SANTA CLARA The popular myth about Patrick Willis and his number was that he was given No. 52 by coaches Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary in 2007 because they wanted him to be the heir to another No. 52, Ray Lewis, when it came to middle-linebacker lineage.
That's not entirely true.
Willis said Thursday it was his choice to wear No. 52, and that he picked it partly in homage to players who have worn it before him, namely Lewis. But the bigger reason, he said, is that he simply liked the number.
"They had some weird numbers (available)," Willis said. "I think they had 51, a 52, a 50 and a 57. It was the best number out of the numbers they gave me. And also I've known some guys, and one guy in particular, Ray, who have worn the No. 52."
But he had to have known that he would be bombarded with Lewis comparisons as soon as he picked No. 52, right?
"I didn't know that," Willis said. "I didn't know six years later that people would compare (me) to him. I just told myself, wherever I get drafted, I want to go out and make it my home and play the best football I can possibly play."
Willis said he and Lewis, who will start for the Ravens at inside linebacker, became close during recent Pro Bowl trips and that they talk on the phone and text often, including this week.
Said Lewis on Thursday: "I always try to throw the smallest tidbits out to help his career out, to help him in how to get better."
Cleared to land Offensive coordinator Greg Roman singled out perhaps the most anonymous member of the 49ers' offensive line, center Jonathan Goodwin, for his performance in Atlanta.
It was Goodwin's job to get the 49ers in and out of the huddle quickly in the cacophonous Georgia Dome and to call out the line's pass protections.
"I thought Jonathan Goodwin did an incredible job last week of directing traffic," Roman said. "He was the air traffic controller during the snowstorm last week with the crowd noise, et cetera. And (the offensive linemen) are really, really dialed in. And they're at the point now where there are five guys that are really functioning as one."
Lewis, others back Fifteen Ravens sat out Wednesday's practice, but all except one, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (ankle, back), were back Thursday.
That group included Lewis, safety Ed Reed, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and receiver Anquan Boldin.
Et cetera San Francisco outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks missed his second straight practice because of a shoulder injury. Brooks was seen riding an exercise bike before the start of practice. Clark Haggans filled in at left outside linebacker during practice.
The 49ers practiced on their rarely used artificial-surface field. Jim Harbaugh changed the practice plans after determining the usual grass fields were too slick from Thursday's rain. The Super Bowl will be played on an artificial surface.