"My thinking when tackling is that if I have to leave my feet, I'm doing exactly what the ball carrier wants - for me to extend myself," he said. "I try to think his way. He'll put a move on to get you to move so he can make another move around you. I wait until he stops. Usually you have to reach out some and get him anyway, so I must use my arms somewhat." With arms that measured size 39 in sleeve length it's easy to see how his arm-tackling style was so effective.
A true student of the game Wilcox was always prepared and worked tirelessly to be "fundamentally correct." "There is no use in playing football just to be playing," he suggested. "You should always try to be the best."
It wasn't, however, until Dick Nolan took over as head coach in 1968 that the 49ers', and Wilcox's fortunes began to soar. In 1970, the team captured the first of three consecutive NFC Western Division titles and Wilcox was named to the first of four consecutive All-NFL teams. In the 1971 NFC Championship Game against the Dallas Cowboys, the veteran linebacker recorded four tackles, five assists, two passes defensed and one sack. Suddenly, the 49ers and Wilcox were news. It wasn't, however, news to Nolan or his staff.
"Dave comes to play," Nolan remarked. "You'd have to shoot him to keep him out. He's something special." Line coach Dick Stanfel once rated Wilcox as the best in the game. "As far as I'm concerned," he said, "Dave is the finest outside linebacker I have ever seen in pro football."
After each season, the San Francisco coaching staff would rate every player based upon his performance. The typical score for a linebacker was 750. Wilcox's score in 1973 was 1,306. The score reflected a season that included 104 solo tackles, four forced fumbles, and 13 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Prior to the start of the 1974 season, Wilcox had a second surgery on a troublesome right knee. Although he somehow managed to play, he admitted it wasn't at his usual all-pro level. "It's frustrating not being able to do something you normally can because of a restriction you have no control over," Wilcox said midway through the season. By season's end, it was apparent that his brilliant - though sometimes overlooked - career was over.
With his election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dave Wilcox has finally gotten the recognition that for far too long has eluded him. It is without question a just reward for a player who had just "enough pride to want to be the best."
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