The San Francisco 49ers bid farewell to Patrick Willis on Tuesday, as the all-pro linebacker announced his retirement. After remarks from Jed York, Trent Baalke and Jim Tomsula (who was close to breaking down in tears), Willis addressed the media. He spoke about walking away on his own terms and having closure as he moved on to the next step in his life.
When word got out that he was retiring, it sounded like his commitment to religion was a big reason for the decision. Early in the press conference, he was quoting scripture, and talking about finding his next calling. He seemed quite happy with his decision, and generally content.
At the same time, Willis did address the issue of his feet. He initially talked about how they had taken him really far, and they were a key reason he was able to make the ridiculously athletic plays we cheered each Sunday. However, he then said that he did not want to be a player who sat on the sideline collecting checks as his feet wore down. He said he did not have much left, particularly in his toes.
Willis: Has seen players who can’t pick up their kids, can’t walk well. "My life is, there’s more to football than this"— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) March 10, 2015
My guess is that his heart was drawn to his church and service, but his turf toe injury made the decision a little bit easier.
Willis did specifically address the idea that he might return if he got bored or needed money, even specifically referencing Brett Favre. He said he would not do that, and was leaving with closure. I'm sure anything could be possible, but I really do not see Willis returning. For those curious, by retiring, Willis's contract tolls, so that if he did return, the 49ers would retain his rights under his current contract.
Patrick Willis was one of the 49ers all-time greats. I have to imagine he will be inducted into the 49ers Hall of Fame, and might even have his jersey retired. The next question of course is whether he earns a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The debate will be an interesting one, as it often can be for players that retire before they are forced out of the game. And with the new information about health, it is going to become more prevalent.
It was a great run for Patrick Willis, and he capped it with a press conference that tugged at the heart strings. While it is tough to see him go, it was great to see him happy and apparently comfortable with his situation. Best of luck, Patrick.
Here is the full transcript of his comments, and you can watch the whole thing HERE:
LB Patrick Willis opening comments:
"I stand up here today, it's tough. It's hard, but it's also easy at the same time because I knew there would be a day, the day that the San Francisco 49ers called me, I knew there would be a day that I would leave. And I always told myself that I wanted it to be on my terms. I wanted it to be in a way that was just amazing because, I'll never forget being eight-years old and watching TV and seeing all these lights go off. We only had three channels, 7, 11 and 16 and on channel 7 the Dallas Cowboys would always come on. I will never forget this night,Monday night I'm watching and I see all these lights go off and I say to myself, in this small town that I grew up in you could hear the crickets outside and then you walk outside and you see the streetlights and you see the gravel roads and another thing you think to yourself is when I saw the lights go off was, ‘Man, one day I'm going to be special. All of those lights are going to be shining on me like that. I'm going to be special.' And here I am today, standing before you guys, not as a perfect man, but as an honest man saying that I feel like I have no regrets standing up here today as I had no regrets yesterday and the day before, as I know I will have no regrets tomorrow. Because, one thing I've always lived by is giving everything you've got today so that when you look back tomorrow you don't feel ashamed because you left anything on the table. And I feel like in my seven years, seven and a half, eight years, whatever you want to call it, I feel like there would not have been a day in my career that I don't feel like, that I gave this game everything I had. What's funny is that it's amazing what we see with the eyes instead of what we actually know. And, man, if only you knew what it took to go out there on Sundays and play this game. Some of you really would sometimes probably just take a breath and be thankful that you get to have something to cover, that you get to have something to go out there and watch, that we do get to bring the kind of joy that we bring to this game. With all that being said, I would have never have thought in a million years that I would be standing up here on this podium as a San Francisco 49er saying to you all that I've had the most amazing eight years of football of my life being a part of this historic organization. I would like to thank Jed and the York family for the amazing opportunity and this journey that I've been on my whole life. I thank you all for everything. I thank you for just welcoming me in. I thank you all for just allowing me to be able to show you all that a kid that was told that he could do what people said that couldn't be possible was possible because you guys took a chance on me. Because you guys took a chance, it made it hard on me to come in and just say, ‘You know what I was drafted. That's