SANTA CLARA R.C. Owens has narrowed it down to three suspects.
In the huddle that October afternoon in 1957 were quarterbacks Y.A. Tittle and John Brodie and offensive coordinator Red Hickey. The group was trying to decide on a name for the oddball, but effective, play that Owens had made over and over in practice that day when someone blurted out, "Alley Oop."
It not only stuck, it spread.
"I don't know who said it, but it became part of the nomenclature," said Owens, the rookie wide receiver who soon came to be called "Alley Oop," or just "Oop" by his teammates. "You started hearing it in basketball, everywhere. Even when I see a baseball player go up and get a ball, I say, 'He made an Alley Oop.' "
Owens, inventor of the Alley Oop, will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame alongside former running back Roger Craig on Saturday, which also happens to be Owens' 77th birthday. The two also will be honored at halftime of Sunday's game against the New York Giants.
While the term has endured in basketball it was first used in a newspaper story in 1959 Owens said it was replaced in football by "Hail Mary," which became famous in 1975 when Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach threw a game-winning touchdown pass to Drew Pearson in the playoffs against Minnesota.
Today "Hail Mary" connotes desperation pass. Owens and Tittle, however, used the Alley Oop to near-perfection in 1957.
After stumbling upon it in practice as they prepared for a game against the Los Angeles Rams, the two connected twice before halftime and for the game-winning touchdown during the game.
"The defenders, sometimes two or three of them, would be down there and (Owens) would swoop in there like a hawk and pluck it out of the air," Tittle, 85, said. "I think it surprised everybody."
The play worked the following week against the Bears at Wrigley Field and later in the year at Kezar Stadium against the Lions. Owens estimates the Alley Oop was successful another dozen or so times.
Owens, who went to high school in Santa Monica, was a basketball star at the College of Idaho, where he played with Elgin Baylor. Owens stood only 6-foot-3, but as a sophomore he averaged 27.6 rebounds a game.
"I could jump," he said. "I could scrape 'em off."
What stood out to Tittle was how high Owens could jump while starting flat-footed.
"They would just swarm him like a bunch of buzzards, but he would time those jumps perfectly," Tittle said. "The more defenders the better because they would end up running into each other."
One of Owens' obstacles was persuading Tittle, and later Brodie, to throw the Alley Oop the way he liked. Owens wanted it to descend with a flutter so that he could better judge his leap.
A wobbly pass? Tittle remembers thinking that was beneath him.
"As a quarterback, I wanted the ball to whistle through the air. I wanted everything to be pretty," he said. "Anyone could throw it wobbly. You could throw it like that. I was embarrassed to throw it."
Some accounts credit Hickey, who later became the 49ers' head coach, with coining the phrase. Tittle agrees with Owens that no one remembered who first said it. Heck, it could have been him.
Said Tittle: "I just Alley-Ooped it in the air, and he jumped up and got it."