My first-ever encounter with R.C. Owens took place during a work assignment at the Crutchfield Center inside the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manteca / Lathrop.
I knew about his famous moniker “Alley Oop.” It was part of a signature play during his year in the National Football League, in particular, from 1957 to 1961 while with the San Francisco 49ers.
He was also basketball player at the College of Idaho – NBA Hall of Famer Elgin Baylor was his teammate – and thus was able to use his superior leaping ability and timing to haul in those high-arching passes from quarterback Y.A. Tittle.
Defenders were at his mercy as Owens tallied 177 receptions for 2,939 yards and 20 touchdowns for the Niners. He also played for the Baltimore Colts (1962-63) and the New York Giants (1964).
I couldn’t resist asking R.C. what his nickname might be worth if he had purchased a patent on the moniker years ago. “Boy, I couldn’t imagine,” said Owens, who, no doubt, was amused given that he was forever indirectly linked to the often-used hoop term.
I was saddened to hear of R.C.’s passing as were the entire 49ers family.
“While his accomplishments on the field are well celebrated, his contributions to our organization and the Bay Area community are equally as impressive,” said Chief Executive Officer Jed York in a statement on the 49ers website on Monday.
“As a player and a member of the 49ers front office, R.C. was a tremendous ambassador to our team. We extend our heartfelt sympathy of his friends, family, teammates and fans.”
I was privileged to have gotten to know him. At times, our connection went beyond talking shop.
He would call me from out of the blues, asking what he could do to make a correction on Wikipedia, for example. The free online encyclopedia had referenced Baylor as a roommate of his while they were at the College of Idaho, where Owens was three-sport athlete. They were teammates on the basketball team.
His alma mater became Albertson College of Idaho in 1991. It went back to the College of Idaho about five years ago. Owens, of course, was pleased to see the original name restored.
In 2008, I met up with R.C. at the NFL Alumni Northern California Chapter in Redwood City. He was there for a book signing of “Game of My Life San Francisco 49ers – Memorable Stories of 49ers Football,” by Dennis Georgatos, who had a chapter on Owens.
It was great to see him comfortable in his surroundings. He was reunited with old teammates and former players from those five-Super Bowl teams at the former 49ers training facility. From 1979 to 2001, Owens held various positions with the organization, including Director of Training Camp and Director of Alumni Relations.
He was especially thankful to legendary coach Bill Walsh, who brought him back to the 49ers family at a time when the previous regime was trying to rid the team of its glorious past.
R.C. also spoke highly of then owner Eddie DeBartolo. “He treated everyone as family – it didn’t matter if you were Joe Montana or (equipment manager) Ted Walsh,” he said.
Owens enjoyed Eddie D’s bash in Las Vegas from a few years ago. The highlight, he said, was hoisting former coach George Seifert on the backs of former players (Seifert won two Super Bowls during his stint with the 49er but not once was he carried off the field in the celebratory manner).
He was also thrilled about his selection to the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Last year, Owens and running back Roger Craig were inducted in the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr., 49ers Hall of Fame.
The last time I spoke with R.C. was about six months ago. He was in need of repairing his watch and couldn’t remember the name of jewelry store near Wal-Mart. Owens had long ago called Manteca his home.
I answered: “New York Diamonds?”
“That’s it!” he said.
I’ll miss his calls from out of the blue. I’ll miss our much-ado-about-nothing conversations. Mostly, I’ll miss R.C. Owens.