back! It is... Oh, what a catch by Mays! ... Willie Mays just brought this crowd to its feet with a catch which must have been an optical illusion to a lot of people. Boy! -Jack Brickhouse
As amazing as the catch was, Mays then arguably made an even more amazing play on the throw back to the infield to save the a run. As he made the catch he slammed on the brakes, whirled, and fired a no-look bullet to second base to hold Rosen at first and stop Doby at third. You see, Willie knew he was going to make the catch before he even made it, and was already starting the next phase of the play as he squeezed the ball into his glove.
The Giants got out of the inning unscathed, the score remained tied, the game went to extra innings and New York wound up winning 5-2 in the 10th on a three-run homer by pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes.
Wertz always maintained that it was the hardest ball he ever hit in his whole career, and it's hard to argue. There have been high fly balls that have travelled farther, but Wertz's was a line drive. That ball would have been a home run by 60 feet in any modern ballpark, but Wertz had the misfortune to hit his shot in the Polo Grounds, where the wall in straightaway center field was a ridiculous 483 feet from home plate.
And of course he also had the misfortune to hit it against Willie Mays.
Was it the best catch in baseball history? The short answer is no. Heck, it wasn't even the best catch Willie ever made - there were a couple of other catches he made whose descriptions almost defy belief. Branch Rickey was fond of recalling a catch that Mays made to rob Pittsburgh's Rocky Nelson at Forbes Field in which, on the dead run in the deepest part of center field with the ball slicing away from him Mays reached out with his right hand - the one without the glove - and made a bare-handed grab.
But none of those other catches were on television, and none of them happened in the World Series or with so much on the line. The Catch was also immortalized in one of the greatest sports photographs of all time - a grainy, black-and-white shot of Mays in full sprint, his back to home plate, reaching up with his glove and the ball - just about to be caught - suspended in the air above him.
Willie's catch was the perfect combination of beauty, grace, speed, and pure unadulterated athletic ability that has rarely if ever been matched in even the most technically difficult plays made by others. With the magnitude of the situation, the beauty of the play, and the immortality provided by the television replay and the perfect photograph, The Catch has come to be widely regarded as the greatest single defensive play in baseball history. But it is a tribute to Mays' greatness, that while the catch amazed the baseball world, his teammates all said they weren't even surprised. Having watched him play all year, they expected Willie to catch that ball.
The Catch, Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, 1982 NFC Championship, Candlestick Park, January 10, 1982
In football, "The Catch" refers to a game winning touchdown pass thrown by quarterback Joe Montana to wide receiver Dwight Clark in the dying seconds of the game to lead the San Francisco 49ers over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1982 NFC Championship at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
After a thrilling see-saw game in which the lead changed hands several times, Dallas headed into the final minutes clinging to a 27-21 lead. Taking over the ball with 4:54 left to go, Montana marched his team down the field all the way to the Cowboys' 6-yard line with a methodical, time-consuming, textbook drive. But with 58 seconds left on the clock, the 49ers found themselves facing third down and three yards to go.
Montana took the snap and rolled right, but the Cowboys defended the play perfectly. The plan had been for Montana to throw to wide receiver Freddie Solomon but he was smothered by a sea of defenders. To make matters worse, the Cowboys pass rush completely collapsed the pocket, and defensive end Ed Jones and linebacker D.D. Lewis chased a backpedaling Montana toward the right sideline, closing in for the devastating sack.
But at the last moment, a stumbling, off-balance Montana, throwing off his back foot, lofted the ball toward the back right corner of the end zone before falling backwards onto the turf. The ball was very high and looked to be sailing out of play, when at the last moment Clark rose up into the air and made a twisting, arching catch with the very tips of his fingers before corralling the ball and falling back to earth, just getting his feet in for the touchdown. It was now 27-27.
The extra point was good and the niners held on to win and advance to Super Bowl XVI, where they edged Ickey Woods and the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21.
Many people later said they thought Montana was trying to throw the ball away to keep the niners in position to try again on fourth down. But Montana and Clark claim that wasn't the case. "That was a play that we practiced over and over again" Clark said later. Montana conceded that he couldn't see anything over the defenders, but claims he knew exactly where Clark would be. Niners coach Bill Walsh, however, said that as soon as Montana was flushed from the pocket he assumed Montana would throw it away and had already begun planning the fourth-down play.
It is difficult to understate the pivotal moment in football history represented by The Catch, for in more ways than one, it was an epoch making play. In 1982, the Cowboys were a perennial powerhouse. Under legendary coach Tom Landry, Dallas was making its 15 postseason appearance in 16 years, and had already appeared in five Super Bowls. The 49ers, on the other hand, were a perennial doormat, having played for 36 seasons without ever winning a single conference or league title. At the time they were the only team in the NFL to have never won a title of some kind. Before surprising everyone with a 13-3 record in 1982, the niners had gone 6-10 in 1981, and 2-14 just two years before, in 1980. Moreover, the 49ers had a well-deserved reputation for choking against the Cowboys, having been eliminated from the playoffs by Dallas on three separate occasions in the 1970s. One also has to remember, given their later success, that before 1982 guys like Joe Montana, Ronnie Lott, and Bill Walsh were basically nobodies.
But The Catch changed all that. The 49ers would go on to become a dynasty, winning four Super Bowls in the next nine seasons, while the Cowboys would stagnate for a decade.
What made The Catch so great? Certainly, the situation. With time running out and a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, it was a dramatic touchdown pass to defeat the mighty Cowboys by a single point. As with Mays' catch, there was also a dramatic photograph, this one by Sports Illustrated's Walter Iooss Jr., who was perfectly positioned near the back of the end zone to capture Clark at the height of is leap, back arched, fingertips magnetically clinging to the ball, with Cowboys cornerback Everson Walls reaching out with desperately with one arm in hopeless pursuit in what is perhaps the most recognizable football photograph ever taken. The Catch was also in many ways a defining moment in Montana's career, epitomizing his improvisational, find-a-way-to-win spirit that made him arguably the greatest quarterback of all time.