San Francisco 49ers legend, R.C. Owens, passed away on Sunday, June 17, at the age of 77. Nicknamed “Alley Oop,” for his ability to out-leap defenders, the wide receiver was inducted into the Edward J. DeBartolo Sr. 49ers Hall of Fame in 2011, following a five-year playing career and more than two decades in the 49ers front office.
"The 49ers family has suffered a great loss with the passing of R.C. Owens," said 49ers Owner and Chairman John York. "Long after his days as a player were over, his devotion to the organization remained strong. R.C. was an ever-present supporter of the 49ers Foundation and did great works with the community at large. The San Francisco 49ers and our Faithful fans will forever be grateful for his contributions and he will be sincerely missed."
"The 49ers are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of R.C. Owens," said 49ers Chief Executive Officer Jed York. "While his accomplishments on the field are well celebrated, his contributions to our organization and the Bay Area community are equally as impressive. 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."
An eight-year NFL veteran, Owens spent his first five seasons as a member of the 49ers (1957-61) and then went on to play for the Baltimore Colts (1962-63) and New York Giants (1964). He totaled 177 receptions for 2,939 yards and 20 touchdowns with San Francisco. His most productive year came in 1961 when he started all 14 games, caught 55 passes for 1,032 yards and scored five touchdowns. In 2010, Owens was selected to the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame.
A former college basketball star at the College of Idaho, Owens transferred his skills over to the football field and was notorious for out-leaping defensive backs for high-arching passes from QB Y.A. Tittle. Thus, the origin of the term “Alley Oop” was created, and later became more well-known from its use in basketball. He finished his career with 206 catches for 3,285 yards.
After his playing career ended, Owens spent more than two decades, from 1979-2001, working for the 49ers. In that time, he held various positions for the team, including Director of Training Camp and Director of Alumni Relations. Among his duties, outside of donning a red suit and a white beard every Christmas, were ensuring players’ families were cared for and entertained while the team practiced—a role he loved.
While the 49ers attended summer training camp in Stockton (1998-02), Owens started a summer reading program in schools while doubling as the 49ers training camp director. By the end of the term, he had helped the program recruit more than 10,000 kids from San Joaquin County into reading programs. With the help of players and alumni, Owens still has a huge impact on the county’s reading programs, including a program at Shasta Elementary School in Manteca, Calif.
Owens was presented with the Northern California Alumni Chapter’s Distinguished Service award and was given $2,000 to give to his favorite charity. He dispersed the monies throughout a few different nonprofit groups in Manteca.
In retirement, Owens lived with wife Susan and their two dogs in Manteca, about 75 miles east of San Francisco. He had a kidney transplant in 2004. A native of Shreveport, La., R.C. Owens was born on November 12, 1934. He is survived by his wife, Susan.