If you were a reporter covering the San Francisco 49ers in that last 25 years, R.C. Owens was a resource you had to have. The one-time wide receiver who lived in Manteca not only had all the phone numbers for his old teammates, he had stories to go along with every former 49er. And he loved to tell them.
Owens passed away on Sunday at age of 77, just seven months after he was inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame. At that time, the story everyone wanted Owens to tell was the origin of his famous nickname, "Alley Oop." Owens said it remains a partial mystery.
"I don't know who said it, but it became part of the nomenclature," said Owens, who was a rookie when given the nickname in 1957. "You started hearing it in basketball, everywhere. Even when I see a baseball player go up and get a ball, I say, 'He made an Alley Oop.' "
Owens spent his first five NFL seasons (1957-61) as a member of the 49ers before playing for the Baltimore Colts (1962-63) and New York Giants (1964). As a 49er, he totaled 177 receptions for 2,939 yards and 20 touchdowns with his most productive season -- 55 passes for 1,032 yards and five touchdowns - coming in 1961.
Before that, he was a basketball star at the College of Idaho where he played alongside Elgin Baylor. Owens only stood 6-3, but he was an excellent rebounder, averaging nearly 28 rebounds a game as a sophomore. "I could jump," he said during a November 2011 interview. "I could scrape 'em off."
Owens's leaping ability led to his signature play - and, as he noted, a piece of the sports lexicon - during a practice in 1957. After continually coming down with long, jump-ball-type passes in practice, Owens said one of three people - quarterbacks Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie or offensive coordinator Red Hickey - said they ought to call the play "Alley-Oop," which was the name of a comic strip at the time.
Tittle and Owens used it twice - including for the game-winning touchdown - that week against the arch-rival Los Angeles Rams. "The defenders, sometimes two or three of them, would be down there and (Owens) would swoop in there like a hawk and pluck it out of the air," Tittle said recently. "I think it surprised everybody."
Following his playing career, Owens worked for the 49ers in several different capacities, including as director of alumni relations. One of his favorite duties involved donning a red suit and white beard and playing Santa Claus at Christmas. Owens also started a successful summer reading program for children in San Joaquin County.
Owens battled kidney problems over the last two decades, and in 2004 he had a kidney transplant.
"While his accomplishments on the field are well celebrated, his contributions to our organization and the Bay Area community are equally as impressive," said CEO Jed York in a statement. "As a player and a member of the 49ers front office, R.C. was a tremendous ambassador for our team. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his friends, family, teammates and fans."
-- Matt Barrows