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Ten years later, how Walsh's diagram won again

By Dickson Louie

The Catch

photo: Dickson Louie

While "The Catch" became symbolic of Walsh's intellectual attention to detail on the gridiron, his donation of a hand-drawn schematic diagram of that same iconic play reflected the late Hall of Fame coach's kind personality off the field and provided its own drama.

On Aug. 23, 1991, almost a decade after "The Catch" and three Super Bowl championships later, Walsh, now retired as the 49ers head coach, was in Seattle to broadcast a Friday evening NFL preseason game between the Seahawks and the 49ers for NBC.

"I remember seeing him in the elevator at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel with Dick Enberg [Walsh's NBC broadcast partner]," said KTVU-TV reporter Lloyd La Cuesta. "He recognized me as one of the local broadcasters from the Bay Area and we struck up a conversation. We were coincidentally holding our annual national convention of the Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) at the same hotel that he, Enberg and the 49ers were staying at.

"Once I got off the elevator, I then told my fellow Bay Area AAJA colleagues that Bill Walsh was at the Sheraton. We then all agreed to ask him to possibly donate an item for our silent auction that evening that raised funds for journalism scholarships."

Sherry Hu, then a KPIX-TV news reporter, volunteered to make the request of Walsh, who was known to be approachable.

"We were as excited as school kids when we heard that Bill Walsh was at the same hotel," recalled Hu, whose father and uncle were longtime 49ers fans, going back to the days of Kezar Stadium.

"When I first told him about the silent auction, Walsh first thought that we might want a more traditional sports memorabilia item, like an autographed football or jersey. But I suggested something different, something unique, what I had hoped to be an attention grabber at the auction. How about a simple diagram of a play that was reflective of his legacy with the 49ers? His initial reaction? Surprise. He didn't think anyone would be interested in a coach's diagram; maybe it was a bit too 'inside football.' "

"But after a few minutes of thought, he grinned and agreed to give it a try."

Hu went to a store in downtown Seattle to purchase an art board and markers for Walsh so that he would have the schematic ready for that evening's silent auction. On a 20-by-30-inch board, the coach then diagrammed "The Catch." After first outlining the play in pencil, he then used a red marker to identify the 49ers players and a blue marker to indicate the Cowboys players. Walsh then signed his full name in the lower left corner (see above diagram).

That evening, Walsh's diagram would become a popular silent-auction piece, generating a nice piece of change for the AAJA scholarship fund. A Bay Area member eventually purchased the diagram by outbidding the entire Texas chapter, which had threatened to do damage to it, still harboring the pain of the Cowboys' 1982 defeat at the hands of Walsh.

"When I told him how much the diagram generated," said Hu, "he was shocked but quite pleased that it made money for the organization."

"He was really sweet about it. 'The Catch' was, again, a winning play."

Dickson Louie is CEO of Time Capsule Press and a contributing photographer to the Ultimate Sports Guide. He was the winning bidder for Walsh's diagram at the 1991 AAJA Silent Auction.