Former 49er Wilson, Tittle's No. 1 receiver, dies at age 81

SAN FRANCISCO -- Former 49ers wide receiver Billy Wilson, a six-time Pro Bowl player who starred for the team in the 1950s, died Tuesday. He was 81.

Wilson died peacefully in the presence of his family in Southern California after a fight with cancer, the team said.

Wilson led the NFL in receptions three times during his career from 1951 to 1960. He retired with 407 catches for 5,902 yards and 49 touchdowns, ranking in the top six in all three categories on the 49ers' all-time list.

"He was one of the fiercest competitors I ever played with," said Wilson's former quarterback, Hall of Famer Y.A. Tittle. "He was our No. 1 receiver. Whenever we needed a big catch, I went to him because I knew he would make the play."

Wilson, who played college football at San Jose State, led the NFL with 60 catches in 1954, 60 receptions in 1956 and 52 in 1957, when he was a first-team selection to the Associated Press All-Pro team.

"I remember a play Billy made when he caught a pass, leaped straight up into the air over myself and two other defenders and ran it in for a touchdown," said Hall of Fame coach Don Shula, who also was a defensive back in the NFL in the 1950s. "It was a great play, and he truly was a great receiver. He is one of the few players of another era that would excel today."

Wilson worked for the 49ers after his playing career as an assistant coach and scout.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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