Shocking news out of the Bay Area: 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis is set to retire tomorrow, at the tender age of 30. He played only eight seasons in the NFL, but for most of his career, he was a complete stud. Willis was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first seven seasons—only Derrick Thomas and Lawrence Taylor have longer streaks on defense—and he led San Francisco to three consecutive NFC title games and one Super Bowl. But good for him for getting out while he still has his wits about him.
In light of Willis’ decision, here’s a look back at an interview we did with him a few years ago. The intro might feel a bit dated—the conversation took place before the Niners’ resurgence—but Willis’ advice to men is still as useful and relevant today. And that K-Swiss ad he did with Kenny Powers is still pretty funny.
On one hand, Patrick Willis has been a straight-up beast since entering the NFL. He led the league in tackles as a rookie in 2007, he’s made four straight Pro Bowls, and the NFL alumni have named him Linebacker of the Year three times. On the other hand…he’s been on a lot of crappy teams. Willis hopes to rectify that beginning this Sunday, when his Niners open their season against the Seahawks. But first, our latest Man of the Moment tells us about getting ripped, staying humble and loading up on Crystal Light. You know, the usual.
MM: What item do you never leave home without, and why?
PW: My cell phone. It’s my connection to the universe.
MM: Is it tough on game day to be without it for a while?
PW: Oh no. Not on game day. That’s the last thing on your mind. Believe me, you got things far, far worse to think about than what’s coming through on that cell phone.
MM: What’s your drink of choice after a tough day?
PW: I always keep Crystal Light packages in my locker. I love Crystal Light. I bring some bottled water and just put the packages in there and drink. That’s how I get my hydration back. Because it’s hard for me to just drink regular water.
MM: What grooming, style or fitness thing can a guy do in the morning to look good all day?
PW: Wash your face and put on a crisp T-shirt.
MM: You’re what sports commentators like to call a “specimen.” Got any workout tips?
PW: I’m really big on shrugs. And of course curls. They say curls get the girls, but I got a girl, so I’m not doing curls no more for them. Just for her. And I also do a lot of abs. Abs are like the center of your universe. If you got those, everything else falls into place.
MM: What do you do for abs?
PW: Stability stuff. Planks and holds. And I like working on the lower abs. A lot of people don’t do those and they wonder why their top abs are like Rocky Balboa and their bottom part is pudge. It’s because they don’t work their lower abs. I also make sure to work the obliques, top and bottom. I do a little bit of everything.
MM: How can somebody get your arms?
PW: A lot of people think if you just do a hundred curls, you’ll get ripped. But I like going heavy with curls. The only way to get bigger is by doing heavier weight. And I don’t just do regular curls. I kind of twist them. And I’ll throw in some hammer curls.
MM: How heavy do you go?
PW: It depends how I’m feeling. Sometimes I’ll go sixy- or seventy-pound dumbbells.
MM: What a coincidence, that’s what we curl. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about women, and who gave it to you?
PW: One of my favorite songs is James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” He says, “This is a man’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.” I always have that song stuck in my head.
MM: One thing you did during the lockout was shoot some K-Swiss ads with Kenny Powers. How was that experience?
PW: It was amazing. We did some awesome stuff. It was a lot of fun, and being there with Matt Cassel, he’s super cool and funny and down to earth. And then Kenny Powers is a man all his own. Great dude though, great dude. I couldn’t ask to be part of a better situation than with that crew.
MM: You’ve got a highly publicized new coach in Jim Harbaugh. So we can put the Niners down for an NFC West title, right?
PW: You know, for four years now, I’ve had expectations of having a better year as a team and making it to the playoffs, and then you continue to come up short. And it hurts. It puts a dagger inside of you. And so I’ve learned if I don’t have any expectations, then things won’t hurt as bad. I’m just going in with an open mind, going out there each day and grinding, and hoping it will be enough to come out with a W. And enough wins to get to the playoffs.
MM: What can football teach guys about being better men?
PW: A lot. In football, we’re always focused on trying to be the best that we can be. I think life is the same way. You should be trying to be the best man you can be. You can call it accountability or responsibility. I just think “being the best” sums it up.
MM: Any parting words of wisdom?
PW: Whatever you’re doing, stay humble and hungry.
MM: Has that been the key to your success?
PW: Definitely. I was a three-star linebacker coming out of high school. I wasn’t a five-star guy. I wasn’t recruited by a lot of schools. I went to a smaller high school, a lot of people hadn’t seen me. So I always had a chip on my shoulder. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter where you come from. If you can play, you can play. And if you have an opportunity, you have to showcase yourself. I always tried to prove myself whenever I got an opportunity, whether it was a Senior Bowl or whatever. There’s only one way to prove it, and that’s doing it. Every day.