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'He was Dave Wilcox, a hell of a dude'
The I-5 Corridor talked with Josh Wilcox about the new award Oregon is giving out in memory of his late father.
EUGENE — Josh Wilcox has a favorite story he likes to tell about his dad.
It was a 49ers versus Bears game at Wrigley Field in 1965, one that was memorable for rain, mud and the six touchdowns Chicago running back Gale Sayers scored against Dave Wilcox’s Niners.
The Bears won 61-20, with Sayers scoring four touchdowns on the ground, one through the air and another via 85-yard punt return to set an NFL record.
“Dad saw him later at the Pro Bowl and said he made a point of tracking him down after the game to shake his hand because that was the closest he could ever get to touching him,” Josh says.
There are other stories he could choose, ones that would highlight the peaks of the linebacker’s career.
He was a seven-time Pro Bowler.
He was a two-time All-Pro.
He’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Oregon hall of fame and saw his sons Josh and Justin follow in his footsteps at Oregon just as he followed in the footsteps of his older brother John.
But Josh likes the Sayers story. It’s his dad: someone who had all the credentials, talent and bonafides to puff out his chest, but instead opted for humility.
“His stories were always like that. Always about the guys, about his buddies,” Josh says.
In a way, it was almost surreal for Josh to be at Autzen Stadium on Saturday and watching on the Jumbotron as the Oregon Ducks honored Dave and his legacy. He died in April at 80, and Saturday UO announced a postseason award will be given out annually in his honor.
“The more I’ve learned about Dave, you learn about an exceptional human being that means a lot to this program,” Oregon coach Dan Lanning said after the game. “…That family means a lot to us.”
But for much of Josh’s memory, Dave was never Dave Wilcox the hall of fame football player. He was just a good dad. Born in Eastern Oregon, he spent his first two years playing at Boise Junior College, considered Eugene to be too big and retired to Junction City, population 7,116.
“I knew him as Dave Wilcox, the farmer. I knew him as Dave Wilcox, the guy who would go sit in the stands and watch us play,” Josh says. “But to hear the impact he had on other people, it’s hard when you’re in it to really know. I knew people respected him, but after he passed, I don’t want to say I was shocked, but it was surreal how many people reached out.”
That included Lanning, who got in contact shortly after Dave’s passing in April and helped coordinate with the family as to when to best honor him at Autzen. Josh was a little hesitant to circle the Cal game when Justin and the Bears were in town, but ultimately decided it was the best timing.
It was shortly before kickoff, with both teams in their locker rooms, when Josh and his mom, Merle, came out of the Autzen tunnel for the tribute.
“To have my mom there with me to represent the family, and having Justin in the building — if it would have been this big, fireworks, WWE-style thing, I don’t think that’s what my dad would have been about,” Josh says. “It fit his personality, and to have Justin be able to see it, it was just great all three of us could be there.”
The award will be given out yearly to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of Dave Wilcox, something Josh says he has complete faith in Lanning to decide on. Consider this: Josh is from Oregon, his entire family went to Oregon and had every right to be as skeptical as anyone else when yet another head coach with no ties to Oregon took over the job at Oregon.
And yet, Josh says Lanning will do a remarkable job giving out an award that has a lot to do with Oregon history.
“I know recruiting is important. I know wins and losses are important. But I think there’s a community of people that really value the intangibles that might not be on every fans’ checklist of what a coach should look like,” Josh says. “As much as everyone wants to talk about Oregon as a program, and that’s awesome, there’s still the Eugene factor. It means a lot to people in the city of Eugene when you have a good person and a family guy and a guy that can delegate. To me he just fits in with everything.”
Josh would like Lanning to consider a player with talent, certainly, but thinks anyone who earns the Dave Wilcox award will do their best work in the locker room and as a member of the community.
“He wasn’t just Dave Wilcox, the football guy,” Josh says. “He was Dave Wilcox, a hell of a dude.”
— Tyson Alger, The I-5 Corridor