R.C. Owens was widely known for what he accomplished in the air.
But to those who knew the former College of Idaho and NFL standout, Owens is remembered today for the contributions he made when he was standing at eye level.
“He touched your life in a very positive way,” said Bill Kundrat, one of Owens’ teammates with the College of Idaho football and basketball teams.
“He was just so nice to everybody. He was just a wonderful guy.”
The College of Idaho lost perhaps its greatest athlete Sunday when Owens died at the age of 78 near his home in Manteca, Calif. The cause of death was not released. Owens is survived by his wife Susan.
“It’s a sad day for The College of Idaho,” Coyotes athletics director Marty Holly said.
“He put the college on the map.”
Owens stood out in football, basketball, track and field and also participated as a cheerleader at the Caldwell college. He dominated on the basketball court alongside Elgin Baylor, and stretched the football field for the Coyotes’ passing game with his tremendous ability to leap up and snatch footballs from flight.
He led The C of I football team to four consecutive Northwest Conference championships (1952-56) and an appearance in the 1953 Refrigerator Bowl in Evansville, Ind.
On the basketball court, Owens recorded a double-double in every game and helped C of I win conference titles during the 1954-55 and 1955-56 seasons. He finished with 2,155 points and 2,142 rebounds in his college basketball career.
“To be that good at that many sports he was so ahead of his time,” Holly said.
Owens’ leaping ability translated to the NFL, where he and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle connected many times on the “alley oop” pass.
“He was 6-3 and could out jump anybody,” said former C of I football teammate Ed “Buzz” Bonaminio. “If we could get the ball up there, he would catch it.”
Owens was drafted in the 14th round (160th overall) of the 1956 NFL Draft by the San Francisco 49ers.
The 6-foot-3, 197-pound end played for the 49ers (1957-1961), Baltimore Colts (1962-63) and New York Giants (1964). He collected 206 catches, 3,285 yards and 22 touchdowns in his NFL career.
His best season was 1961, when he had 55 receptions for 1,032 yards and five touchdowns with the 49ers.
Owens was inducted into the Bay Area Hall of Fame and the 49ers Hall of Fame. He’s also a member of The College of Idaho Hall of Fame and NAIA Hall of Fame.
After his playing career, Owens worked for the 49ers from 1979-2001 as Director of Training Camp and Director of Alumni Relations.
“The 49ers family has suffered a great loss with the passing of R.C. Owens,” said 49ers Owner and Chairman John York on the team’s website. “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.”
Bonaminio said Owens, a native of Shreveport, La., never forgot his time in Caldwell and loved the College of Idaho.
“He was good for Caldwell and Caldwell was good for him,” Bonaminio said. “Through the years he’s been one of the most loyal to The College of Idaho and to all of us. He was a great friend.”
Kundrat added: “He’ll be missed, no question about that.”