SAN FRANCISCO — Terrell Owens, back at Candlestick Park for the first time in 10 years, spent a long time chatting with 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh before kickoff on Sunday.

What did they talk about?

"Oh, me coming in and working out for the 49ers,'' Owens said, straight-faced.

And then he laughed: "Nah, I'm just kidding."

The prolific, tempestuous Owens was back in San Francisco to be honored for "The Catch II,'' his game-winning touchdown grab against the Green Bay Packers in a playoff game on Jan. 3, 1999. The 25-yarder from Steve Young with 3 seconds left was voted by fans as the No. 4 moment in the team's history at The 'Stick.

Owens joked about a comeback, but it had a grain of truth. The five-time Pro Bowler continues to stay in shape for a possible NFL return and said that he thought the 49ers might call him as recently as May, when top receiver Michael Crabtree sustained a torn Achilles.

That notion never got off the ground, however. The 49ers had no interest.

"Yeah, there was disappointment there,'' Owens acknowledged. "But it is what it is. I can't really be too salty about it. Again, I thought ... I might be a viable option to come in for a workout. But nothing happened.

"I just kept myself in shape. I still keep myself in shape just in case anything out of the woodwork could happen."

Owens, who turns 40 on Dec. 7, last played in the NFL during the 2010 season when he had 72 catches for 983 yards for the Cincinnati Bengals. He has 15,934 career receiving yards, second only to his old 49ers teammate, Jerry Rice (22,895).

These days, Owens said gets his competitive juices going on Sundays like so many others — by fretting over his fantasy football league, paythefan.com. "That's the closest I can get to playing football right now,'' Owens said.

Sounding relaxed and looking lean and fit, Owens was all smiles as he worked his way around his home field from 1996-2003. He chatted with familiar faces on the sidelines, from security guards to photographers, and then sought out Harbaugh during pregame drills for extended conversation.

The 49ers' honorary captain for Sunday's game was clearly happy to be back.

"I never even got to play here (as an opponent),'' Owens said. "When I was looking forward to the free-agent market, there were times when I looked at other teams to see if they were playing the 49ers ... I never got back here."

Owens' career in San Francisco reached its zenith during that wild-card game against the Packers after the 1998 season. On a third-and-3 play in the waning seconds, Young took the snap, stumbled and nearly fell, and launched a pass to the middle of the end zone.

That's where Owens caught the ball amid a sea of Green Bay defenders.

"It was a rough day. I remember dropped balls here and there,'' Owens recalled. "You're just trying to do whatever you can to redeem yourself for those mistakes.

"I remember coming to the sidelines and everybody telling me, 'Keep your head up. You're going to make a big play somewhere to make up for it.' I didn't know it was going to come with 8 seconds left to go in the game."

So will there be a sequel to The Catch II?

"I haven't retired officially,'' Owens said. "My motto is: 'You have to stay ready to so you don't have to get ready.'''

Follow Daniel Brown on Twitter at twitter.com/mercbrownie.