Sports on the Radio
Dave Wilcox grew up in eastern Oregon. He says his family listened to sports on the radio before getting their first television. His family got that TV just in time to watch the famous 1958 NFL Championship game between the Colts and Giants.Embed from Getty Images
“We used to listen to the baseball games on the radio. I was a Yankee fan because that’s what we got a lot of. We didn’t have a television when I was growing up, so we listened to the Indianapolis 500 on the radio, and I remember the Giants and the Colts. That game was on TV, and we’d get it from Boise. When we got a TV in 1958, we must have hit the mother lode because we got a television and a party telephone at the same time.”
From the Farm to Football
Wilcox told me that he didn’t get the opportunity to play organized football until high school.
“I grew up in eastern Oregon, on the Oregon-Idaho border, on a farm. I had some older brothers that played football in high school. There were eight kids in my eighth-grade class in my grade school I went to, so we didn’t have football in grade school. But, in high school, our team was pretty good in the 50s and 60s. We won about four or five state championships, finished second once, fourth once. So it was pretty good. We grew up wanting to play football because then we didn’t have to get home from school to do all the chores (laughs).”
Dave added that football didn’t get him out of doing any chores. It simply delayed the work. That’s life on the farm. Wilcox said that he was thankful to grow up in that environment. His life cultivated a solid work ethic and upped his strength for football.Embed from Getty Images
Going from a State Powerhouse to Boise State
Wilcox attended Vale High School in Vale, Oregon. He said that although his high school graduating class was about 80 people, the school’s football team was a state powerhouse.
Wilcox’s high school junior season was 1958. In 2019, OregonLive.com, the website for the newspaper, The Oregonian, named those 1958 Vale Vikings as one of the top 10 most dominant football teams in Oregon state history.
Dave Wilcox had several universities interested in his football skills, but he ultimately decided to attend Boise State. His older brother, John Wilcox, suggested he go to Boise State and later transfer to Oregon. That was the same route John took on his way to playing for the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL Championship Game.
Attending the University of Oregon
In 1962, Dave Wilcox transferred to the University of Oregon. At that time, Oregon was an independent.
The Ducks spent five years as an independent from 1959 through 1963. Dating back to 1916, all of the other years that the Ducks have played, they’ve been affiliated with what is now the PAC-12 conference. But for the first five seasons that the conference was known as the Athletic Association of Western Universities, Oregon played as an independent. Several of their opponents were still traditional Pacific Coast Conference schools, but Wilcox says Oregon played a robust schedule against teams from across the country.
The Oregon-Oregon State rivalry remained in full swing. The teams played on the final week of the 1962 season in Corvallis. Wilcox remembers a big play he made against that year’s Heisman Trophy winner.
“I believe we played up in Corvallis and Terry Baker, he was the Heisman winner that year, I believe. I remember he also punted, and I blocked one of his punts. But Terry was an unbelievable athlete. He played basketball and football and was a baseball pitcher.”Embed from Getty Images
1963 was Wilcox’s senior season. He said his role changed a bit during his senior year. “We didn’t have any linemen. They wanted to know if I could play guard. I said, ‘Well, I can play guard, but I need to play defensive end.’ They said, ‘OK, we’ll let you do that.’ So that was fine. But back then, you played both ways, then down on kickoffs, punts, did everything.”
Dave Wilcox Is Drafted to the 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers drafted Dave Wilcox. The 1964 49ers were coached by Jack Christiansen, the Hall of Fame defensive back who played for the Detroit Lions his entire career. The 49ers franchise was younger than 20 years old at the time. The team started in 1946 as a member of the All-American Football Conference, otherwise known as the AAFC. The 49ers finished 2-12 in 1963.
The team selected Dave Wilcox in the 3rd round, and draft picks had a solid chance to make that starting lineup immediately. San Francisco took receiver Dave Parks with the first overall pick in the draft and Parks immediately netted over 900 yards receiving in 1964.
Wilcox also earned a starting role — at outside linebacker. He says it was an easy adjustment, switching from the defensive end position he played in college.Embed from Getty Images
Career Off To Good Start
Wilcox’s NFL career got off to a solid start in his rookie season of 1964. His first NFL interception came off one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Johnny Unitas.Embed from Getty Images
The 1964 San Francisco 49ers finished the season with a 4-10 record. However, the team’s year included a very famous moment in NFL history, and it was a moment that went the 49er’s way. San Francisco’s Billy Kilmer fumbled the ball. Minnesota Vikings Defensive lineman Jim Marshall infamously recovered the fumble and returned it the wrong way into the end zone for a 49ers safety. Dave Wilcox shared his memory of Marshall’s wrong-way run from a 49ers perspective on our sports history podcast.Embed from Getty Images
“So Marshall picks it up, starts to run, and everybody stops, except Bruce Bosley, who is our center. He’s chasing him — not to get him to drop the ball — but to congratulate him for scoring the safety.”
Wilcox already started proving his worth at linebacker by the 1965 season. He was a full-time starter, and San Francisco collected a winning record of 7-6-1.
Dick Nolan Takes Over as 49ers Head Coach
The San Francisco 49ers posted lackluster records early in Wilcox’s career, but the team improved under head coach Dick Nolan, who took over in 1968.Embed from Getty Images
The 49ers won their first-ever division championship in 1970, despite the 49er’s great history of having the Million Dollar Backfield in the 1950s and rosters dotted with notable stars throughout the 1960s. The 49ers won three straight division titles under Dick Nolan in 1970, ’71, and ’72. As of the start of the 2021 season, only one 49ers head coach has won more than three straight division titles, and that coach is: Any guesses? George Seifert! Seifert won four consecutive division titles. Bill Walsh tied Nolan’s mark with three straight division championships.
For the record, that would have been my guess, Bill Walsh.
Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2000
Dave Wilcox retired from the NFL after the 1974 season. He told me that his knee doctor suggested it was time to move on. Dave also shared that he had previously played through an entire season with torn cartilage in his knee after a preseason injury. Eventually, it was time to move on from football.
However, Wilcox went out with a bang in the fourth quarter of his final NFL game. He intercepted a pass against the New Orleans Saints and charged his way into the end zone for a touchdown, a fantastic ending to a career that landed him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Dave Wilcox was part of the 2000 class, that included two more San Francisco legends: Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott.Embed from Getty Images
Believer in Team Sports
Something that’s pretty amazing to think about, and is one of the great things about pro sports in America, is that there was a time, 1958 to be exact, that a young Dave Wilcox watched the NFL Championship game on the first TV that his family ever owned. Growing up in a small town in Oregon, he watched Johnny Unitas rally the Colts to victory. Then fewer than ten years later, Wilcox was playing in the NFL and made his first career interception off of Unitas. Later, Wilcox joined Johnny Unitas in the Hall of Fame.
Dave also told me that he listened to Yankee games on the radio as a kid and wound up playing NFL games in Yankee Stadium, where he’d visit Monument Park before the game.
Dave Wilcox says that he’s thankful for his football career and believes in team sports.
“To get to do all the things I got to do, and stuff without football would have been kind of hard….And when my kids were growing up, the only thing I said was, ‘You’re going to play team sports. You can play golf if you want to or whatever, but you’re going to play team sports.’ And I think that helps you in the time you’re growing up.”
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