Greg Eno

Archive for the ‘San Francisco 49ers’ Category

The 49ers’ Owens "Alley Ooped" His Way Into Legend

In R.C. Owens, San Francisco 49ers on September 19, 2008 at 12:00 pm

(every Friday during the NFL season, OOB will run a nostalgic feature about the Lions’ upcoming opponents)

You see it every week in the NFL.

Offensive team has the ball inside the five yard line. Quarterback takes the snap, and fades back just a step or two. Then, he simply lofts the ball toward the corner of the end zone, hoping that his tall, strong receiver can pluck it from the reach of the shorter, weaker defensive back.

The younger folks probably think this is a new phenomenon, invented by the teams of the 1990s and beyond.


Let me tell you about R.C. Owens, and something called the “Alley Oop.”

We’ll set the rewind machine back to the late-1950s, early-1960s, to the Bay Area in Northern California, and to old, creaky Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.

Owens was a wide receiver for the 49ers, out of tiny The College of Idaho. No joke. He was a 14th round draft pick. But he also played basketball in high school and in his college years, and was known for his leaping ability. And 49ers quarterback Y.A. Tittle and head coach Red Hickey were nothing if not creative. They looked at Owens’s jumping skills and got an idea.

Hickey was perhaps best-known for being one of the earliest proponents of the shotgun formation, which is still kind of popular today, in case you haven’t noticed. But Hickey and Tittle also came up with something that became known as the “Alley Oop.” Basically, Tittle would heave the ball in Owens’s general vicinity, and the receiver would leap and try to come down with the pigskin. And this was in the day when DBs could actually cover people, without the tight rules restrictions of today.

Owens snagging an “Alley Oop” pass against, who else, the Lions

It didn’t matter that the 49ers’ opponents knew that the Alley Oop was coming. Owens was simply bigger, stronger, and had better springs from which he could be propelled into the air. Often, Tittle would save the Alley Oop for when the 49ers were in the “red zone” (not that they called it that back then), but he would throw it from various parts of the field, too.

Owens had his best season in 1961, when he caught 55 passes for 1,032 yards and five TDs. But, strangely, Owens was traded after the season to Baltimore, and he faded quickly from the league, done by age 31 after one year with the Giants. But he had his time, and there is literally no other receiver in NFL history that you can pair with the Alley Oop than R.C. Owens. It was his trademark, and his lasting impression on a league in which he starred fleetingly, but famously.

As for Hickey, he ended up being a scout for the Dallas Cowboys, and he had to have been overjoyed when the Cowboys dusted off the shotgun formation, which had been dormant for over a decade, in 1975 under Roger Staubach. The Cowboys won the Super Bowl using that formation in certain passing situations. Hickey died in 2006.

Owens is still alive, about to turn 75 in November. Wonder what his vertical leap is nowadays?

Martz Needs To Re-Prove Genius Status In San Francisco

In Lions, Mike Martz, San Francisco 49ers on July 21, 2008 at 12:24 pm

It is presumed, at least for the sake of this posting, that once he was hailed as a genius, Albert Einstein never had to re-prove himself as such. Nor did Stephen Hawking, or any of the panel from “Stump the Professor” (warning: obscure Detroit pop culture reference, so don’t sweat it if you went, “Huh?”). No, I don’t think Einstein or Hawking, or anyone else to whom the word “genius” has been properly applied, ever had to go back and remind us why they were being hailed.

In sports we like to use the word “genius” haphazardly — sometimes even, dare I say it, sarcastically (gasp!). This morning, with NFL training camps just about to get underway, I’m not sure where the meaning of “genius” lies when it comes to offensive mind Mike Martz. But I’m thinking it’s edging toward sarcastic, because I’m almost certain that it was probably initially used haphazardly.

Martz, the erstwhile Lions offensive coordinator in 2006 and 2007, has taken his voluminious playbook and “genius” mind (there’s that word again) and headed west, to infiltrate the mind of poor Alex Smith and the rest of his San Francisco 49ers offensive teammates. 49ers head coach Mike Nolan is the latest to gamble that Martz can do for him what he once did for the St. Louis Rams, some nine years ago. The Lions took that gamble in early 2006, courting Martz with everything but chocolates and roses with Super Bowl week in Detroit as the backdrop. He turned the Lions down, Martz did, but that didn’t stop new head coach Rod Marinelli from pursuing the genius relentlessly, confident that Martz was the man to inject life into an offense teeming with wide receivers but with a brand new quarterback at the helm, Jon Kitna.

So Martz breezed into town, clearly regaling in his reputation as a genius — and with a playbook the size of the New York City yellow pages in tow, as if to prove his brilliance in terms of quantity, if not quality.

After two seasons in Detroit, about the only thing we could conclude definitively about Martz was that, if he was good at anything, it was at being in control and being less-than-amenable to suggestions from the rank-and-file, or from his boss. His playbook clogged the Lions’ players minds and mystified some of the brutuses in the trenches. Yet, for all of its content, Martz’s playbook seemed to somehow ignore something intricate to a football offense — namely, the running game.

Smith: “Whaa?”

By the end of last season, about the only player who publicly endorsed Martz was Kitna — and with back-to-back 4,000 yard passing seasons, that was no wonder, really. It was less than surprising when Martz was given the ziggy by Marinelli, and maybe even less so when Martz was snapped up by the 49ers — if only because once you get labeled in the NFL, good or bad, it takes some time to shed it. Nolan, we presume, did his due diligence on Martz and knows what he’s getting himself into. Whether the Lions did is always open to conjecture.

