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Diverging Paths: Dave Parks and Dave Wilcox

In 1964, the 49ers drafted two players who had the potential to be the building blocks on both sides of the ball. Linebacker Dave Wilcox would go on to have a Hall of Fame career and was the anchor for the 49ers defense which nearly led them to the Super Bowl in the 1970’s. Wide Receiver Dave Parks was selected first overall in the draft and was one of the brightest stars of the 49ers offense but decided to follow the money and left San Francisco in search of a better contract. While these two players were exceptional, the question of what could have been echoes for all of eternity. This is their story.

Early Years

Dave Wilcox was born on September 29, 1942 in Ontario, Oregon. He began his collegiate career at Boise Junior College (now Boise State University) and transferred to the University of Oregon in 1962. As was standard for the times, he played guard on offense and end on defense. Following his senior season, he made history at the Hula Bowl by becoming the first defensive linemen to earn the outstanding lineman award. He was drafted by both the Houston Oilers in the 6th round of the AFL Draft and the 49ers in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft. He chose the older establishment and began his career in San Francisco.

Dave Parks was born on December 25, 1941 in Muenster, Texas. After starring at Abilene High School, Parks earned a scholarship to Texas Tech University. In three years, he set school records for career receptions (80), single season receptions (32), single game receptions (8) and single game receiving yards (132). Following his senior season in 1963 he became the first Texas Tech Player to be named an AP All-American and was one of just five Red Raiders to have his jersey retired. The 49ers selected him first overall in the 1964 NFL Draft.

Much Promise

Parks started off his career hot, earning Pro Bowl invitations in his first three years in the NFL. He caught 36 passes for 703 yards and eight touchdowns his rookie year. His impressive 19.5 yards per reception would be the highest of his career. The following year was truly special. After an offseason of hard work he was at his best in 1965; leading the NFL in receptions (80), yards (1,344) and touchdown receptions (12). His 96 yards per game was by far the highest of his career and put the league on notice that he had truly arrived as an elite playmaker. He wasn’t as good in 1966, but he still dominated, catching 66 passes for 974 yards and five touchdowns. It was his final Pro Bowl season as the rest of his career would take a hard turn towards mediocrity.

Wilcox‘s career started slower than Parks. Upon joining the organization, it was decided that he fit in best as a left outside linebacker. It was a tough adjustment for the former college defensive lineman but he made the best of his opportunity. He had a real nose for the ball, intercepting a pass in each of his first two seasons and recovering four fumbles within that time span, scoring a touchdown off of one fumble recovery in 1965. He was invited to his first Pro Bowl in 1966 and intercepted two more passes the following year. The best was yet to come for the rising star.

Diverging Paths

Beginning in 1968, Dave Wilcox was invited to six straight Pro Bowls. It was during this time that the 49ers began building their defense around him. They built a fantastic defensive line in front of him and had drafted Hall of Fame cornerback Jimmy Johnson in 1961. They hired Dick Nolan as their head coach in 1968 and the former Dallas Cowboys assistant coach implemented aspects of the Doomsday Defense into the 49ers defensive philosophy. Wilcox thrived in the new scheme and truly took command of their defense.

The 1960’s ended with the 49ers missing the playoffs but the following decade brought good fortune for the City by the Bay. The 49ers began the decade reaching the playoffs three straight years and the Conference Championship Game in the first two of those years. During that stretch, Wilcox was named an All Pro in 1971 and 1972. Facing the team which invented their defense, the 49ers struggled mightily against the Cowboys in each of those years. Despite his best efforts, Dave Wilcox could not lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Following the 1972 season, the 49ers began to crumble and Wilcox retired following the 1974 season. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2000, the same year as Ronnie Lott and Joe Montana.

Following an injury plagued 1967 season, Dave Parks wanting more money, used his option and left for the NFL’s newest franchise, the New Orleans Saints. As a result, NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle forced the Saints to give the 49ers two first round picks in the NFL Draft. He struggled for the expansion team and never reached another Pro Bowl. His best years with the Saints were 1971 and 1972 when he respectively caught 568 and 542 yards while scoring 11 touchdowns between the two years. He retired after an unremarkable stint with the Houston Oilers in 1973. He passed away on August 8, 2019.

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