Aside from all of the buzz surrounding the NFL free agency there is a heartfelt story involving the retirement of Patrick Willis. Willis announced his retirement in an emotional press conference on Tuesday. Willis’ retirement is a surprise to many since he is only 30 and is such an accomplished player. Willis was awarded Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2007 and he led the league in tackles in two different seasons (2007 and 2009). The 49ers linebacker was also a Pro Bowler in each of his first 7 seasons, which is the third longest streak to start a career, behind Hall of Famers Lawrence Taylor (10) and Derrick Thomas (9).
Last season Willis had surgery to repair a lingering toe injury, which ended his 2014 campaign after just six games. Despite this, many people think the future Hall of Famer is still in his prime, but Willis thinks otherwise, as he attributed his retirement to his ailing feet.
“When you don’t have no feet, that’s what has made me what I am. I no longer have in these feet to give you guys that kind of ‘Wow,’” Willis said in the press conference. “I have to be honest, if I didn’t have (physically)what I know I need … I can’t be out there … collecting a paycheck. That would be wrong.”
Willis will now join a handful of players that were believed to have retired too early, Jim Brown, Gale Sayers and Barry Sanders, who are all now members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Willis will join Brown as the only other player to be selected for the Pro Bowl seven times, while not playing a single game at the age of 30 or older. Willis is standing by his decision and claims to have no regrets about walking away from the game.
“I feel like I have no regrets standing up here today,” Willis said. “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: live by giving everything you got today so that when you look back tomorrow you don’t feel ashamed because you left anything on the table.”
Willis was liked by many fans, players and coaches alike, which will make it even harder to say goodbye to such an upstanding athlete. Willis was the epitome of a dedicated, loyal and humble athlete who had a positive effect on his teammates and others who looked up to him. He was an inspirational leader that let his play do the talking. Not only is the NFL losing one of its greatest players, but it is losing one of its greatest role models as well.
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Collegian Sports Columnist Alec Grimes can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @GrimesAlec.