The San Francisco 49ers kick off the 2015 NFL regular season on Monday Night Football, on September 14. That game means San Francisco is now a mere 52 days away from kicking off its 2015 regular season. In the spirit of that approaching date, I thought I would steal this idea from our Oakland Raiders site.
Who wore it best: LB Patrick Willis (2007-2014)
Yea, this one still stings a little bit. Patrick Willis retired after eight seasons due to various toe issues that essentially cost him his final season. He was on track to have a Hall of Fame career, earning seven straight Pro Bowl berths to start his career, and five inclusions on the first-team All-Pro list in his first six seasons.
His decision to retire after eight seasons will make for an interesting debate when the Hall of Fame vote comes up in a few years. It is disappointing he did not play a longer career, but in his seven years prior to 2014, he was the best linebacker in football. The Hall of Fame is meant to recognize the best in the game, and that is what he was during his time. Counting stats are not quite the same for non-sack accruing defensive players. I would like to think the voters will recognize his greatness and induct him, but we'll see what the debate brings down the road.
Number 52 does not have the most distinguished history in 49ers lore. Prior to Willis donning the number, the 49ers had not had a quality player since Bobby Leopold from 1980 to 1982. Skip Vanderbundt (1969-1977) was the best other than Willis.
I don't expect anybody to wear the number for the 49ers anytime soon, but we'll see whether or not they choose to retire it. Willis will be inducted into the franchise Hall of Fame, which might be what they use moving forward instead of jersey retirements.