After racking up seven Pro Bowl appearances and five First-Team All-Pro honors in eight seasons, there was surprise when Patrick Willis ended his career at the age of 30 in 2015. The former San Francisco 49ers linebacker chose to retire on his own terms and has no regrets about that decision.
The lessons and principles from his athletic career continue to be relevant in his second chapter, and life has been fulfilling. Recently celebrating his 39th birthday, this Sunday, his San Francisco 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs for a shot at the team’s first Super Bowl title since 1995.
Notably, on Thursday evening, Willis was announced as a member of the NFL Hall of Fame Class of 2024, along with six other former players.
Patrick Willis spoke with M&F before the announcement and big game to talk about his Super Bowl XLVII experience, his ongoing commitment to training, and his thoughts on the decisive factor in determining the Super Bowl winner.
Embrace Simplicity, Stick to Your Routine, and Relax
Patrick Willis registered 10 tackles for the 49ers in their 34-31 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII. He recalls the intensifying game buildup and the ensuing nervousness as they closed in on the ultimate goal.
The grandeur of the Super Bowl, with media attention and celebrity presence, sets it apart from a regular game. Willis, known for his composure, had a routine to ease pre-game jitters.
“I used to take deep breaths,” he explained. “I tried to stick to my regular routine. Preparation and hard work were crucial for me. No matter what, I inevitably experienced some nerves until the first hit. After that, I got into a rhythm and assessed the opponent’s strategies.”
The Competitive Drive Endures
Willis acknowledges that life after the NFL entails a different experience. Post-retirement, he initially sought distance from the game, but a significant and rewarding part of his life was hard to leave behind. It took him nine years to be able to watch NFL broadcasts without mentally placing himself in game scenarios.
“I will always have immense respect for the game,” Willis stated. “But, the competitive spirit persists in me, especially in sports. There’s something about athletes’ competitive nature. I don’t think it ever truly disappears. It may lie dormant, but it’s always there, waiting to be rekindled.”
Training Becomes a Lifestyle
For any retired professional athlete, certain lifestyle choices and habits persist. Willis emphasizes that his dedication to fitness and training is as integral now as during his active career. Training no longer necessitates the intensity of squaring off against 300-pound linemen but focuses more on functionality and flexibility.
An essential part of Willis’ present-day training regimen is Nirvana Super. This wellness brand offers various products like water, energy shots, and drinks. A key ingredient in their products is HMB (hydroxymethylbutyrate), which aids in muscle recovery, endurance, and concentration.
“Nirvana has played a significant role in my fitness and recovery routines lately,” Willis shared. “What I love is that they offer small energy shots, which suit me when I don’t want a large energy drink. It’s an essential part of my workout, and I’m delighted to have this supplement at home.”
Special Teams Could Be the Deciding Factor in Super Bowl LVIII
While Willis remains a devoted fan of the San Francisco 49ers, he acknowledges the strengths and weaknesses of both the Chiefs and 49ers. He believes that often overlooked special teams could play a pivotal role in determining the game’s outcome.
“The 49ers have an exceptional offense and a formidable defense,” Willis observed. “The Chiefs defense is capable of making crucial plays, understanding that the offense will deliver. I think the game could hinge on special teams.
“Special teams contribute hidden yardage, whether through field position shifts or crucial points when needed. If there’s any doubt about where my allegiance lies, my resounding ‘Let’s go Niners’ at the interview’s conclusion says it all.”
A Potentially Hall of Famer, Patrick Willis?
Willis’ decision to retire at 30 wasn’t easy, and he had been contemplating it since his rookie year. He would often ask the veteran players about their retirement criteria, finding them perplexed by the question. For Willis, it was significant because he understood that everything has a time limit. He valued the effort he invested in the game and didn’t want to continue if he couldn’t maintain the same level of dedication.
“I never knew if it would be in my third year or after five seasons,” Willis recounted. “I always said that when it happens, you can assess my body of work. That’s how I approached the game.”
Willis has been a Hall of Fame finalist for the past three years. Few football players begin their careers aspiring to reach Canton, OH, and the dream seems even more improbable when you hail from Carroll County, TN. Considering the obstacles he overcame to be regarded as one of the best in his position, being inducted into the Hall of Fame would be a fitting culmination.
“I would be extremely honored and grateful,” he expressed. “Coming from a small-town and an underdog background, achieving this honor would be truly special, and I have so many people to thank. Fingers crossed, we’ll see.”
Follow Patrick Willis on Instagram @thewinkersmind.