Pro Football Hall of Fame LB Dave Wilcox, a 7-time Pro Bowler for 49ers, dies at 80

dave wilcox
San Francisco 49ers quarterback John Brodie, left, and linebacker Dave Wilcox after a 38-7 win over the Oakland Raiders on Dec. 20, 1970. The victory gave the 49ers the Western Division championship of the NFL, their first since joining the league in 1950.

Dave Wilcox, a seven-time Pro Bowl standout at outside linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers and a Pro Football Hall of Famer, died on Wednesday at the age of 80, the HOF announced.

Wilcox starred for San Francisco for 11 seasons, earning a pair of All-Pro selections and playing in 153 of a possible 154 games before he was enshrined in Canton, Ohio, with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2000.

"While Dave Wilcox was nicknamed 'The Intimidator' for his aggressive style of play, he was a kind, humble and gracious man in all other aspects of life," Pro Football Hall of Fame president Jim Porter said in a statement on Wednesday. "He transformed the outside linebacker position -- one of the many feats that earned him a forever home in Canton.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with Dave's wife, Merle, and their entire family. We will preserve his legacy for generations to come."

During his Sundays in San Francisco, Wilcox and the Niners largely struggled but there was a run of glory in the Golden City from 1970-1972.

Wilcox was a centerpiece of Niners success, as he was a Pro Bowler in each of those three seasons and an All-Pro in 71-72. During that span, the 49ers won the franchise's first three NFC West titles, advancing to the NFC Championship Game in 1970-71 and losing in the opening round of the '72 playoffs. Unfortunately, San Francisco was eliminated all three seasons by the Dallas Cowboys in the early days of one of the NFL's historic rivalries.

"He changed the position," former 49ers assistant Mike Giddings said in his enshrinement speech for Wilcox. "He was an absolutely strong, naturally strong, Vale, Oregon, farm boy. I used to say that his triceps went from his earlobe to his wrists. He simply manhandled blockers, but he had one concern. 'Mike, don't ever let me get beat deep on a pass.' Well this was tough because we always ask our outside backer to neutralize the tight end first, then cover the running back man-to-man. Very, very difficult when facing the [Johnny] Unitas Colts, because they had the great John Mackey at tight end and then the league's fastest fullback, Norm Bulaich. Sure enough, we're back in Baltimore. Early on, Mackey blocks down, here comes Bulaich around the corner, your inductee in hot pursuit. Forty yards downfield, knocks down a pass with one of the great open-field plays these eyes have ever seen. That closed the scouting reports. You can't run at him. You can't pass on him. So just stay away from him."

Born in the aforementioned Vale, Oregon, on Sept. 29, 1942, Wilcox played college ball at Oregon as a defensive and offensive lineman. He was drafted by the AFL's Houston Oilers in the sixth round and the Niners in the third. He chose San Francisco as his destination and a Hall of Fame career followed.

A 6-foot-3, 241-pound force at OLB, Wilcox was a player for all downs and distances, able to rush the passer, drop back and stand up to the run.

Wilcox was a nightmare for opposing tight ends, refusing to let them get off the line on passing downs.

He started 144 of his 153 career games, with eight starts as a rookie in 1964 and 11 in his final campaign of 1974. In between those bookend seasons, Wilcox started each game he played, missing just one outing.

Though Wilcox shined long before the 49ers' dynastic 1980s teams, he was enshrined in the Hall in the same 2000 class as quarterback Joe Montana and safety Ronnie Lott.

Wilcox's brother John briefly played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960. Dave's sons Josh and Justin also found prominence in the game, as Josh played for the New Orleans Saints in 1998-99, while Justin is the current head coach at Cal.

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