For the last time ever, Jim Harbaugh addressed the 2012 49ers at team headquarters on Tuesday morning in Santa Clara.
In all likelihood, those 66 men on the 49ers roster, including active and inactive players, will never be in the same room again. For
“It was truly a blessing to share this locker room with these guys this year,” Willis said. “The most memorable season I’ve had yet.”
While Willis acknowledged that he and his teammates “made a good run,” there are championship expectations now with Harbaugh at the helm.
Once the 2011 season ended with an overtime loss in the NFC Championship game, the team buckled down and quickly got back to work, laying the foundation for the 2012 Super Bowl run. Making it to New Orleans to face the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII was quite an accomplishment, but it’s still not enough in Willis’ eyes.
Going forward, he sees the tough defeat serving as a great motivator for the 49ers.
Some of his teammates said they’ve already watched a TV replay of the game, but Willis isn’t one of them. Less than 48 hours removed from the biggest contest of his life, he was still replaying the game in his head.
“I feel like I’ve got a photographic memory,” Willis said. “I can see plays as if they were yesterday. We didn’t play a good game across the board. We started out slow, but the second half we came alive, but fell short.”
Baltimore return man Jacoby Jones returned the opening kickoff of the second half 108 yards for a touchdown, putting San Francisco in an insurmountable 28-6 hole. But the 49ers eventually came within a successful 2-point conversion of tying the game, before ultimately losing 34-31.
Even though they might have been down by more than three touchdowns, Willis never lost confidence that the 49ers would come back, saying, “We thought we had it from the beginning.” Ditto for Harbaugh, who said he will be “forever proud” of the way his team fought back against adversity on football’s biggest stage.
Willis certainly did his part, racking up a game-high eight tackles, including some impressive open-field hits and tough shots in the trenches. But like a true team captain, he also shouldered the blame for the devastating loss.
“We didn’t play up to the way we knew we were capable of playing as a defense,” Willis said. “That’s the part that hurts. We pride ourselves on playing good defense on that side of the ball and always being able to be accountable. I think we let ourselves down, along with our team.”
Packing boxes and luggage bags filled the locker room Tuesday, as teammates signed footballs for each other and exchanged offseason goodbyes. But it won’t be long before the team is back on the practice fields and in the barn behind team headquarters, lifting weights and preparing for the 2013 season. It all goes back to the blue-collar mentality instilled by Harbaugh and his staff.
“We can’t do anything than what we’ve always done, and that’s work,” Willis said.
Willis said he’s happy with the direction of the franchise and is looking forward to growing with the talented team, coaching staff and front office.
He’s also been impressed the fast-rising new Santa Clara Stadium, which is nearly 40 percent completed and now features concrete installations on the upper and second decks. First things first, the 49ers will play one last season in storied Candlestick Park, where the franchise has established itself as one of the world’s greatest sports organizations.
“I look forward to going back out and competing; competing and being an even better player, being an even better team,” Willis said. “That’s all you can do at the end of the day is just go out and compete and be focused and hopefully that year is our year.”