NFL Nation: R.C. Owens

Where the NFC West stands in Flash Points balloting, which continues into Wednesday afternoon and seeks to identify key events in franchise history:

Votes so far: 125,896

Votes by team: San Francisco 49ers 42,066; Seattle Seahawks 29,750; St. Louis Rams 28,232; Arizona Cardinals 25,848.

Closest race: Eleven percentage point separate the top three Seahawks moments. Thirty-six percent pointed to Paul Allen purchasing the team and keeping it in Seattle. Twenty-eight percent singled out the victory against Carolina to reach Super Bowl XL. Twenty-five percent pointed to the team's decision to select Dan McGwire in the first round of the 1991 draft, even though coach Chuck Knox preferred Brett Favre.

Flashiest Flash Point: The 49ers' hiring of Bill Walsh has commanded more than 22,000 votes, easily the most among all NFC West options.

Biggest blowout: The Arizona Cardinals' victory against Philadelphia to reach Super Bowl XLIII has drawn the highest percentage of any team's votes (68 percent). Getting a new stadium in Glendale ranks a distant second with 16 percent. That is easily the widest gap between first- and second-place options.

Weakest Flash Point: With all due respect to 49ers legend R.C. Owens, his alley-oop reception to beat the Detroit Lions in 1957 hasn't measured up among voters, drawing only 1 percent. The top two options -- Walsh's hiring and "The Catch" -- combined for 90 percent, with 6 percent selecting Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s forced exit as owner.

My favorite suggestions: For the Rams, their 30-3 defeat to the 49ers in the NFC title game following the 1989 season. EmsDucks offered that one, noting that the Rams went into quick decline and wound up moving the franchise. That game also negatively impacted perceptions of quarterback Jim Everett. ...

For the 49ers, the hit Cardinals cornerback Aeneas Williams put on quarterback Steve Young in 1999, precipitating Young's retirement. ...

For the Seahawks, hiring Mike Holmgren away from Green Bay. We can informally roll this one into Allen's purchasing of the team, which cleared the way for the hiring. ...

For the Cardinals, there were a few, but none more entertaining than visions of coaches past. Buddy Ryan's proclamation about there being a winner in town was up there with Dennis Green's memorable postgame meltdown.

Scheduling note: NFL West polls close Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET. I'll break out winners and single out one for elaboration in a piece scheduled for Thursday.

Closing question: What about Walsh's hiring with the 49ers stands out to you all these years later? The success San Francisco enjoyed thereafter speaks for itself. In retrospect, it's easy to say the 49ers made a no-brainer hiring. In truth, however, Walsh was the team's fifth head coach in less than two years, and the organization was floundering at that time.
What key event significantly changed the fortunes of the San Francisco 49ers -- for better or worse? Give us your take and we’ll give you our definitive moment on May 19.

The 49ers packed more pivotal moments into the 1980s alone than some teams manage over the course of their existence.

They've also got a history dating to 1946 and the All-American Football Conference.

The four key events I singled out spanned the eras.

R.C. Owens' signature alley-oop touchdown grab against Detroit for a 41-yard touchdown in the final 1:20 played a critical role in securing the team's first NFL postseason appearance. Owner Tony Morabito had died of a heart attack during a game one week earlier. Owens' 1957 reception was the difference in a 35-31 victory as San Francisco improved to 5-1.

Having acknowledged the 49ers' more distant history, there was no sense in filling out this list with moments predating Bill Walsh's arrival as head coach for the 1979 season. Walsh revolutionized offensive football while turning the 49ers into one of the model franchises in any professional sport. His hiring was much more than a "key event" in 49ers history. It changed everything.

I had a tough time settling on only two other moments for listing here. "The Catch" had to make the list. There is no more iconic play from the Walsh era.

The 49ers' recent struggles feature a long list of missteps, none more pronounced in retrospect than drafting Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers in 2005. Only six seasons have passed since that draft, however, and any young quarterback might have struggled in San Francisco. That's why I singled out Eddie DeBartolo Jr.'s departure as team owner for the fourth and final spot on the list. Consider it a jumping-off point for the subsequent decade of futility.

There were other moments worthy of consideration.

Leonard Marshall's 1991 hit on Joe Montana cleared the way for the trade that sent Montana to Kansas City, but the 49ers won another championship with Steve Young, while Montana lasted only two seasons with the Chiefs.

If you vote Other, give us your suggestion in the comments area below.

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