The San Francisco 49ers lost a key piece of their defensive unit on Tuesday as Patrick Willis, who was the 49ers star linebacker from 2007-2014, officially retired from professional football. Willis officially announced his retirement in a press conference on March 10.
A star at Ole Miss, Willis became a two-time All-American as a member of the Rebels. In 2006, he received the Butkus Award as the best linebacker in the nation. Willis was also voted as the SEC Defensive Player of the Year that same season.
Willis’ college credentials caught the eye of the San Francisco organization. The 49ers selected Willis as the eleventh overall pick in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. Right off the bat, he proved to the 49ers that they made the right decision.
He made an immediate impact as the NFL’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. Willis also led the league in tackles in 2007 and 2009. During his eight-year career, he became a five-time First-team All-Pro and a seven-time Pro Bowler.
The addition of Willis also transformed San Francisco into a legitimate contender. The 49ers made three straight NFC Championship game appearances, ultimately earning a trip to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season.
In Tuesday’s press conference, Willis approached the media with a calm demeanor. The announcement came as a shock to everybody. However, he stated that he decided to retire because of a toe injury that shortened his 2014 season.
“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,” said Willis. “It’s my health first, and everything else kind of just makes sense around it.”
It does not matter if a player is old, young, healthy or injured, once they make the decision to retire, they do so on their own terms. Patrick Willis went out on his own terms because he played until he believed that he was unable to continue.
“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’ll have no regrets tomorrow,” Willis said. “Because one thing I’ve always lived by is giving everything you’ve got today so when you look back tomorrow you don’t feel ashamed because you left anything on the table. I feel like there will not have been a day in my career when I don’t feel like …”
Willis paused for a few moments as he broke down, then he continued.
“I gave this game everything I had,” Willis said.