The Lions have a new offensive coordinator, Jim Colletto. I’m tempted to call him a simpleton, and in doing so, I mean no offense. But Colletto, he says, is all about paring down the playbook and relying more on the running game. The Lions drafted a huge offensive tackle with their no. 1 pick, Gosder Cherilus, as if to emphasize this new way of thinking. Substance instead of flash.

I saw a photograph the other day of Martz, in the 49ers colors and wearing the gratuitous team baseball cap, instructing Smith, the fine young San Francisco quarterback. I couldn’t tell through his helmet and face mask whether Smith had a faraway look on his face.

I guess we’ll find out whether he did once they start playing the games for real.

January Football Now Means Something Else For NFL’s One-Time Great Teams

In Miami Dolphins, NFL, Oakland Raiders, San Francisco 49ers on January 28, 2008 at 2:06 pm

It was just a question, asked glibly, but the words cut to the bone of the die-hards of Da Bums in Brooklyn.

“The Dodgers…are they still in the league?”

It’s a quote I’ve known about for years and years, but only now, as I verify its source on the Internet, do I learn that it was uttered 74 years ago this week, on January 24, 1934. The questioner was New York Giants manager Bill Terry, and he was curious as to the existence of the rival Dodgers. The remark didn’t play well among Dodgers fans.

Terry was talking about possible contenders for the pennant in the upcoming ’34 season. When the matter of the Dodgers was brought up, Terry delivered his zinger.

74 years ago this week, Terry zinged the Dodgers

I’d like to propose a new question, this one for followers of the NFL.

“The Oakland Raiders…are they still in the league?”

I’d also like to ask it of the San Francisco 49ers, and of the Miami Dolphins.

Their fans may get mad at me all they want – still I’d like to ask it.

The truth is that those teams are, indeed, still in the NFL – but they’re not in it the way they used to be. Not even close. They’re all making news this January, but it’s the equivalent of the police blotter in comparison to their long ago days in the society pages.

January used to be glory time for the Raiders, 49ers, and Dolphins. It was the month when they were either crowned NFL champs, or at least played for the opportunity. They owned the first month of the year, often lending it to one another, the same way the Yankees and Dodgers used to swap October back and forth in baseball.

January meant Joe Montana and Jim Plunkett and Bob Griese and Dan Marino. It meant Jerry Rice and Cliff Branch and Paul Warfield and Mark “Super” Duper. And it usually meant that one of these three franchises would be clutching the Vince Lombardi Trophy in a parade a couple days after a Super Bowl.

But here’s what January is giving us in 2008.

The 49ers, five years removed from their last playoff game, fired their offensive coordinator and hired Mad Mike Martz, erstwhile Lions coordinator and certified genius. It wasn’t long before Martz’s hiring was adjudged to be a desperate move by a desperate organization, and one that it will regret in relatively short order.

The Dolphins, winners of one game in 2007, cleaned house. They hired Bill Parcells to run the show, and it didn’t take long for the firings to begin. The GM and the coach have been replaced, for starters. Some reports indicate that Parcells, about as qualified as anyone on this planet to resurrect moribund NFL franchises, placed a couple of phone calls to the Lions, who didn’t show any interest. The 1-15 Dolphins were amenable. Which means that Miami will soon leap frog the Lions, once again. Just a matter of time.

Then there’s the Raiders.

Al Davis is still the patriarch/Don of this very dysfunctional franchise. Then again, the Raiders have always been dysfunctional, even when they were winning. One of their favorite ploys was to take the league’s ne’er-do-wells and resurrect their careers, thru the magic elixir of wearing silver and black and conforming to a “Commitment to Excellence”. Many of the players on the champion Raider teams were deemed too old or too naughty by other squads. But then they signed to play for Davis’s team and while they may have indeed been too old or too naughty, they nonetheless found a way to win at remarkably high clips.

Davis: Losing more than football games in recent years?

The Raiders, somehow, made it to the Super Bowl as recently as five years ago. They lost – their first championship loss since Super Bowl II – and things have gone haywire ever since. The Super Bowl coach was fired a year later, and Davis is now going thru coaches at a rate that would make George Steinbrenner blush.

The latest victim is a bright young man named Lane Kiffin.

Kiffin is the son of longtime Tampa Bay defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. And dad is having a much better year, already, than the kid. Monte Kiffin just inked a contract extension with the Bucs; Lane is being asked to turn in his playbook by Davis.

Lane Kiffin, in his first year as a head coach, went 4-12 with the 2007 Raiders. Now it’s being reported that Davis wants Kiffin to quit. Why? One reason is that if Kiffin resigns, Davis doesn’t have to pay the remainder of his contract – which Davis would have to do if he fires him.

Welcome to the life of an NFL head coach, kid.

The Raiders were bad in 2007, though they weren’t quite as bad as they were in 2006, in which their badness qualified them for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft. They were bad in 2005, and pretty bad in 2004. And they look to be bad again in 2008. In another generation, it meant something completely different to be “bad” when it came to the Raiders. In those days, the Raiders were bad – which meant that they were very good, in a Mae West sort of way.

January doesn’t belong to the Raiders, or the 49ers, or the Dolphins – not anymore. At least, not on the football field. Theirs is now the news of losers and desperados.

To which we say in Detroit, “Welcome to our world.”