Willis: Maybe it’s not all that surprising

Patrick Willis confirmed during his press conference that his future health was a prime consideration in his decision to retire. "No regrets," Willis said. "I gave this game everything I had."
Patrick Willis confirmed during his press conference that his future health was a prime consideration in his decision to retire. “No regrets,” Willis said. “I gave this game everything I had.”

Now comes the news that Patrick Willis, one of the great inside linebackers of his football era, will retire at 30, an age generally considered the prime of a football player’s career.

Cleveland
Cleveland

Willis, the former Ole Miss standout and seven-time Pro Bowler for the San Francisco 49ers, would be walking away from a guaranteed $20 million over the next three seasons.

Twenty million dollars.

Which brings up a pertinent question: Can you put a price tag on your health and well being?

Patrick Willis, a class act on and off the field, apparently has.

Willis’ decision has stunned the NFL. I am reminded of the retirements of the great Jim Brown at age 29 and Barry Sanders who retired at 30. Willis should some day join both those greats in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Patrick Willis
Patrick Willis

And my guess is that Willis could be in the beginning of an NFL trend of players who make their millions and get out before further permanent damage is done.

You want to see what damage playing middle linebacker in the NFL can do? Just watch Dick Butkus try to walk across a room. It is painful. And Butkus is the norm, not the exception.

And then there’s the sad, sad story of Junior Seau.

“If somebody did a documentary on old linebackers, people would be amazed,” says Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer D.D. Lewis. “It’s not just their bodies, so many have brain problems.”

There are similarities between Lewis and Willis. Both come from humble, Tennessee origins. Both were largely overlooked in their home states, then came to Mississippi schools where they became All-Americans. Both became pro football stars.

There is one huge difference. At age 30, Willis has made more than $35 million in professional football. At age 30, in 1975 when he was a star on great Dallas Cowboys teams, Lewis was making about $30,000 a year.

Says Lewis, who has far, far more than his share of aches and pains at age 69, “I couldn’t afford to retire.”

Willis can.

“I don’t know what I would have done with $35 million,” Lewis says, and then he chuckles. “I probably would have turned so sorry, they would have cut me before I quit.”

Lewis, who still pulls for the Cowboys, nevertheless has become a Patrick Willis fan.

“I love the way that guy plays,” Lewis says. “”He’s physical, he’s fast. He’s always in the right place. I just love to watch him play. I’ve never met him but I’d love to.”

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D.D. Lewis and Wesley Walls are among the celebrities who will play in the April 20 First Commercial Bank/Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame Tournament. Details here

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