SANTA CLARA (KPIX) -- In March, in a letter, one of the most beloved football players in the Bay Area announced some sad news: former San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark informed fans and the public that he had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis -- ALS for short.
Now some of his famous teammates are asking his fans to come out and join forces to help their good buddy, as well as others suffering from this tough, challenging condition.
KPIX 5 spoke to former 49ers teammates and Super Bowl champs Ronnie Lott and Roger Craig at the Rosewood Sand Hill, in Menlo Park, not too far away from Levi's Stadium.
You don't get much tougher than these guys. Even so, the news about their good friend Dwight Clark hit them especially hard.
"First of all it takes your breath away," said Lott.
"He called me and told me he had ALS and I cried like a baby. I'm still tearing up, you know?" said Craig.
One of the all-time football greats, Clark played on two Super Bowl championship teams. Now, he's up against a terribly cruel opponent: ALS.
"At present there is no cure," explained Stanford Medical Center neurologist and ALS expert Dr. John Day.
Dr. Day said that, with this disease, patients lose the ability to move but not the ability to think.
"Most people with ALS will die from the disease within 3 to five years of their first symptoms ," said Doctor Day.
Ten percent, however, will live more than ten years. Clark's teammates -- even his old boss, Eddie DeBartolo -- like *those* odds.
"We've got his back I'm telling you. Mr. DeBartolo, Ronnie Lott, Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, we all support him," exclaimed Craig. The former running back added "we just want him to know that we love him so much."
A long time runner, for the past 13 years, Craig has hosted the San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. This time, he's running to raise money for the ALS Association and Dwight Clark.
And you're invited.
"It would be awesome for you guys to donate and to help to support this guy," said Craig. He is hoping to raise at least $87,000 to honor No. 87.
"Eighty-seven (dollars) for eighty-seven," laughed Craig.
Experts say it's unclear if or how playing football contributes to ALS. One study published in 2012 by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) suggested how pro football players have a greater risk of dying from ALS, as well Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
Dr. Day believes better funding and more research may unravel the mystery, lead to better therapies and perhaps even conquer this deadly killer.
"I'm in awe and very grateful for the work that Roger Craig is doing to help move this forward to help Dwight Clark and to help others with ALS so we can begin to understand this disease better and do more to support people with the disease," said the Stanford neurologist.
Clark's leaping reception in the end zone of Joe Montana's winning touchdown pass in the 1981 NFC championship game against the Cowboys -- forever remembered as "The Catch" -- has been enshrined at the 49ers museum in Santa Clara, where a life-size statue of Clark stands above all others.
"He stretched to get that ball. And, when you think about stretching your life, and as he's doing right now, trying to stretch his life for every breath, every moment, all we're asking is that you stretch yourself too in thanking him," said Hall of Famer Lott.
Lott added: "We want Dwight to keep fighting. We want everyone to understand there is no quit in all of us."
The San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Marathon takes place Oct. 7 and 8. If you want to lace up your running shoes for Team Challenge ALS, here's the link:
Roger Craig is running the 13.1-mile marathon on Oct. 8. If you aren't able to join him for the run and the fun, you can donate directly to:
Dwight Clark is planning on attending the event.
Dwight Clark's letter announcing his ALS diagnosis
Rosewood Silicon Valley
San Jose Rock 'n' Roll Marathon
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