49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

November 11, 2011
From "Alley Oop" to "Skywalker": How plays get their names


Maybe one day, not too far in the future, a couple of kids will practice the "Skywalker" in their driveway or in a field near their house. That's the name of the 49ers' newest play, which was inspired by a trip to Arlington National Cemetery last week and which may or may not be unveiled Sunday against the Giants.

During that trip, Jim Harbaugh and his players were given a tour of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier by a member of the Honor Guard named Sgt. Dontae Skywalker. Harbaugh was so impressed with the talk and with Skywalker (and with his surname) that he decided to name a play after him.

"When he was done, (receivers coach) Johnnie Morton and I looked at each other and go, 'We need a Skywalker, and it's got to be good, it's got to be a good one, a good play,'" Harbaugh said this week.

The unveiling of the "Skywalker" could come as the 49ers honor the originator of perhaps the 49ers' most well-known play, the "Alley Oop," at halftime of Sunday's game. Receiver R.C. Owens, who along with quarterback Y.A. Tittle perfected the Alley Oop, and running back Roger Craig will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame this weekend.

"Alley Oop" was the name of a newspaper comic strip when the Owens and Tittle stumbled upon the play in practice in 1957. It was instantly successful in games, and newspapers had a field day with the term when Tittle revealed it following a win over the Rams. Two years after that, basketball reporters borrowed the term, and "Alley Oop" endured in that sport more than it did in football.

Harbaugh has invited Sgt. Skywalker to join the team on the sideline of their Nov. 24 game in Baltimore. To read more about Owens and Tittle and the mystery of who named their famous play, click here.

-- Matt Barrows


Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.


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