SAN FRANCISCO -- R.C. Owens, a longtime 49ers front office man and eight-year NFL wide receiver whose impressive leaping ability earned him the nickname "Alley Oop" and helped popularize the basketball phrase, died Sunday at age 78.

The Niners, his team for the first five of his NFL seasons, announced Owens' death yesterday. The team said he had been living in Manteca, about 75 miles east of San Francisco.

"The 49ers family has suffered a great loss with the passing of R.C. Owens," 49ers owner and chairman John York said. "Long after his days as a player were over, his devotion to the organization remained strong."

The 6-foot-3 Owens, a college basketball star at the College of Idaho, also played two seasons for the Baltimore Colts, and his final year was with the New York Giants in 1964. He had 206 career receptions for 3,285 yards and 22 touchdowns. He also ran for a score.

Owens, elected into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2010, was selected by the 49ers in the 14th round -- 160th overall -- of the 1956 draft.

After retirement, Owens worked from 1979-2001 for the 49ers in a variety of positions, including director of training camp and director of alumni relations. The 49ers said he loved his role of entertaining and caring for players' families while the players practiced.

When San Francisco held training camp in Stockton from 1998-2002, Owens started a summer reading program in schools while doubling as the 49ers training camp director. That program recruited more than 10,000 kids from San Joaquin County into reading programs. Current and former players have kept such reading programs in place, including one at Shasta Elementary in Manteca where he lived.

Owens was born in Shreveport, La. He is survived by his wife, Susan.

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