Patrick Willis' feet did the walking and the talking

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Achilles' had his heel.

Superman, kryptonite.

Patrick Willis? It was his size 13 feet that, according to the seven-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker, sometimes rolled up into a 12 1/2. Willis laughed. Nervously.

Those same feet, which allowed him to run like a deer and deliver a hit like a rhinoceros, eventually failed him and led the San Francisco 49ers' icon to announce his retirement on Tuesday in a tear-stained media conference at Levi's Stadium.

"These feet? Boy, oh boy, oh boy," Willis said. "I make no excuses. They worked and worked and worked."

And finally, stopped working. Or, at least, stopped working on a level that would enable Willis to continue playing like an All-Pro. Even if he was playing out of position in 2014, moving over inside the Niners' 3-4 defense to man the injured NaVorro Bowman's spot.

Sure, Willis' feet had bothered him since his college days at Mississippi, but they went flat this past season, when his chronically sore left big toe needed surgery after six games. Yet Willis insisted he still had a few years remaining late in the season.

Until his "dogs" barked otherwise.

The pain was constant, and Willis, who has become more outspoken with his religion over the years, took it as a sign that his feet were speaking to him, telling him to leave the game when he could still walk.

Especially when he'd look at teammates' gnarled feet -- "They looked 10 times worse than mine," Willis joked -- and they would report no such agony.

"If I had anything left in these feet...," Willis said, before quoting scripture, Psalms 18:32-33. Later, Willis quoted Proverbs 19:21.

"I have to be honest, if I didn't have [physically] what I know I need ... I can't be out there ... collecting a paycheck. That would be wrong."

CEO Jed York, general manager Trent Baalke and coach Jim Tomsula all spoke at separate times at the lectern.

York said Willis "embodies winning with class," while Baalke said he thought of two words when describing Willis: "special" and "greatness." Tomsula, who had worked with Willis as the team's longtime defensive line coach, fought back tears when he pointed at him and said: "That's what a man looks like."

It also might be what a Hall of Famer looks like, despite a relatively short resume of eight seasons.

There were the seven Pro Bowls to start his career -- only Lawrence Taylor (10) and Derrick Thomas (9) had longer such streaks among defensive players -- five All-Pro selections, 950 bone-jarring tackles, 20.5 sacks and eight interceptions.

And the countless hair-raising pregame speeches to break the huddle that had enough passion to wake the dead. Or help the Niners get to three straight NFC title games with a Super Bowl appearance.

"I feel like I have no regrets standing up here today," Willis said, "As I had no regrets yesterday and the day before as I know I will have no regrets tomorrow. Because one thing I've always lived by is, live by giving everything you got today so that when you look back tomorrow you don't feel ashamed because you left anything on the table."

Willis paused.

"There will have not been a day in my career that I don't feel like ... that I gave this game everything I had," he said. "And what's funny is that it's amazing what we see with the eyes, instead of what we actually know. And, man, if only I knew what it took to go out there on Sundays and play this game."

Willis, who turned 30 on Jan. 25, referenced Brett Favre and said no disrespect, but Willis was done. No comebacks. No what-ifs. No let-me-think-about-its.

"I am leaving this with closure," he said. "I am more happy after this press conference than the day I was drafted."

And his feet felt better.