LAS VEGAS – Trent Williams walked into a Houston steakhouse three years ago, anxious to know by the end of dinner where his NFL career was headed.
Would the 49ers pay him the richest contract ever for an NFL offensive lineman, or would the Kansas City Chiefs score in free agency and nab the superstar left tackle to protect Patrick Mahomes’ blindside?
“Once I got the hunch Kansas City was ready to make it official, I called Kyle,” Williams said in March 2021 about his last-ditch appeal to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan. “I couldn’t get it out and tell him. I said, ‘We just need to hurry it up, if you get my drift.’ ”
Williams’ career choice has reverberated for years, and it will truly magnify this Sunday when he helps lead the 49ers’ star-studded offense into Super Bowl LVIII against the defending champion Chiefs at Allegiant Stadium.
This is Williams’ first Super Bowl appearance and, with 11 Pro Bowl berths and three straight All-Pro honors to his credit, perhaps no player deserves this stage. His career demands greater notoriety, and the Super Bowl offers a grand stage to educate the uninitiated about one of the NFL’s most athletic marvels.
When Williams stepped up onto Monday’s media-night stage with captains and coaches from both teams, he and Chiefs coach Andy Reid exchanged a bear hug and smiles.
“Him and Pat (Mahomes) reached out a lot during free agency, so we built somewhat of a relationship with those guys,” Williams said later from podium No. 8.
“I knew it’d be a long shot because he’s a big Kyle (Shanahan) fan,” Reid said Monday night about that 2021 pursuit of Williams. “He’s a great guy, a great player and a future Hall of Fame player. He’s got that youth thing going. He’s playing like he’s 20.”
Williams, 35, is a four-time captain with the 49ers. He could regale everyone with tales far longer than Monday’s allotted hour. More insightful, almost elegant, quotes are sure to flow over the next few days of access before his Super Bowl debut.
“It still feels like a dream,” Williams added. “As a kid, you want to be in the NFL, and you sit and watch the Super Bowl lounging on a couch. I always wanted to be on one of the teams to play for the title in front of the whole world.”
“Fighting for that Lombardi” was among Williams’ foremost goals back in March 2021, when the Chiefs couldn’t pry him from the 49ers’ clutches in free agency.
Wiliams had just completed his first season with the 49ers, who a year prior pulled off a draft-day trade (for a third- and fifth-round draft picks) to essentially rescue him from a decade-long career with Washington’s dysfunctional franchise.
As contract talks stalled with the 49ers, Williams had “good conversations” with the Chiefs: “They made a good push,” he said.
Williams shoved aside those overtures, however, once the 49ers hooked him up with a colossal contract (six years, $138.06 million). The deal got done while Williams finished his dinner at James Harden’s restaurant, Thirteen. A FaceTime exchange with Shanahan excited Williams even more, to say nothing of a contract that still has him poised to make over $20 million in salary each of the next two seasons before a potential $32 million bonanza if he’s still going strong in 2026.
When Williams made the Pro Bowl for an 11th time, he joined only three other linemen to reach that mark – the Pro Football Hall of Fame trio of Anthony Muñoz, Jonathan Ogden and Willie Roaf.
“I want to break the tie, that’s a big thing for me,” Williams, 35, said last month, thus muting talk of potential retirement after this season. “I definitely dropped to my knees and thanked God, because that’s not promised. You can have an amazing Hall of Fame career and still don’t see 11 Pro Bowls. I’m super proud of that.”
John Lynch, the 49ers’ general manager, described Williams as “a different human being, a different player” who is destined to join him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; Lynch gained entry in 2021 for his playing days as a safety.
“I don’t like talking about Hall of Fame-type stuff with players,” 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 than a win in this game.”
The 49ers’ last Super Bowl appearance served as Joe Staley’s farewell as their 13-year left tackle. Then, as the 2021 NFL Draft neared its end, the 49ers announced they had traded for Williams, who’d been a perennial Pro Bowler for Washington but missed the 2019 season.
Williams is sure to recite throughout this week how fragile his life was five years ago, when he underwent surgery to remove a life-threatening cancerous growth from his scalp (Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans). Williams hasn’t shied away from discussing that trauma in multiple forums. He did so in his December 2021 documentary “Silverback”. He sat on a couch last December for a fascinating discussion on Arik Armstead’s “Third and Long” podcast.
“To get a cancer diagnosis, it felt so unreal. It was hard to have any emotions. All could think about my kids,” Willliams, a father of four daughters, told Armstead. “How will they be if I’m not here? I didn’t think about dying itself, but the impact it would have if it happened.”
Williams’ impact on the field is unrivaled. Sure, his 6-foot-5, 320-pound frame is vital and remarkably nimble in protecting the blindside of quarterback Brock Purdy. But he’s also the road grader for NFL rushing champion Christian McCaffrey.
If the 49ers need someone to break up a fight (or start one), Williams has a history of doing so. If they need him to go in motion Sunday as a lead blocker, it wouldn’t be the first time, and perhaps it might even be an ode to the 49ers’ Super Bowl history (see: offensive lineman Guy McIntyre being deployed as a blocking back by Bill Walsh in the 1984 playoffs).
“He’s larger than life,” tight end George Kittle said. “He has a silverback gorilla tatted on his back, and (that gorilla logo) is on his private jet.”
Williams’ unique place on the team is reflected in the 49ers’ locker room in Santa Clara, where this season he took over the lockers neighboring his and even has a “Silverback” nameplate atop one.
“He has it fenced off like it’s a club,” Kittle added. “It’s perfect. It’s everything that is Trent Williams. And he deserves it, as well.”
Williams doesn’t take any of it – the lockers, the money, the 49ers’ title chances – for granted.
When he made a triumphant return to Washington on New Year’s Eve, Williams genuinely reveled in the celebration as the 49ers earned the NFC’s No. 1 seed that same day, enhancing their Super Bowl prospects. When a Washington-area reporter asked him if he’d ever consider returning there, Williams debunked that idea.
“I’m a 49er right now,” Williams responded. “I love the ownership here. I love the organization. … They definitely treat me as their own here.”
He is indeed theirs. And as for the Chiefs, he’s their defense’s problem to encounter come Sunday afternoon.