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75 for 75: The Intimidator


"75 for 75" is an article series from the 49ers Museum highlighting legendary moments in 49ers history as part of the team's 75th Anniversary celebrations in 2021.



Dave Wilcox was tough and powerful with a field presence that earned him the nickname "The Intimidator." 

"He was the Dick Butkus of outside linebackers," said Mike Giddings, Wilcox's linebackers coach with the 49ers.

From 1964-1974 the 240-pounder terrorized opponents from his left side linebacker position, shutting down running games and manhandling tight ends.  

John Mackey, a hard-nosed tight end from the era who is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, once tried to get under the skin of the rookie linebacker with a cheap shot. It never happened again. Wilcox retaliated by slamming the 228-pound Mackey into a pack of Baltimore players and knocking down Colts All-Pro running back Lenny Moore in the process.

"(Wilcox) was strong, he was smart and he was quick," Mackey said. "And I liked his attitude—when you hit me, you get hit back."

"What I do best is not let people block me," Wilcox once said. "I just hate to be blocked."

He usually was not. Giddings claimed that in his six seasons as the 49ers linebackers coach, opponents averaged 1.1 yards on running plays aimed at Wilcox.

Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry once said the secret to beating the 49ers was to run plays away from Wilcox's side of the field. Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback Jimmy Johnson backed up Wilcox making the left side of the 49ers defense nearly impenetrable. 

"It's hard to say what it takes to be a good linebacker," Wilcox said. "I guess the first thing is you have to be a little crazy. You have to be aggressive. You have to be able to react to things as they happen."

Wilcox also was a stickler for mental preparation. A keen student of the game, he carefully reviewed the tendencies of opposing teams, players and coaches.

"I didn't like to make mental mistakes," he said. "Once the game started, I'd go like hell. I did everything 100 percent. I was a perfectionist I guess. When I went on the field, I thought I could beat anybody. That's the way you have to be when you go out there."

Wilcox joined the 49ers in 1964 as a third-round draft pick from Oregon. He picked off 14 passes during his 11 seasons with San Francisco. Two interceptions came in one game and were the nucleus behind the 49ers first-ever win on "Monday Night Football," a 20-6 victory over the Green Bay Packers in 1973. 

"He gave us fits," Detroit Lions Hall of Fame linebacker Joe Schmidt once said of "The Intimidator." "The lead blocker had to really come out hard to take him out because he was so strong."

Wilcox was selected to seven Pro Bowl teams and was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000.

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