Patrick Willis

49ers legend Willis reflects on path to becoming Hall of Fame finalist

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Within arms reach of NFL immortalization, former 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis reflects on how he always knew he was destined to do legendary things. 

In a conversation with NBC Sports Bay Area’s Donte Whitner, airing on "49ers Pregame Live" before San Francisco's Week 18 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams at Levi's Stadium, the 2024 Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist revealed how he knew from a young age that the work ethic his father instilled in him would take him far in life – and on the field.

“I know growing up my dad enforced one thing and that was that he was all about work ethic. He’d say, ‘If you want something, you need to work for it.’ For me, I wanted to be one of the best,” Willis told Whitner. “I remember a long time ago, I figured out people are going to have opinions on who they think is the absolute best or who they think is their greatest. I said, ‘I just want to be one of the best. 

“I don’t want to get caught up and try to be great statistically or just be greater than this person. I just want to go out and be the best I can be and do it consistently well. And when my time is up, I’ll be great in what it was that I had done.’ That’s how I left it. That’s how I went about it each and every day. I just wanted to be a pro, and leave the place better than I found it.” 

Willis, having played just eight NFL seasons -- all with the 49ers -- made seven Pro Bowl appearances and was a five-time All-Pro selection. 

With 20.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles under his belt and having led the NFL in tackles on two separate occasions, the linebacker was selected as a member of the NFL’s 2010 All-Decade Team.

Willis never expected the career statistics tied to his name, yet claims he envisioned himself going far in life as a kid growing up in Bruceton, Tennessee.

“I can’t necessarily say that I knew that they’d be calling me for the Hall of Fame, but I still go back and stand on what I’ve talked to you about," Willis added. "I remember just being the eight-year-old kid from a small town with a big vision that I saw,” Willis added. “And I remember I just believed it.

“I began to work from there and I said, ‘Man, I know my destination. I don’t know how it’s going to look, how I’m going to get there, but I’m destined to go somewhere.’ I just worked with that work ethic each and every day and [was] just blessed to have some great teammates to help along the way. Yeah, man, I made some history.” 

In his fifth year of eligibility, it’s the third consecutive year that Willis is among the final 15 candidates. And each time, we are reminded that it’s not only Willis’ numbers – but mindset – that are taking him to the precipice of NFL glory. 

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