During the pregame warm-ups, the boys lined up along the sideline to watch. Players for both teams came and went. Eventually the boys were escorted onto the field and introduced. Someone sang the National Anthem. The boys then marched in single file to the sideline, to be escorted from the field. Prior to their exit, one player — only one — came over and gave every one of them a high-five: Patrick Willis.
I don't watch football much anymore. Given what what it does to the players, it has lost much of its charm. But I used to love watching the game and always loved watching Patrick Willis. Since the day he arrived in San Francisco, he has been — was — the best player on the team. He is, as far as I'm concerned, the greatest middle linebacker of his generation.
And I've come to believe that there is a connection, however small, between his gesture that day — his thoughtfulness — and his greatness. How ironic, I thought then, that the best player on the team is the one who thought to come over and congratulate those little boys. But perhaps it's not ironic at all. Perhaps it's all of a piece. The same character, the same attention to detail, that made Patrick Willis football's best linebacker for nearly decade also made him pause to come shake my son's hand.