good enough.' You all took me at number 11 when people didn't even have me going as a top middle linebacker. That put pressure on me. That made me say, ‘Man, they believe in me this much to take a chance on me at number 11? I've got to give something back.' So, when you all see me out there going the way I've been going and practicing the way I've been practicing and treat others the way that I treat others, it's because I am so humbled, so humbled to have had this opportunity. I've been so humbled to have played this game. I've been so humbled to have met as many great people that I've met. Even [Comcast beat reporter] Mr. [Matt] Maiocco, I remember when we had a little moment for a while. As much as I wanted to hold onto that, there something in me that said he was just doing his job and everybody has a job to do. And, I feel like when we learn to respect one another for who we are and for what we do as players, as reporters, as managers, as whatever, just society as well, I feel like we'll start to make a difference in each other's lives and we'll start to see a difference in our own lives. And I feel like the Lord has put something so much, so much stronger in my heart than what I once felt was everything to me. This game will certainly continue to be a part of my life, but I feel like at this point in time, given the history, given what I understand, given my health today, and I'll tell you all, these feet, boy, boy, boy, I've made no excuses, but I'll tell you, these things have worked and they have worked and they have worked and they have worked to the point where today I am blessed to be able to say man I get to retire happy. I get to retire saying, ‘You know what, whatever I choose to get up and do tomorrow is because I have earned the right to do it because of the passion I have had and what it is I have believed in.' I'll take that same passion with me as I leave this podium as I'll take in to tomorrow, as I'll take in to the next day to say I am truly blessed and I have been truly blessed to be a part of this franchise, to be a part of this league, to be a part of the great friends I've met whether it's been a hello, bye, hey how are you doing. I want to thank the custodians. I want to thank everybody that I've came in contact with over the last eight years, been a part of this life. And as I start my new journey, I look forward to life. I'm happy. I have my beautiful lady. I've got my senses back and I feel great. I have my friends. Life just feels amazing and I'll tell you all, I told Trent earlier, I said, ‘Man, I don't know if I feel happier today than the day that I came in.' And that says something to me knowing the person that I am. And that's why today I stand before you saying I'm happy and I pray for you guys to someday feel this kind of happiness. But, as I feel happy today, I know that tomorrow can be just as happy to me if I want it to be and I'm choosing it now. Here I stand, not as a perfect man, but as a honest man. Thank you guys."
As far as the timing, how much of this is physical? How much is it about where you are with football? How much of it is spiritual? How can you quantify what drove you to this decision at this particular time?
"Honestly, I've always studied life. I've studied, I've always wanted to know why things happen, change, why change, timing, what all that stuff meant. And to each person it's different. That's why they say to each his own. Other people spend their time how they may spend it, thinking about what they think about. But, I know what I've spent my time thinking about. I know what I believe and I know what I understand. And I know that for me, if I had anything left in these feet, you all have seen me. You all have seen me have surgery, break my hand on a Sunday, have surgery on a Monday and play on a Thursday with a cast on. Not one time, but I've done it numerous times and you all have seen it, but it's something about these feet. When you don't have your feet, and for me it's what made me who I am, that's why I really believe in the Bible verse, Psalm 18:32-33 it says, ‘It's the Lord who makes my way perfect. Even when we're standing on heights he makes my feet like the feet of a deer.' I really believe when people say, ‘Man how does he run like that, did you see him chase that guy down, did you see him do this?' I don't know what it is about these feet, but they've got you all saying, ‘Wow, who was that guy? Wow, where did he come from?' And that's the kind of stuff that I understand and that I no longer have that in these feet to go out there and to give you guys that kind of wow. I came in with it and I feel like I've done my best to go out with it. And I know for me that I don't have too much more left in these toes and honestly I pay attention to guys when they're finished playing, walking around and they've got no hips or they can't play with their kids or they can't play a pickup basketball game or they can barely walk or their fingers are all like this and people see that and feel sorry then, but nobody knows it's because you played those few extra years and for whatever reason, he chose to play. And for me, I just feel like my life, there's more to football than this and football has been everything to me and it has provided an amazing platform for me to build upon now. So, that's been in my heart. It's my health first and everything else kind of just makes sense around it. So, I can't ignore that."
