Freddie Solomon, Star Receiver With 49ers and Dolphins, Dies at 59

The 49ers announced his death. He had been treated for colon and liver cancer.

Solomon lives in legend for a pass not thrown to him. It came with less than a minute to play in the National Football Conference championship game between the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 10, 1982. On a third-down passing play from the Dallas 6, Solomon was quarterback Joe Montana’s first option. But in tight coverage, Solomon slipped, and instead Montana found Dwight Clark in the end zone for the winning score on a reception that came to be called the Catch.

But Solomon had contributed mightily to the drive that led to the touchdown by gaining 14 yards on a reverse and 12 yards on a pass. With the ball on the 13, he got open in the end zone, but Montana threw wide. Then came a running play, then the Catch.

In an 11-year National Football League career, Solomon had for 5,846 yards and 48 touchdowns in 151 games. He ran for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns.

On Dec. 5, 1976, in a game between the Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, he scored touchdowns three ways: he ran 59 yards on a reverse to score, caught a 53-yard pass for another touchdown, and returned a punt 79 yards to score again. His total yardage was 252.

Freddie Solomon, the son of a cobbler, was born on Jan. 11, 1953, in Sumter, S.C., and grew up idolizing Joe Namath, the University of Alabama quarterback who went on to play for the Jets. Solomon was an offensive end and guard for all-black Lincoln High School, and when Sumter schools were integrated in 1970, he did so well as a replacement quarterback at Sumter High School that his coach made him the starter.

From there, he went to the University of Tampa, where he played quarterback in a run-first offense at a time when blacks in that position were a rarity. He accumulated 5,803 yards of total offense, rushing for 3,299.

After the University of Miami beat Tampa, 28-26, in 1974, Pete Elliott, Miami’s coach, called Solomon “the finest football player in the country.”

That same year, Solomon ran a quarterback draw for an 81-yard score against San Diego State, breaking as many as a dozen tackles. “He’s the most exciting collegiate runner since O. J. Simpson,” Jack Murphy of The San Diego Union wrote, “and he moves faster than anything that doesn’t burn fuel.”

Solomon was voted the offensive player of the game in the 1975 East-West Shrine college all-star game. Miami chose him that year in the second round of the N.F.L. draft as the 36th overall pick.

Despite his hopes of playing quarterback, the Dolphins saw him in other roles, and he soon established himself as an impressive receiver and punt and kickoff returner.

After his retirement from football in 1985, Solomon worked with the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office in Tampa to help disadvantaged youth. Called Coach, he was known for insisting that young men tuck in their shirts.

He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Dee; his mother, Bessie Ruth Solomon; and his brothers, Richard, ONeal and Roger.

Solomon had one moment of quarterback glory in the N.F.L. In late December 1978, with the 49ers losing to the Detroit Lions and all the San Francisco quarterbacks injured, Fred O’Connor, the interim coach, scoured the sideline for a quarterback. Everyone pointed at Solomon. He went on to run 11 yards for a touchdown and completed 5 of 9 passes for 85 yards, with one interception.

“That won’t happen again,” he correctly predicted. “I’ve lived my fantasy, and got it out of my system.”

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