Wade Wilson, an eighth-round draft pick out of East Texas State who quarterbacked the Vikings to an NFC Championship Game, died Friday in Coppell, Texas, on his 60th birthday.
Wilson started 48 games and played in 28 others for the Vikings from 1981 to ’91. He played for four other NFL teams and worked as a quarterbacks coach for the Dallas Cowboys, who announced his death, and the Chicago Bears.
No cause of death was given. According to the Associated Press, police said a 911 call was made from Wilson’s home, where the caller said Wilson was unresponsive and CPR was in progress. Emergency personnel determined upon arrival that Wilson was dead.
An understated personality with a dry wit, Wilson’s finest moments came in three road games in the 1987 playoffs. He replaced injured Tommy Kramer in the first quarter of a wild-card game at New Orleans; the Vikings trailed 7-3 but won 44-10. The next week, Wilson led the Vikings to a 36-24 upset of the 49ers in San Francisco.
The Vikings would lose 17-10 in the NFC Championship Game at Washington when Wilson’s fourth-and-goal pass to Darrin Nelson with 56 seconds remaining fell incomplete.
“I was happy to get a chance to play and play in some pressure games and see if I was up to the task,” Wilson said after the game. “I know what some of my deficiencies are now and what some of my strong points are.”
Wilson was made the starter for the 1988 season and made the Pro Bowl.
“He was a good guy and really humble,” Vikings longtime equipment manager Dennis Ryan said, according to a team release. “He wasn’t given much of a chance to even really make the team and then I remember kind of his big breakout game against the Saints. ... He quieted the loudest crowd I’ve ever heard on a game day and by halftime you could hear a pin drop in that place.”
In the spring of 1991, the Vikings employed three quarterbacks — Wilson, Rich Gannon and Brad Johnson. The team released Wilson that summer.
“I did not have a pair of cleats my first year,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have a shoe deal and they weren’t giving away stuff back then. I literally filled his shoes.
“I just barely knew him then. I was young, but I remember he was very helpful, an encouraging kind of guy. And then the weird thing is, 15 years later, he was my quarterbacks coach in Dallas, for two years.
“I really liked him. We had fun, and I thought he was a great coach and a great person. It’s just sad news.”
Wilson had Type 1 diabetes for the past 32 years and had a toe amputated because of complications of the disease in 2016.
Wilson also played for Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas and Oakland before retiring in 1999. He was Troy Aikman’s backup on the Cowboys’ Super Bowl title team in 1995. In 125 career NFL games, including 69 starts, he threw for 17,283 yards with 99 touchdown passes and 109 interceptions. In 76 games with the Vikings, he threw for 12,135 yards with 66 TDs and 75 interceptions.
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was an assistant coach in Dallas when Wilson was a player and a coach.
“Wade was a terrific person,” Zimmer said via team release. “He had a really, really good way about him, a way with people. I think the biggest thing was that he had seen so many things and been able to talk about so many situations. He was a guy that always beat the odds.”
Wilson started 17 games during his first six seasons in Minnesota as Kramer’s backup. He shared starting duties with Gannon in 1990 and 1991 before the Vikings released him on July 8, 1992.
Wilson was quarterbacks coach for Dallas from 2000 to 2002 and again from 2007 to 2017; he was fired last January. In between those stints, he was QB coach for Chicago from 2004 to ’08. He helped develop Tony Romo and Dak Prescott during his time with the Cowboys.