"When I'm done playing, I don't want to measure myself (against) a guy that people compared me to. I want to look at myself and know that I gave it my all and have no regrets. If I can do that, then I'll be happy being who I am. That's me."
He asked not to be compared to the greats who played the position before him. Instead, Patrick Willis worked to create his own legacy, and after eight seasons, the game's premier inside linebacker announced he is retiring from the NFL.
Willis played his entire career for the San Francisco 49ers. He was the heart and soul of a team that reached three consecutive NFC Championship games, from 2011 to 2013.
He was selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven NFL seasons and was a five-time first-team All-Pro.
In announcing his retirement, Willis said he's as happy now with his decision as he was the day he was drafted.
"I've been humbled to have the opportunity to play this game, and I'm blessed to say that I get to retire happy," Willis said.
STACK was privileged to spend an off-season training day with Willis back in 2010. He demonstrated his "Homegrown Workout," a routine inspired by his formative weightlifting years, when he used to load a metal bar with concrete blocks and Bench Press it in the driveway of his father's house.
At the end of our visit, we asked Willis how he wanted his legacy to be remembered once he walks away from the game. He responded, "That I came out every day and gave it my all, through tough times, through bad times, through tired times. When they talk about linebackers, they're gonna mention my name, and they're gonna say that Patrick Willis was 'one bad boy.'"
He was that. And more.
— DonteHitner (@DonteWhitner) March 9, 2015
— Vernon Davis (@VernonDavis85) March 10, 2015
Patrick Willis was an unheralded recruit who had 4 LB coaches in 4 years at #OleMiss. Guy still blossomed into one of CFB's best LBs ever.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) March 9, 2015
Patrick Willis may be the most inspiring guy I've ever worked with. Went thru so much hardship yet never acted like life was against him
— Jay Glazer (@JayGlazer) March 9, 2015
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock