HENDERSON, Nev. — There was a time, not so long ago, that San Francisco 49ers left tackle Trent Williams wasn’t even sure when he would return to a football field, let alone play on the game’s grandest stage.
Just five years ago, Williams had surgery to remove a potentially life-threatening cancerous growth from his scalp, a procedure that left him wondering when — or if — he would play football again.
And yet, here Williams was on Wednesday at a Lake Las Vegas hotel, sitting at a podium and holding court with reporters for an hour midway through his first week as a Super Bowl participant in his 14-year career.
“I’ve definitely taken it in,” Williams said. “I’m continuing to take it in. I’m just thanking God every day because this is what you dream of, it’s what you pray for, it’s what you grind for. A lot of countless hours spent in the lab trying to perfect my craft and get better just to get an opportunity to get to this stage. So I’m very grateful being here, and I’m taking in every second.”
That Williams is taking some time to savor the moment should be no surprise, given that he has played a significant role in getting the Niners to Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII at Allegiant Stadium. Williams and the 49ers will meet the Kansas City Chiefs, the same team that defeated the Niners in Super Bowl LIV and nearly pried Williams away from San Francisco when he was an unrestricted free agent in March 2021.
Instead, Williams comes to Las Vegas in hopes of adding the one and only thing his résumé lacks: a world championship. In the time since he was drafted, Williams has checked every other box. He is an 11-time Pro Bowler and a three-time first-team All-Pro selection and is widely regarded as the best tackle in the game and one of the best of all time.
“I don’t like talking about Hall of Fame-type stuff with players,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said. “He’s a guy I’m not shy about doing that because he’ll be there and he should be there first ballot. Nothing would help to cement that more than a win in this game.”
Williams arrived in San Francisco during the NFL draft in 2020, when the Niners gave up third- and fifth-round picks to pry the disgruntled Williams away from the Washington Commanders. Williams had grown weary of Washington after he said the medical and front office staffs there had botched his cancer diagnosis.
As Williams sat out the 2019 season, the 49ers surged to the Super Bowl and, in a twist of fate, stalwart tackle Joe Staley retired after the season. That created an opening for Williams to reunite with coach Kyle Shanahan, who had been the offensive coordinator in Washington in 2010 when the Commanders used the fourth pick in the draft to select Williams.
Upon his arrival in the Bay Area, Williams quickly regained his dominant form. Offensive line coach Chris Foerster, who also worked with Williams in Washington, said there was never any doubt Williams would get back up to speed. In some ways, Foerster said, he has seen an even better version of Williams over the past four seasons.
“When everything happened there [in Washington], this was a very, very seasoned veteran, a mature guy that understood not just his part but the whole dynamic of everything it took to be successful and what it would take to win to be part of a Super Bowl-winning team,” Foerster said. “And he knew what would make him happy.”
Williams has rediscovered that happiness in San Francisco, where he has earned a Pro Bowl nod in each of his four seasons and the first three All-Pro honors of his career in the past three seasons. There’s an argument to be made that, at 35, Williams is better than ever.
It’s why, after he briefly discussed the potential of retirement last offseason, Williams has already declared he plans to keep playing beyond Sunday’s Super Bowl. For now, Williams is thinking only about winning on Sunday and his first opportunity to write the ultimate conclusion to his own comeback story.
“It would be like one of those fairy tales,” Williams said. “It’s like something you can only dream about. It’s hard to even describe what that feeling would be like because I’ve never felt that feeling before. But I imagine it would be a memory that we would remember for life.”