A Favorite Patrick Willis Moment

14 Mar


There are three kinds of sport fan:

1) The ‘means to an end’ers,’ i.e., gamblers, fantasy fanatics, saberheads, most brass and I suspect more than a few writers and media personalities;

2) The family fan, as in spouses, parents (drive & attend), anyone close to an athlete or sportician who gives support in friendship; and

3) The bona fide fan (BFF).

The BFF is likely indoctrinated into the faith by a parent, older sibling or a teacher at school, participating in both the organized and pick-up forms of play, attended major sporting events if Mom & Dad had the loot and watched it on the tube with regularity.

They’ll often display their passion for the games in wearable team merchandise and can be engaged easily on the sporting topic.

This scribbler falls under #3.

My dad played rounders, as most boys did in the 20th century, but hung up his glove early, the kind of mitt that had a leather string for a web.

My mentors were a grandfather who followed the likes of Sisler (Browns) and Hornsby (Cards) in St. Louis’ golden age of baseball when the two were spittin’ out hits like Gatling guns, and an older brother who lived the life, whether it be baseball, b-ball, football or any form of “folly,” i.e., Tudor® Electric Football.


My brother Kev coached my first football team when I was nine and we then formed our own league: Tudor® Electric Football. He painted the players himself with a great eye for detail: helmets with logos, sock’s had stripings. In today’s lingo, it was awesome.

Why the stroll down memory lane?

On Tuesday, the San Francisco 49ers announced that their 8-year, All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis is retiring from the game. It’s an event that requires a different reflection than the typical numbers-crunching and all-time ranking.

When you consider that Pat has probably played the game since he was 9, giving and getting bone-jarring hits most the way, stepping down at 30 seems A-okay.

But an 8-year career for a player the caliber of Mr. Willis, arguably the best linebacker, heck, best defender in the NFL from ‘07-10, feels a bit premature, especially since the NFL is not exactly brimming over with tackling talent in 2015.

It’s not hard to fathom why Pat decided to exit the game, considering he suffered game-altering injuries in recent years, physical changes that’ve taken toll on that proverbial step, coupled with the changes that’ve been going on in miners-land this off-season, including notable roster moves (F. Gore to Indy) and a new head coach in the promoted Jim Tomsula (’07) to replace Jim Harbaugh (UM).


San Fran stalwart NaVorro Bowman, the man who was heir to Willis’ linebacking throne but who sat out all of last year’s campaign after a torn ACL suffered in the 2014 NFC title game, will be returning shortly but may not recognize his own team.

Willis has his reasons, and we’ll have our memories.

Having been a resident of the Midwest and South during Mr. Willis’ career, I didn’t catch most of his games as did NFC West fans. But I do have one special remembrance that is indelibly etched into this writer’s mind. And curiously, it involves another fairly recent retiree and star of note, Brett Favre.

It happened in Minnesota’s Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome on the afternoon of September 27, 2009.

Vikes were sporting their new signal-caller in Favre, were 2-0 and hosting the Mike Singletary coached 49ers with Shaun Hill under center (recently signed with MIN for 2015) and Willis leading the defensive charge.

With Minnesota trailing 24-20 and just 1:30 remaining in the 4th, Vikes started from their 20. Nine plays later had them on 49ers 32 with just 12 ticks left on the clock. On 3rd and 3, Favre lofted a rainbow pass into back of the end zone where receiver Greg Lewis performed one of the greatest tight-rope acts in history of the NFL to haul it in for what would prove to be the game winning score.


But it is not Minnesota’s 27-24 victory, one which set them on path to play to the NFC title game (v NO) and which may be the Mississippian’s most exhilarating game-closer in his storied career, that has deposited Willis’ image in my memory bank.

Sometime midway through the second half, Patrick was involved in a play that was the epitome of sportsmanship and a display of the best that football has to offer.

Some of the details are sketchy, but the Vikes were in possession, driving, and Favre threw a run-of-the-mill short out pass to his left side, which the receiver (?) caught and ran downfield for a somewhat sizable gain, if I recall correctly.

After connecting with his receiver, Brett decided to give his new owner Zygi Wilf more of his money’s worth ($25M) by laying a downfield block. The recipient was none other than All Pro stick-man, Patrick Willis.

And what a block it was. Favre laid the linebacker out flat. It was a sight to behold.

But did Patrick jump to his feet, cry foul in wounded pride and feign anger at the wily QB for putting him on his keister? Heck no, he took it like a pro.

The defensive star clearly respected the effort, and along with the referee, helped the slightly dazed-in-disbelief QB to his feet, straightened out Brett’s disheveled shoulder pads, gave him the customary pat and sent the signal-caller on his way.

It was terrific, and it was pure football.

A simple, rather routine play that is long forgotten by 99.95% of those who watched, but beautiful in its encapsulation of the spirit that on occasion can make the sport special.

As that mythical Le Mans (’71) endurance driver “Johann Ritter (Fred Haltiner)” once said to his gorgeous, supportive wife “Anna (Louise Edlind)” when contemplating his own decision to exit the death-defying racing profession, “It’s the right time to stop.”


Apparently, it’s the right time for Patrick Willis to hang up his cleats and “go onto the next thing (A. Revere)” in his life. “Mrs. Brown” would wholeheartedly approve.

Steven Keys
Macro Sport
Photo credits: Willis, Rodgers, wc.cca, M.Morbeck, 9.9.12; Tudor.football, wc.cca, johnmaxmena; Willis, 8.30.12, S.Bowles, wc.cca; Levis.Stadium, wc.cca, usbduong33, 8.4.14; Favre, wc.cca, 10.24.10, M.Morbeck; A.Revere, wc.cca, 1947, 20th-Fox.
Posted: 3.13.15 @ 11:56pm EST


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