SANTA CLARA (CBS SF) — Patrick Willis, the man considered the heart and soul of the San Francisco 49ers defensive unit announced his retirement from football Tuesday with an emotional speech where he spoke of the challenges to stayng healthy and his happiness of looking forward the next chapter in his life.
Before Willis spoke, 49ers CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke lauded Willis not just for his achievements and the leadership role he played on the team, but also for how special they considered him as a person. Following their introductions, head coach Jim Tomsula became choked up as he spoke about what Willis meant to him.
The 30-year-old Willis had tears in his eyes as he told the assembled media, teammates, friends and family members his ongoing problems with his feet made it difficult to perform at the level he wanted. He had season-ending surgery on his big toe last November after just six games.
“These feet, boy, boy, boy, I’ve made no excuses,” said Willis. “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.”‘
RAW VIDEO: Patrick Willis Announces Retirement From 49ers – Part 1
But Willis also said as much as he wanted to to keep playing and win a Super Bowl for the 49ers, he said he knew God had other plans for him. “You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail,” said Willis, quoting a verse from the Bible (Proverbs 19:21).
“I’ve had the most amazing eight years of football of my life,” said Willis. “I am so humbled to have had this opportunity. I’ve been so humbled to have played this game.”
Willis said he had no regrets about retiring and was looking forward to doing all the things he put on the back burner because he was continually training, practicing or recovering.
“I told Trent (Baalke) I don’t know if I am happier today or the day that I came in (as a rookie),” he said.
Willis was the NFL Rookie of the Year in 2007 after being drafted out of Mississippi, and instantly became one of the team leaders during the years when the 49ers were among the doormats of the league. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first 7 seasons and was the defensive captain and locker room leader, who always fired up the team on the field with inspirational pep talks just before kickoff.
Other NFL players, former teammates, 49er fans and even Niner haters tweeted their respects to Willis and the example he set during his 8-year career with the team.