SANTA CLARA — Patrick Willis is a fan of Ray Lewis' enthusiasm, passion and, last but not least, his jersey No. 52.
When Willis got drafted in 2007 as the 11th overall pick, the 49ers called to ask him which number he preferred.
"They had a 51, a 52, a 50, a 57," Willis recalled Wednesday. "I love even numbers, and it was the best number out of the numbers they gave me."
That was only part of the No. 52 equation for Willis, who thought: "It'd be a great number to ply up to, and great guys have worn it, and one is Ray Lewis."
Lewis will play the final game of his 17-year career when his Baltimore Ravens face the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 in New Orleans.
Even though they both are linebackers and share No. 52, Willis wasn't planning to become The Next Ray Lewis.
"I didn't know that six years later, people would compare myself to him," Willis added. "I wanted to be the best football player I could."
While meeting up on multiple Pro Bowl trips in Hawaii, a friendship developed between the two. On Jan. 13, Lewis called Willis and they used their phones' FaceTime application to watch a television broadcast of the Atlanta Falcons' divisional playoff win over the Seattle Seahawks.
"Ray's one guy that loves to give wisdom and knowledge," Willis said. "I'm a guy that loves to listen."