He was the League's leading goal scorer (winning the Coleman Medal) on four occasions from 1962 until 1974. He was only the second player (after Collingwood's Gordon Coventry), and the first post-WW2 to kick over 1,000 goals in his career. Only three other players – Gary Ablett Snr (Hawthorn/Geelong), Jason Dunstall (Hawthorn) and Tony Lockett (St.Kilda/Sydney) have emulated the effort.
After working for the CBC bank of Sydney at the age of 17 years, he tried out with the Melbourne Football Club in a number of practice games in 1960. Wade returned home to Horsham where he was playing with the Horsham footy club. In 1961 Wade was lured back by the Geelong Football Club where made his VFL/AFL debut. Doug Wade was a member of the Geelong side which won the VFL Premiership in 1963, and a Grand Final player in 1967.
Wade was involved in one of the most memorable umpiring decisions in VFL history. In the 1962 Preliminary Final Replay, Geelong was trailing Carlton by five points with seconds remaining. The ball came down to Wade and Carlton full-back Peter Barry, and Wade out-manoeuvered Barry to mark 25 metres out in front; but umpire Irving penalised Wade, who was in front, for holding on to Barry's shorts in the contest. Wade said: "All I did was to keep my eyes on the ball and maneuvered for position. The only possible way he could have penalized me was for sticking out my posterior as I went to mark." Percy Beames wrote in The Age: "Wade was extremely unlucky. Nine times out of ten these incidents are overlooked." Former umpire Allen Nash said at the time:" It was the most courageous decision I've ever seen by an umpire."
In the final minutes of a match against South Melbourne late in 1970, Wade had a shot at goal to put Geelong in front. A spectator threw an apple on the field, which collided with the football in mid-air as it dropped between Wade's hand and foot, and knocked the football clear of his boot which then failed to even connect with the ball. The umpire, faced with an unprecedented circumstance, signalled 'play on'. South Melbourne's key defender, John Rantall (later to be a teammate of Wade's when they both crossed to North Melbourne in 1973/4) picked up the ball and cleared it down field. South Melbourne scored a goal on the rebound and won the game by 7 points making it into the finals for the first time since 1945. Geelong fell to fifth place and missed the finals (then played off between the top four teams) for the first time since 1961. (In Round 22, they lost to North Melbourne, who were last on the ladder, and had Geelong won against South Melbourne they could have also made it into the finals). The umpire's 'play on' decision was considered valid, since there was no rule at the time, to account for this kind of 'spectator interference'. South Melbourne went on to lose to St. Kilda in the Semi-final.
He kicked 73 goals in his first season at North Melbourne, and was then a key member of their side which contested the Grand Final against Richmond in 1974. Wade kicked 103 goals in that season, becoming the third former Geelong player to head the VFL goal-kicking table after transferring to another club.
Wade holds a record for one of the biggest (VFL) scoring quarters by an individual, when he kicked 7 goals in the last quarter against Collingwood at Arden Street in 1974. Up until the last quarter Wade had been kept virtually quiet, by Doug Gott of Collingwood, despite North Melbourne's high goal scoring record against the Magpies at the 3rd quarter. Wade kicked seven goals and North Melbourne's total of 25 goals broke a club record against Collingwood at the time.
The following year (1975) Wade struggled to find form largely due to fitness and weight. Near the end of the home and away season, Wade was becoming a liability because of his dwindling goal scores. However,on the Thursday before the Grand Final Wade pleaded with coach Ron Barassi and the selection committee to be selected into the side. Based on Wade's finals experience and the Wade's offer or tactic to stay behind the pack to crumb goals, Wade convinced selectors to name him in the side instead of Robert Smith, who was a top reserves full-forward: who was fit and ready to take his place. However, in the 1975 Grand Final, Wade's experience proved to be an essential part of North's huge win over Hawthorn. The tactic of staying behind the pack worked and Wade scored a few goals doing this. He even missed an easy shot as the pack of players missed the ball and an open goal was for the taking. Wade's miss was a shock to the crowd and himself. However, his inspirational gestures to the North Melbourne forwards can be seen in the 1975 Grand final, especially the last quarter, when he hurriedly and unselfishly passes the ball to team mates. Wade finished his career on a high note (another Premiership) where many experts could not have predicted, proving that Wade was true champion player for both Geelong and North Melbourne.