Patrick Willis and John Taylor have more in common than being 49ers Hall of Fame inductees this year.
Both former 49ers have incredible mutual respect for each other even though they played in different eras. Both Willis and Taylor spoke to the media Thursday expressing how honored they are to be in a class with one another.
Taylor’s career may have ended 12 years before Willis ever donned a Niners uniform but the All-Pro linebacker is quite aware of his fellow 49ers Hall of Famer.
Towards the end of the 2012 season, when Willis and his teammates were preparing to appear in Super Bowl XLVII, the star linebacker watched film from previous 49ers Super Bowl-winning squads.
Willis already knew the names Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Steve Young, but another player he didn’t know kept catching his eye. The 2007 first-round pick wondered why he wasn’t familiar with this receiver who was running all over people.
“I was watching film and I would see this guy catching slants and getting hit and taking it to the house,” Willis recalled. “Man, that guy gives it everything he’s got every play. They didn’t talk about him, they didn’t say his name but I’m noticing him.
“He’s always doing something to make big plays. I’m seeing this guy and it wasn’t No. 80. Man, this guy right here is really good, how come I don’t hear anybody talking about this fella here?”
Now, Willis will be enshrined in the 49ers Hall of Fame with the receiver that impressed him back in 2012 -- John Taylor.
After being retired for more than a decade, Taylor immediately noticed Willis’ talent on the field while keeping tabs on his old team.
“I remember watching Patrick after I retired, it was like man, this guy is all over the field, sideline to sideline,” Taylor said. "I used to think to myself. I wouldn’t want to be a receiver going against him chasing me down the field because Patrick is pretty quick to be a linebacker.
“The linebackers I played with, they were strong, they were quick but the linebackers that you’re seeing in the game today are like wide receivers running from sideline to sideline running players down.”
Both 49ers legends are much more familiar with each other now having spent time together at team alumni events, and the level of respect they have for each other is mutual.
“Every time I see him I just love listening to him talk and hear his stories,” Willis said. “To be going into the 49ers Hall of Fame with him is truly an honor.”
“Words can’t explain it, to be honest,” Taylor said. “Just to be associated or be put in that category with those players is an honor."