What are you doing now? What's your goal now? I know you've been wanting to and your desire to work with kids. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
"When it comes to what will I do now, it will be the same thing that I once told myself when I first came in. I said, ‘Wow, what do all retired people do when they're finished?' If they've done it right, they get to choose what they want to do. They get to be their own boss so to speak. I understand everybody has a role. I'm not saying a retired person is going to be crazy. But, I'm saying that when you retire it's not that you're dying, it just means that you kind of put to rest something else and you're going on to do other things that you want to do at the will that you want to. I just feel like for me, that's where I am. If I want to go fishing tomorrow, I can go fishing tomorrow. If I want to go and speak at a jailhouse I can go speak at a jailhouse. If I want to go and speak to kids I can speak to kids. If I want to go home and watch my little brother play baseball, I can go do that. If I want to go and spend time with my lady and we want to go on vacation, I don't have to be looking at her like, ‘You just don't understand. I need to work out. I need to practice. Football is everything.' I don't care what anybody says. I don't care if somebody tells you for others that I won't say to my wife and this and that. I promise you I once understood after my first year having a meeting with Mr. [former 49ers CB] Ronnie Lott and he told me, we had an amazing conversation and at the end of the whole conversation in my head I was expecting him to say, ‘If I tell you anything, or if you hear anything I tell you, I want you to hear this.' And I'm thinking man he's going to tell me always go hard. Always practice hard and always get in guys' face and this and that. He said, ‘I know I've done what I've done' and ‘I had to be responsible for him.' He said, ‘But, if I could tell you anything, you've heard anything we've talked about today.' He said, ‘You can never be as fully great as you want to be as long as you have a significant other or a lady.' And I was thinking to myself, ‘What do you mean? I can't have companionship? I can't have a lady?' And he was like, ‘No I'm not saying that. Enjoy life.' And to each his own that's what it means. He can't tell me how to live life. He said, ‘Whatever enjoyment you have in life, you live that way.' And I never understood why sometimes I had a hard time really trying to focus on one thing but I know something else would drive me to what I am today. I can honestly say that if I didn't put all of the energy and effort and force that I knew how into this game of football, I doubt you guys would be so shocked today that after seven years, given the reasons that I'm up here, you would be this interested in me. So, now I understand what he meant when he said that my second year. I didn't understand it then, but I do now and that's the beauty of standing up here today answering these questions because I can stand behind my decision."
Almost two months ago, your last words to us in the exit interview after the last game was that you were very confident in the five, six years you had left in you. What happened during that time? Did you wake up and stub your toe or did you run and said this is it? Or did you talk to somebody?
"What happened was I learned an important lesson and a value in life was that, ‘Many are the plans of a man's heart, but the Lord's purpose that prevails,' Proverbs 19:21. And I learned that the hard way. I'm saying to myself, ‘Man, I would love nothing more than to win a Super Bowl. I would love nothing more than to bring number six back here. I would love nothing more than to be able to lace up those cleats and not worry about Lord Jesus are my feet going to be alright today just to practice so I don't look old at 30.' I think about all that. And I think about, ‘Man I would love nothing more than for [LB] NaVorro [Bowman] and I to really come back this year.' When he went down and I was out there practicing, I was thinking, ‘Buddy just get right, we're going to be alright.' But, again, that's what we don't understand what we don't know. We have desires when we play, but when the Lord has something for you, he's going to make sure it gets it done. And my feet, as much as I want to go out there and play with NaVorro and as much as I want to go out there and play with [LB] Chris [Borland], as much as I would love for us to be on the field and wreaking havoc and bringing number six back here along with the other guys, I have to be honest. And I've said it before, I don't stand up here as a perfect man, but as an honest man is to tell you all that if I don't have what I know I need to give my teammates, this organization the best chance to win, than I can't be out there doing that. And, to be sitting on the sideline and just only being words and just collecting a paycheck, I feel like that would be wrong. So, I stand up here today, again with a conviction of saying I understand the magnitude in what I'm doing today. I understand what this means for me and to me it doesn't mean the end to life. It means something greater as I've always felt, each year had to be greater for me than the year before. And I just felt like this was another facet, step of life."
So, you were predicting your future as to how you compete as a player versus feeling any discomfort to come to your decision?
"No, it wasn't that. It's just the same thing that got me here, the same thing that got me to do what less than one-percent said that could be done. It's the same thing that allows you all to snap your pictures and come and ask me for the interviews. We worked together and we all understand and build together. The same thing that allowed me to get here from there is the same thing that I'm speaking on and speaking with today, it's just stronger."
