I remember when I first met Patrick Willis. It was the summer of 2009 and I had just begun my first season covering the 49ers for Examiner.com several months earlier. It was a screening for “The Taking of Pelham 123” and Willis was hosting the screening with Alex Smith. I was invited to attend the screening and had a chance to interview both players. Willis was entering his third season with the 49ers and had already been selected to two Pro Bowls — he would make the Pro Bowl for seven consecutive years to start his career.
At the time, the 49ers were still struggling to become a winning team but Willis was still excited about the possibility of the team being better and the defense being one of the best in the league. Willis was optimistic and had always been that way his entire career. In the three seasons I got up close with the team, Willis was always great to be around.
He wasn’t the best in terms of giving very elaborate interviews, but as a team leader, he knew that his words carried a lot of weight. Knowing that, he remained professional in every way shape or form with the 49ers. And aside from that, one of the best things about Willis was that he was a genuinely good person. There is no other example you need to read than this story of Willis spending time with a young cancer patient. I remember that day very well and it is one of my favorite highlights covering the team.