First off, before I start writing this post, I want to express my deepest condolences to R.C. Owens' family, especially the wife he leaves behind. She will be in my thoughts and prayers. Yes, 49ers great R.C. Owens has passed on at 78. Matt Maiocco wrote an excellent retrospective and remembrance of his career. I strongly suggest that you give it a glance.
Owens was a dynamite of a player for the 49ers as they were just emerging. His iconic "Alley-Oop" catches displayed an incredible athleticism. His post-playing career with the 49ers organization underscored his love for the game and his team.
It makes me quite sad that I will never have a chance to watch Owens play. Today, I spent a good amount of time seeking out all the playtime I could find. It wasn't much. What a shame - a talent like his deserves to be enshrined for future generations.
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This all got me thinking about what it means to be 22 years old and a 49ers fan. I was four years old when the 49ers last won the Super Bowl. I have seen the game countless times since then - we have it on DVD and it's one of my favorites to watch - but it just isn't the same. I want to feel the exhilaration of victory and jump up and down with my father and brother. Three generations of fans going ballistic in a room.
I consider myself lucky to have seen Steve Young play; to have seen Jerry Rice; T.O.; Bryant Young. The list goes on and on.
But until the day I die, I will bemoan the fact that the last time I saw Joe Montana play live was when I was four years old. I don't remember it. Since then, I have seen many games. Many, many games. I have watched every single game of Montana's that I can get my hands on. I've watched them multiple times. I've dissected play after play. I love to watch him play as a Football fan and a 49er fan, I can appreciate his play. A lot.
But, for all intents and purposes, my appreciation of Joe is familial and historical. I'm grateful for my Father for the former. Football has been an integral part of our relationship and it will be for the rest of our lives. There is no person with whom I would rather watch a game. He tells a story that my first words were, in fact, "Joe Montana," though my mother takes umbrage with the story. The 49ers are an integral part to my identity. They have become part of who I am and part of my relationships with other people, besides just my dad.
From the latter perspective - the historical perspective - my understanding of Joe Montana has shaped how I think of the current players on the team. It's different, I know, but when I watch Patrick Willis play, I feel as if I am watching Joe Montana. Did fans in the ‘80s watching Joe throw the ball with precision wonder if he would be in the conversation for best QB of all time? Maybe they did. It seems likely.
But now that we have seen this happen with Joe, I think many of us wonder about Willis. His career is still young. Obviously. He has to keep producing at an extremely high level in order to even begin to deserve this praise; but, I would be lying if I didn't think to myself, every time I watch him play, that I might be watching one of the best ILBs to ever play the game. All else being equal, this man will be in the "greatest of all time" conversation.
So I'm a bit jealous of my father. He got to watch Joe win four rings and Young one. Now, he gets to watch P-52, and Frank Gore, and Vernon Davis. Do I wish that I could have watched Joe play? Big time. Would I have like to have seen those Super Bowls live? Absolutely. But the beauty is that my dad never saw R.C. Owens play and he still saw some amazing players. He missed out on those early greats. He was a Niners fan at a darn good time - don't get me wrong - but Joe was never a guarantee until he was. Owens, however, was already a good player. What a bummer to have missed him!
So I'm going to watch every play. I'm going to watch Willis consistently, because I am watching something truly magical. And hopefully, I can regale my sons and daughters with wonderful stories of Gore, Willis, and the rest of our truly great team. Even better, I can someday watch Football with them. I can watch them discover the next great player. I can see them realize what it must have been like for me to see Willis play for the first time, just as I have realized what it must have been like for my father to watch Joe for the first time.
So, to R.C. Owens, I wish to say thank you. Not just for the entertainment you provided many people while a player but also for the bonds you created between father and son, brother and sister, and mother and daughter. People of extraordinary talent create extraordinary bonds and relationships. For that, you truly deserve to rest in peace.