When did you make your decision?
"Honestly, it was one of those things where I've learned that watching guys like [former NFL QB] Brett Favre, and I respect Brett Favre's game to the utmost. Watching other guys retire, come back out of retirement, guys you've played with. You've seen all those situations. So, to me, I understand that getting up here today is not for me to say, yeah, I'm going to leave you all with a little bit just in case I get bored at home, or I want to come back or I might need a pay check, just in case. No, I am leaving this with closure. Saying that I am happy today, more happy today at this press conference than the day I was drafted. And that says something to me. And again, this is not the end; this is just the beginning of what we talked about earlier, greatness. And I'm just not talking about me, and I said it before, it's bigger than me and always has been and always will be. And I stand beside that."
What have you told your teammates about this decision?
"I haven't really talked to a lot, other than when they hear it, they'll probably not believe it but it's one of those things that we hear a lot of things a lot of times and we just choose to hear what we want to hear. And if anybody has known me for the last eight years and really some of my college years, I was talking to one of my homeboys yesterday and he was like, P, you've been talking about your feet since college and I'm like, I know, that's what I'm saying. And it's funny because now when I'm really talking about it and whatnot, nobody wants to hear it and it sounds brand new. But, no, there are some people that's probably hearing me talk about my feet and they're like man, you're talking about your feet again? But then other people just now are really understanding that it's serious to me. So, it's just funny that's all."
What will you miss the most?
"What I will miss the most is what I told my teammates before, just walking in each day and listening to somebody tell a crazy story or just building camaraderie. Me, I just love understanding people. I just love trying to understand, all right, he come from here, I come from here, but yet, we both like this and this person is like that. But, why is he like that? I just love trying to figure people out. For me, not coming in now every day and listening to some of those crazy stories and just listen to guys make you laugh. I'm not going to lie to you, some of my teammates when I look at their feet, I say to myself, your feet don't hurt looking like that? And they're like no. And I'm like, man how do my feet hurt like this? And they'll be like, I don't know what kind of feet you have. But I'm like, your feet look worse than mine, your feet don't hurt? And that's the kind of stuff you can't explain. I'm looking at my feet like OK, your feet look 10 times worse than mine, your feet don't hurt but my feet look like this and my feet hurt? Somebody's telling me something. So, the way I associate stuff, something just makes sense to me and I can't ignore it because it just feels too wrong to. That's why today I'm emotional because I'm going to miss these guys. They've been a part of my life for a long time, and you guys have. And I'm sure we're going to see each other again at some point in time again. But, it's easy when you know every day, it's time, they're going to be in here, get ready, lets hide over there for a bit. But, you're going to miss all the times about this strategic fun game it has been for me and now it will just be a different side of life, just a little less physical. And don't worry about me. You're going to see me have some pickup games, some fundraisers, some me being me. And you're going to be like, well if he can still do this, why isn't he playing football? And I'm like, well if you've ever played at the National Football level you would understand that it takes a lot more than a pickup game to be able to perform and to be able to perform at a level that's like, hey, we like you man. You can play ball. So, that's all, and everything is all good. And I just appreciate you all for coming out here today and letting me go out like this. And just so you all know, people talk about the Hall of Fame and all that kind of stuff. And just to let you all know, I'm so blessed to be up here today to be able to have this opportunity again. I thank the 49ers and [Director of Communications] Bob [Lange] and them for allowing this, but I honestly feel, and I told my dad this earlier, people talk about the Hall of Fame and all that good kind of stuff and don't get me wrong, the Hall of Fame to me would be amazing to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But, there are going to be some people who are going to look at me and already think I'm a Hall of Famer. And the way I went and approached the game, every year I said to myself, if I'm going to be in the Hall of Fame someday then I've got to play like it, right. So, if I only just continue to be OK, be OK, be OK, and then all of a sudden my last year, I have an amazing year and now that's enough to get me to the Hall of Fame, I'm not like that. I want to be continuously great, from the time I come in from the time I end. That's why it's important for me to understand what is going on with me now so that I don't take that away from myself. Because, in my head, I'm already in the Hall of Fame. This today, this closure of this chapter to me feels like a Hall of Fame-type environment to me already. So, if the Hall of Fame is anything more than this and I get to be a part of it, hooray. But if not, this right here has been truly amazing. So, I thank you guys."