As someone who has shed tears, broken doors, and done even dumber things than that, the answer to the question in the title is easy. YES OF COURSE. Patrick Willis was the best defensive player I have ever rooted for, and elevated himself to the absolute pantheon of 49er legends which include the likes of Charles Haley, Ronnie Lott, and Deion Sanders. He did that in a somewhat short 8 year career, which is truly the only knock on his bid to make the NFL Hall of Fame (I specify NFL because he was just inducted into the College Hall of Fame). So, the question needs to be asked: come 2020, will Patrick Willis be a Hall of Famer? Will he be inducted at all?
First, let’s look at the numbers, which everyone loves to do. Patrick Willis ended his career with 950 tackles, over 118 tackles per season (118!!!), and his last year he only recorded 34 in 6 games. In his rookie year, 2007, he recorded 213 tackles, 4 sacks, and had 5 pass deflections. This was a guy who was projected to be a late 1st or early 2nd round pick! In his second year, he upped his game by becoming one of the best, if not the best, pass coverage linebackers in the league. He led all linebackers in the NFL with 10 pass deflections, and had an 86 yard interception return for a touchdown; in 2009, he intercepted 3 passes, and when he retired he had 53 pass deflections, 8 interceptions, and two touchdowns to his name. Defending the pass wasn’t all he could do, however. He was the main cog in helping the team break an NFL record for allowing the least rushing TD’s in a 16 game season, only allowing 3 touchdowns on the ground in 2011. In a marquee matchup his rookie year against Adrian Peterson, who was in the midst of an all-time great rookie season himself, Peterson rushed for 3 yards on 14 carries. He was named a pro bowler every year of his career except his injury shortened final season, was a FIVE time 1st Team All Pro, including in his rookie year (in other words, for 5 of his 7 complete seasons, he was the best linebacker in the entire league), and one time 2nd Team All Pro. The numbers he put up throughout his career are ridiculous by any measure, but are secondary to what made him truly great.
No team has ever had 2 guys as passionate and hard working, yet as sweet-hearted and genuine, as Patrick Willis and Frank Gore. If you look at the big time success San Francisco had from 2011-2013, you’ll find a ton of talent, but those two men were absolutely the driving forces, the heart and soul, of that team. Navorrow Bowman, another linebacker with a fantastic but injury shortened career, attributed much of his success to Willis, who took Bowman under his wing and showed him how to be a true professional. Patrick Willis led the 49ers to be the league’s top defense for a three year stretch from 2011-2013, and he led one of the scariest defenses I could imagine having to face in the history of the game. Justin and Aldon Smith up front, Navorrow Bowman and Willis at Linebacker, with Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson waiting behind them…no other team in recent history has had the heavy hitters that team had, yet Willis stood out far above the rest.
Patrick Willis, even without the longevity of some Hall of Famers, is a Hall of Fame player through and through. No disrespect, but if Terell Davis can get in with his limited career, it would be an absolute travesty to not allow Willis the same honor. I think 49er fans everywhere would agree, Willis is one of the greatest linebackers of all time, and needs to be inducted to Canton.