What was expected has now happened.
One of the things I enjoyed about Justin Smith, other than his consistency (played 221 of 224 games) and his lethal attack on the opposing quarterback, was that he didn’t seem like the kind of guy to let fame to get to his head.
He was in discussion for defensive player of the year once. He was praised as the anchor of the 49ers defense. The fame from his success and the team’s success was there. Yet he just seemed like the kind of guy who would go out to the lake and go fishing after practice instead of hanging out at bars or at parties. He was truly a cowboy in every sense of that nickname.
In the locker room, he kept to himself. He didn’t cause any scenes during media time yet he got along well with all teammates. He was all business. The perfect man for the job of being the lead anchor.
Enjoy retirement, Justin. Ride off into the sunset, cowboy.
Patrick WIllis and Frank Gore were two very important players for the 49ers in the past decade. Now both are no longer going to be with the team.
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.