While Wildung joined the Packers just as they were about to descend into the first extended tailspin in their history, he was a World War II veteran and tough-as-nails tackle who missed only two games in seven seasons. He might have played on some bad teams, but he was a widely respected two-way lineman when they were becoming a dying breed.
Wildung also served as the Packers’ team captain from 1948 to 1951.
Although undersized even in his era of lighter linemen, Wildung was fast, shrewd and tenacious. Indeed, he was too good not to be utilized on both offense and defense, regardless of the trend toward two-platoon football.
Wildung played left guard as a rookie and for most of his second season before moving to left tackle late in the year. In fact, his second season was maybe his best as a two-way lineman. He stood out on both sides of the ball. He continued playing both ways at left tackle in 1948 and ’49, but was bothered by a back injury in ’48, and both heel and ankle injuries in ’49. Thereafter, Wildung played mostly defense. “I was probably one of the last guys in the whole league to play both ways,” he once said.
“A very good player,” said Lou Ferry, a fellow tackle in 1949 who later served as a coach at Villanova, tutoring future Pro Football Hall of Fame lineman Howie Long. “(Wildung) wasn’t huge. There weren’t many guys who were huge back then. But he was just a great competitor. A tough guy.”
The Packers selected Wildung in the first round, with the eighth overall selection, of the 1943 NFL draft. He was a consensus All-American in both his junior and senior years at the University of Minnesota, and was seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting as a senior.
Wildung played in the College All-Star Game on Aug. 25, 1943, but was called into the Navy within a week. Wildung served nearly three years during World War II, most of the time aboard a ship in the southwest Pacific.
The Packers announced his signing on May 23, 1946, when Wildung passed on an offer from the Los Angeles Dons of the newly formed All-America Football Conference to play in the more established NFL.
He retired before the 1952 season when his partner in a Twin Cities area hardware store died and there was nobody else to run the business. When Wildung returned to the Packers in 1953, he reported almost six weeks into training camp, but still more than three weeks before the season opener.
In his seven seasons, he played in 81 games, missing one in 1948 and another in 1949. In 1954, first-year coach Lisle Blackbourn wanted to beef up the Packers’ undersized defensive line, but was impressed enough with what he saw of Wildung on film to try and coax him into playing again. Wildung, who was about to turn 33, resisted the overtures and informed Blackbourn on July 15, 1954, that he was following through on his retirement plans.
In 1958, Wildung was offered the job of line coach with the Packers by Scooter McLean, but turned it down.
Born Aug. 16, 1921, in Anoka, Minn. Given name Richard Kay Wildung. Died March 15, 2006, at age 84.
Tackle: 1946-51, 1953
Height: 6-0; Weight: 221
College: Minnesota, 1940-42
- Selected to an all-pro first team: 1947, ’49
- Pro Bowl Selection (played since 1950): 1951
(Note: Total Football: The Official Encyclopedia of the National Football League incorrectly credited Wildung with playing in 74 games. It had him playing in only three games in 1947 when he actually played in all 12, according to the official National Football League Score Sheets. Total Football also incorrectly credited him with playing in 12 games in 1948 and 12 again in 1949 when, in fact, he actually missed one game each season according to the NFL’s official Score Sheets. He missed the Nov. 17, 1948 game and the Oct. 7, 1949 game.)