This upcoming championship game will either be a triumphant conclusion to what's been an indisputable Hall of Fame career for Lewis, or it will be the moment in which Willis steps out of Lewis' shadow.
Either way, fans will be treated to one heck of a show.
These two players represent the benchmark by which all other linebackers are judged until some other dynamo comes into the league to redefine the position. Let's take a look at what makes Willis and Lewis so special and how they compare to one another.
Willis and Lewis both have elite physical attributes, which is one reason why both of them have been so successful in the NFL.
They both measure in at 6'1" and 240 pounds, and possess sideline-to-sideline speed.
As the NFL evolves, players keep getting bigger and faster, so it's no surprise that Willis is a bit faster than Lewis.
Lewis ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at his pro day back in 1996, per 40-yard-dash-times.com.
Willis ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine, but he wowed scouts at his pro day by running it in 4.37 seconds, per NFLdraftscout.com.
Both players hit like a freight train, and both have the speed and agility to play all three downs with skill.
Willis' ability to keep up with the NFL's speediest and most athletic running backs and tight ends has paved the way for 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to use him almost like a cornerback at times. He's often responsible for covering tight ends one on one, and more often than not, Willis wins those battles.
Lewis has always been a savvy cover linebacker, but he rarely takes on such responsibilities. Then again, neither does anyone else in the league.
We wouldn't even be having this discussion if both players didn't produce at a high level on the field of play.
Let's take a look at how they stack up against one another. For this exercise, I've broken their stats down to a per-year average, using stats provided by Pro-Football-Reference.
Furthermore, to ensure we're getting an apples-to-apples comparison, I've first divided their stats against the actual number of games they played, then multiplied those numbers by 16, since both players have missed time due to injury.
|Solo Tackles||Assists||Forced Fumbles||Sacks||Interceptions|
What we find is that these two players match up almost dead even. Willis has proven to be more adept at forcing fumbles, while Lewis has been better at intercepting passes—but they both create the same amount of havoc for opposing offenses.
Lewis has registered one safety in his career, and he has six defensive touchdowns.
Willis has two defensive touchdowns in his six years in the league.
They have combined to play in 23 seasons in the NFL, and they have been voted on to 19 Pro Bowls and 12 first-team All-Pro squads.
Surprisingly, Lewis has only been voted to seven first-team All-Pro squads in his 17 seasons, while Willis has been voted to five in his first six years.
We've seen how eerily similar these two players are in terms of their physical abilities and production, but there's no doubt Lewis trumps Willis when it comes to leadership.
But that's not a mark against Willis. Nobody compares to Lewis.
Lewis is like a fiery prophet for the Ravens. His word is law, and when he speaks, everybody listens.
He is a force of nature that shapes the very soul of his team.
It's no surprise that the Ravens have turned things around since he returned to the lineup to make it to the Super Bowl after finishing the regular season with a dismal 1-4 record in the team's final five games.
Perhaps when Lewis retires, his mantle will fall on Willis, but for now, nobody compares to Baltimore's No. 52.
Willis has been a bit more reserved to this point in his career when it comes to demonstrative leadership. That said, his words carry weight.
But the 49ers have other leaders on both sides of the ball, and to this point in his career, Willis isn't the heart and soul of the 49ers like Lewis has been for the Ravens.
Before Willis entered the league back in 2007, it was hard to envision any linebacker in this generation comparing favorably to Lewis. Even now, with six amazing years under his belt, Willis has a long way to go.
Lewis has 11 years on Willis right now. Most players are lucky to play for more than five years, and it's going to take a string of good luck in the health department and a desire to keep the fire going for Willis to rise up to Lewis' level.
But of all the players currently taking the field on Sundays, Willis is the only one who has a chance to overtake the man who has become the greatest linebacker in the history of the league.
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