The death of R.C. Owens revives memories that had the Lions on the receiving – and losing – end of a famous play in NFL annals that also became part of the sport’s lexicon.
Owens, a wide receiver most remembered for his tenure with the San Francisco 49ers where he teamed up with Hall of Fame quarterback Y.A. Tittle, died Sunday at his home in California. He was 77.
Owens was a springy, athletic receiver who played seven seasons with the 49ers, Colts and Giants.
He was best known for his days with the 49ers, where his jumping ability led to what has become known as the “Alley Oop” play – leaping in the end zone to catch a high pass thrown over a defender’s head.
Tittle and Owens first used the Alley Oop as a designed play against the Rams Oct. 6, 1957. But the most famous Alley Oop reception was against the Lions on Nov. 3, 1957, at old Kezar Stadium in San Francisco. Owens leaped in the end zone to make a 41-yard TD catch with 0:11 left to give the 49ers a 35-31 win.
It was a crucial game for both teams. The loss dropped the Lions’ won-lost record to 3-3. They went 5-1 the rest of the way to finish 8-4 and tie the 49ers for first place in the NFL’s Western Conference and set up a one-game playoff that put the winner into the championship game against the Browns.
The Lions made a historic rally from a 27-7 deficit in the third quarter to win, 31-27. Owens’ only catch in the game came in the first quarter – a 34-yard grab for a touchdown and a 7-0 49ers lead.
The next week, the Lions beat the Browns, 59-14, at old Tiger Stadium to win their third NFL championship in six seasons.