The shocking news of 49ers All-Pro LB Patrick Willis’ retirement is still sinking in for Niners fans everywhere. While it is one of the many unfortunate events that occurred in what can be called San Francisco’s “Bloody Monday” – one of the worst days, if not the worst day, in 49ers offseason history – it is also one of the most shocking developments for a team that was hoping to bring back its Pro Bowl defense in 2015.
Today’s Press Conference at 49ers Headquarters made it official. Here are my thoughts, in real-time, of the hour-long presser:
11:58 AM: It’s still surreal to see – the press gathering to witness the retirement of one of the greatest linebackers of his generation – perhaps a few years too soon, but who are we to say.
11:58 AM: It’s like the press are on bated breath. Maybe not – probably a press just waiting to do their job.
11:59 AM: the presser should start any moment now. I wonder what is about to be said. Not the greatest thing to think about at a time like this, but there it is.
12:01 PM: Friends and family seem to be walking in … as well as Trent, Jim and Jed.
12:01 PM: This is really about to happen. The heart and soul of our defense is retiring at the age of 30.
12:02 PM: Jed York – “This is a bittersweet day” – yeah, man, you could say that.
12:03 PM: There Jed goes with his “winning with class” screed again. Now’s not the time, buddy. Not with the backlash that’s happened over the last 24 hours. Not now.
12:03 PM: Despite everything, you can see the tears in Jed’s eyes. He’s going to miss him – man to man, he’s going to miss Patrick, just like the 49er Empire.
12:05 PM: Trent with some kind words about Patrick. “Special” and “Greatness” to describe him. Amen, brother.
12:07 PM: “Thank you for being the person that you are … the player that you were.” — Trent Baalke
12:08 PM: “He redefined his position. It’s well-documented. It’s all there … Pat’s a different man. Pat changed a lot of lives, here.” — Jim Tomsula
12:09 PM: You can’t not get choked up watching Jim Tomsula on the podium right now. He was with Patrick the longest – it’s no surprised his departure will hit him the hardest.
12:10 PM: Tomsula said it best – we should look at Patrick, the man, and not the player – we forget that this is a man walking away from a game he loves because it’s HIS choice.
12:12 PM: I’m not going to lie – this might be the first time I’ve ever gotten emotional about a player retiring. I guess that’s the impact Patrick Willis has made with this team, the city and the fanbase.
12:14 PM: “I never would’ve thought in a million years that I would stand up here on this podium.” — Patrick Willis
12:15 PM: “Y’all took a chance on me at No. 11? I gotta give something back.” — Patrick Willis – I remember the day the 49ers drafted him. I was so happy when he fell to No. 11, and I knew he was going to have the potential to be as good, if not better, than Ray Lewis. I think he achieved that – even in only 8 years, even without a Super Bowl victory.
12:17 PM: Patrick proclaims he gets to retire happy. That’s all you can really ask for as a 49ers fan – for their players to end things on their own terms, and to leave the game content.
12:19 PM: “Here I stand – not as a perfect man, but an honest man. Thank you guys.” — Patrick Willis. Amen.
12:19 PM: There it is – Patrick essentially confirms that his big toe injury was a big reason for his decision to retire. “I no longer have it in these feet to give you that kind of ‘Wow’.”
12:20 PM: Patrick is a smart man – he’s well-aware of the long-standing injuries that football players can take with them into retirement. Better for him to retire a year too early than a year too late. I’m telling myself whatever I need to in order to get over the pain of watching one of my favorite players leave the game with years left in his potential career.
12:24 PM: Patrick said that he had five to six years left in his career. That’s what made this retirement so shocking. But he’s allowed to change his mind, based on current information – and his current state says that his feet won’t give him the means to play at 100%, and he doesn’t want to give his team any less.
12:28 PM: “I’m leaving today with closure.” So, it looks like he’s definitely not coming back. That last glimmer of hope that he could change his mind is closed. Say goodbye.
12:29 PM: Patrick’s feet have been bothering him for years, since his college days. I think his brain and his body have had enough, dealing with it. He’s walking away for him. You can’t fault him for that.
12:31 PM: Patrick Willis deserves the Hall of Fame. Sure, it was only for 8 years, but this, to me, is a Jim Brown walk-off. He doesn’t need a long career to be a Hall of Famer. Apparently, Patrick agrees.
12:33 PM: Patrick was talking a lot about his feet during the question and answer. It was obviously a big factor for his decision. Perhaps if he wasn’t cursed with the foot problems he’s had, we wouldn’t be here today. Then again, we may not have had the same player we got as 49ers fans.
So, there you have it. The 49ers will be moving forward without, arguably, the heart and soul of their defense. It will be difficult to replace him, but it isn’t impossible. In what can only be considered a 49ers rebuild, the question is this:
What do they do without him?
The coming days, weeks and months will give us a definite answer.