Under the Helmet with 49ers’ Hall of Famer Dave Wilcox

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Dave Wilcox played outside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers from 1964-1974. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, and he’s still keeping a close eye on the world of football and the 49ers.

The whole family is football related…We came down for the 49er game the first part of the year in September. My youngest son is the defensive coordinator at USC, so we pay attention to what’s going on in the college world down there, and then go to the Oregon Duck games. I have an older son that lives in Portland, does radio and TV stuff.

The Wilcox family has made its way to Santa Clara to watch Dave’s former team more than once.

Yeah. We came down a year ago when they had the first game and went to the museum and all of that. It was like alumni weekend too I believe. I think they played the Bears…we always try to make one game a year somewhere with 49ers, see some of our old buddies and check out what’s going on with the world of professional football today. We like it. It’s a great place down there.

As for Wilcox and his wife, they live in Junction City, which is about 15 miles outside of Eugene, Oregon. They live on a farm, which is very comfortable for Wilcox, and they manage to keep quite busy.

I grew up on a farm in eastern Oregon near the Oregon-Idaho border about seventy-five miles from Boise. We wanted to live out in the country, we had two boys…[O]ur kids went to a local high school and kindergarten here and both went to the University of Oregon…I’ve raised vegetable seed for about twenty-five years. Also, my wife is in the travel business. She had her own agency for twenty-eight years, so we’ve done a variety of things.

But before all of that, there was football, a game that Wilcox excelled at and played so tough, he became known as “The Intimidator.”

I don’t know where [the nickname The Intimidator]came from. I know that people ask about it. You can’t get rid of it…I just did what I was supposed to do. Some guy was going to hit you, but you hit him first. I don’t know if [the nickname]was around when I was playing. We didn’t have social media and all that of course.

For the record, I think the Intimidator would have been a great Twitter handle. Oh well. #opportunitylost
Anyway, the Intimidator got his start in 1964, when a teammate went down, and he was asked to step in.

There was a guy named [Ed] Pine; he was a left side linebacker. It was early in the season, when they lined the field they put the wrong material on it, and he got a real bad burn from the material. And he couldn’t play for a couple of weeks, and that’s how I got started playing. I started a couple of games and played there for a number of years. He kind of lost his job.

So that was obviously a memorable day for Wilcox, but as you can probably imagine, there are a number of memorable playing days for Wilcox. But one thing stands out more than anything else.

I think the most important one was just being able to get to play. When I grew up on a farm, like I said, in Eastern Oregon, my eighth grade class was eight kids. My high school senior class – there’s four grades in high school – there were like 56 kids. So, how in the heck did I ever get there? You know, it’s just incredible.

The defensive woes of the 49ers this season have been well documented and have been on display many a week this season. Well, let’s be honest the woes of the 49ers generally have been well documented and displayed week after week. Wilcox knows that football is a team sport and that everyone plays a part in the outcome of a game and of a season.

I’m like a fan, I just watch the ball. I’m sure the guys are trying as hard as they can. They don’t want to go lose…[I]njuries have some things to do with it. Retirement, I think the guys lost two or three really good players to retirement…[A]nd offensively…it is a team sport. I know that somebody was telling me not too long ago, you know, the quarterback is so important. And I said ‘Well you know in my mind the most important guy on the field in the offense or the defense is the center.’…The center if he doesn’t snap the ball nothing happens right?

He doesn’t want the ball, so he gives it to the quarterback who surely doesn’t want it because someone is going to hit him. So he either throws it to somebody or gives it to somebody. And the quarterback’s not going to be able to throw it unless his linemen block. So lets back off the quarterback and get back to the…linemen, the guys that are really important.

I can’t disagree with him, as San Francisco’s offensive line has been a mess all season. That being said, offensive lines have been weak throughout the league and teams figure out how to work around them. That takes preparation, fundamentals, coaching, and teamwork.

I think I was a very fundamentally sound player. In that I mean I had my balance. Everything to me starts with your feet. You can’t play football, or track, or baseball, or anything without your feet…And I had great coaches when I started in high school. Then I went to junior college, went to college, and even the pros, we worked on fundamental things…[T]he difference between wining and losing in the pros is so small. It’s a guy taking a wrong step, and a guy beating you for a touchdown. The fundamental part of the game, I would work on that as much as they could. And then you know, depend on your pals, your buddies…[L]ike I said, it’s not an individual thing. There are eleven guys and most of them have a job to do. I would just say concentrate on your fundamentals and be the team player.

Fundamentals and being a team player is a big part of what got Wilcox inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Well I knew they were going to vote…My oldest son who was in Las Vegas…called me and told me ‘[H]ey, you have just been elected to the Hall of Fame.’

The Pro Football Hall of Fame includes 295 of the best to ever play the game, and the magnitude of that was not lost on Wilcox when it was time for his induction.

There’s a luncheon at the Hall of Fame every year…The only people at the luncheon are hall of famers. I played against Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, and [Joe] Namath, Dick Butkus, and all those guys. We made it to the luncheon, and I go sit at the table. I’m sitting with Art Donovan, Bill Walsh, Dick Butkus, Deacon Jones, I think Namath was at my table, and myself. I’m thinking ‘[G] I went to Willcreek Grade School; had eight kids to my class, and there’s more guys at the table then I had in my eight grade class.’

Now, how could this be? That just being included in that group of people…It’s a small group of people, and how fortunate and lucky you are to be part of this group…I go back every year. And just to hang around with your old team, if you will. It is incredible.

Away from induction weekend, Wilcox spends time with fellow hall of famers. In fact, he and Dan Fouts put on a charity golf tournament that they took over for Major League Baseball Hall of Famer, the late Harmon Killebrew.

Dan Fouts and myself have a golf tournament in Portland. We do a fundraising thing that used to be an old baseball thing and Ben and I took it over three years ago. Ronnie Lott comes to our function, a bunch of old guys…It raises for Children of America Network. Last year they raised I think it was $960,000.

Wilcox plays in a number of charity golf tournaments, while he also recognizes local heroes and does work in the community.

You heard about the shooting at the Umpqua College in Oregon? Well, there was a gentleman that put his life on the line. I understand that he got injured, got shot a couple of times, two or three times, on his son’s birthday…I got some stuff, football stuff and took it down to him and his son. Also, [I brought things to] the local Sheriff down there, who I thought did a heck of a job with a terrible, terrible event. Just some things to say thank you for helping people out. I like doing things like that.

We do a couple of local things too…[M]y wife’s working on a program to help the local high school with their bleachers…We went over last summer to a thing on the Oregon coast, where people raise money to help some schools, young students, grade school, high school students, that maybe need some extra help doing things. We do some stuff like that to help them…[I]t’s kind of fun to help other people maybe who are not as fortunate and have had some issues they need help with. Love to do that.

I love that he loves to do that. Dave Wilcox was a heck of a player, and he is a heck of a man, with hall of fame caliber on and off the field.

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Tracy Sandler

Bleeding gold and staying Niner faithful, I bring you the latest news features & commentary on my beloved San Francisco 49ers.

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