Tough All Over
2000 Enshrinee: Dave Wilcox
"I'm worried," he told a reporter prior to his first start. "I know what I'm supposed to do, but now I have to think about it. It isn't automatic." Perhaps in an effort to relieve some of the pressure, head coach Jack Christiansen publicly announced that if needed, Pine could see action. Pine wasn't needed, however, and Wilcox never looked back. From that day forward, Dave Wilcox was the 49ers' starting left outside linebacker.
Although he had a good rookie season, his coaches felt that he was still too light and needed to improve his upper body strength. Contributing to his problem was the fact that ever since his college days, he suffered from chronic shoulder pain.
"I weighed around 230 my first two years, but kept having trouble with my shoulders," Wilcox said. "They ached so bad I couldn't sleep." Dave spent his first off-season in the Army, so he couldn't participate in any rehab or weightlifting program with the team. But starting his second season he dedicated himself to the weight room, adding pounds and the needed upper body strength.
With a healthy shoulder he was even more explosive off the ball as he rushed quarterbacks and leveled ball carriers. The impact of a Wilcox hit, it was said, could be measured on the Richter Scale. By his third season he was considered by most as one of the league's most dominant defensive players.
Unfortunately, the team was not so dominant. After posting a 4-10 record in 1964, the 49ers improved to 7-6-1 in 1965, only to fall to 6-6-2 the following season. In 1967, after a 5-1 start, the 49ers, plagued by injuries, dropped six consecutive games and finished with a 7-7 record. Wilcox was one of the few 49ers bright spots during that period.
His quiet off-the-field demeanor coupled with the team's lackluster performances year-in and year-out, resulted in Dave never fully receiving the kind of national attention a player of his caliber should expect. Still, he was named to the Pro Bowl following the 1966 season and All-NFL in 1967. As one NFL observer remarked, however, "No one played better or was forgotten faster than Dave Wilcox."
Some of the unintentional oversight, especially in the early years of his career, could be blamed on playing along side a respected veteran like Matt Hazeltine.
In 1966, when Baltimore Colts center Dick Szymanski was asked to name the most underrated player in the league, he wanted to cast his vote for Wilcox, but he couldn't remember his name. "That guy from San Francisco," he replied. "That linebacker is one guy you never hear about but who does a heck of a job. Not Hazeltine, the other one, at the other corner." After soliciting assistance from a teammate Szymanski confirmed, "Wilcox. Yeah, Wilcox, that's right. He's a good one."
For his part, Dave was content to lead by example and was never bothered by his lack of notoriety. All he ever wanted was to be the best outside linebacker in the league. "You have to have enough pride to want to be the best," he said. "When no one completes a pass on your side or runs your hole, that gives you a better feeling than what someone says about you in a book."
Though soft spoken off the field, Wilcox was ferocious on the field. In fact his coaches nicknamed him "The Intimidator." In the early 1970s, an informal poll of NFL coaches, players and scouts for the book, Inside Pro Football, named Wilcox as one of the 12 toughest men in the league.
"Wilcox has earned a league-wide reputation as a 'hitter,'" the book reported. "He doesn't push or pull and shove. He hits people with hard hammer blows that send them reeling. Tight ends who run patterns across the field are pet targets of the San Francisco defensive star. More than once Dave has almost decapitated an unwary tight end. Now most of them look for him before they start across the middle."