In the wake of the surprise retirement of 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, some have wondered whether he’ll be back in a year or two. Willis says it won’t happen, ever.
Asked by Takeo Spikes of NBCSN’s Pro Football Talk to rate his chance of returning on a scale of one to 10, Willis went off the board and said, “Zero.”
“The time for me has come,” Willis said. “The time has come. It’s time for change, and honestly it’s something that when I had that [toe] surgery, I’ve been talking about my feet for a long time, and people choose to hear what they hear. Sometimes people hear something that they just brush right off because to them it doesn’t really resonate. . . . I understand that it was something that was talking to me, and talking to me for a long time and when I hurt my toe in that game I felt like, as soon as it happened, I went down and I felt it.
“It was like somebody lifted something off my back, almost like I felt a breath or something leave my back. I have no idea I just knew what I felt like, it felt like somebody had lifted a million pounds off my back because you know as well as I do, as long as we played together, that I’ve always talked about our feet then. We play on turf this week, then it’s my feet this or my feet that. To the point where people are like, you talk about it so much that it becomes redundant and people are just like, ‘Quit talking about your feet.’ . . . They don’t know what I truly feel. They might think they have an understanding. Unless you have played eight years and you’ve had bad big toes like I’ve had and you put forward the effort and body of work that I have, on the stage that I have, unless you’ve done that then you really don’t understand what I’m trying to say.”
Willis explained that he didn’t play for the money, and that he would have played for a lot less money.
“It’s because, man, it’s fun. When you’re around good people, when you’re around people like brothers, you’re fighting, you get upset at each other sometimes, but when you have a close-knit team where you got a bunch of guys it was fun for me,” Willis said. “I’ve always enjoyed it and it’s always been a special place for me, like a sanctuary or something in a sense where it’s almost like an escape. But what I couldn’t escape was that I was feeling in my feet. Like something was telling me there was only a matter of time.”
That time has come for Willis. It will come from every man who ever plays the game. The only question is whether the player walks away on his own terms or whether someone else tells him to go.