Gold Jacket Spotlight: Bryant Young gets to return Hall of Fame favor with 'Knock'

Gold Jacket Spotlight Published on : 5/28/2024
Heading into the 2007 NFL season, future Hall of Famer BRYANT YOUNG knew his time in the NFL eventually would be coming to an end. 

That offseason, the San Francisco 49ers added another future Hall of Famer to the roster: PATRICK WILLIS, a member of the Class of 2024. The two immediately connected. 

Although their time together was brief — only one season — Bryant left an indelible mark on Willis. 

“When I first got drafted by the 49ers, [Bryant] was one of those guys, that I always knew from early on, that if I pay attention to him, I’ll be able to take away some things about life,” Willis said.

In early 2024, Bryant — who this week steps into the Gold Jacket Spotlight — got the opportunity to do something special. He became the first person who received his “Knock” from a Hall of Famer to bestow that same honor on a teammate and friend, welcoming Willis into football’s most exclusive club. 

Bryant, accompanied by representatives of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, knocked on the door at Willis’ sister’s house in Tennessee. He was visiting on his birthday.

“You came in with your head down, you worked, you didn't talk,” Bryant told a tearful Willis in the words of a mentor and friend. “Your play, your work ethic, it spoke louder than any words that could ever be said. You deserve every last bit of it.”

Bryant (14 seasons, 1994-2007) and Willis (eight seasons, 2007-2014) both played their entire careers with the 49ers. Throughout those careers, both endured and persevered past injuries that could have ended their careers earlier. The two have spoken highly of one another long after their playing days, and now reunite in Canton. 

Willis recalled an instance from their lone season together that served as his “welcome to the NFL” moment. 

“We were playing against the St. Louis Rams, and we were playing them at home, and I’ll never forget B.Y. had done a club — he had this powerful club move that he would do where he would step-step and club you,” Willis said. “And I’ll never forget saying to myself, ‘Holy (expletive), man! These are grown men. These are grown men out here.’ I’m glad I’m on his side.”

Although San Francisco struggled to a 5-11 finish in 2007, Bryant played in all 16 games, recorded 6.5 sacks and mentored a young Willis, who claimed NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year and first-team All-Pro honors. 

When Bryant was enshrined as a member of the Class of 2022, he, too, was greeted by a former 49ers teammate. Hall of Famer CHARLES HALEY knocked on his door, informing him of his election. 

Much like Willis’ and Bryant’s short time together, Haley and Bryant only spent two seasons together (1998-99) before Haley retired. But another strong bond was formed.

“The Hall of Fame, baby!” Haley exclaimed as Bryant opened the door.