When we think of the top running backs in the league, who comes to mind?
Adrian Peterson, undoubtedly. How about Arian Foster or Marshawn Lynch? I'm sure we can throw in Ray Rice or Jamaal Charles in the discussion.
In that crowded group, not once did I mention San Francisco 49ers running back, Frank Gore. Don't tell that to Gore, even though the bruising back is use to the cynics and doubters. He's dealt with them his whole life, even dating back to his days at the University of Miami.
Gore has struggled mightily to make a big name for himself in the NFL, and even now, he is still underrated. From his days at the "U," where Gore was considered an injury prone back, and his somewhat lame draft status—65th selection in the third round—the "inconvenient truth" has a made a knack of proving his doubters wrong.
Eight-thousand eight-hundred and thirty-nine rushing yards, a 4.6 career average per attempt and 61 total touchdowns (10 receiving). Are these career stats of a usual third-round selection?
Injury prone? Yes, at times. However, Gore has carried the ball nearly 2,000 times (1,911 to be exact) in eight years. That's an average of almost 250 attempts per season.
Even during this era of throwing the football, Gore rushed for 1,214 yards with a 4.7 average per attempt in the 2012 season. And another thing, Gore is 29 years old. Yes, to some it may be young, but in football terms, it's old––really old.
The stats and accolades are nice. However, what 49ers fans most endear about Gore is not his play during these glory times, but rather his consistency and professionalism during the downtrodden years. And believe me, the 49ers had some dark days within the last decade.
The 49ers' record in last eight years is as follows: 4-12 (2005) ,7-9 (2006) ,5-11 (2007), 7-9 (2008), 8-8 (2009), 6-10 (2010), 13-3 (2011), 11-4-1(2012). Don't get me started on their abysmal 2-14 season in 2004, which led to the 49ers selecting quarterback Alex Smith with the first overall selection in the subsequent draft.
Gore was sensational in those years, and often the only semi-recognizable player in a 49ers uniform. And did he complain? Nope. His character wouldn't allow it.
Like his style of play, Gore is a bruiser, both on the football field and in life. His quiet demeanor is reflective of his patience and diligence in between the tackles. Losing was still unacceptable in his books, but all it took was some patience. And boy did it pay off in the last two seasons.
Even now, with the San Francisco 49ers headed to their first Super Bowl since 1995, it isn't Gore at the center, but rather young quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.
Colin Kaepernick has been a media darling, and rightfully so. However, it was Gore and the 49ers' rushing attack that led San Francisco to a victory against the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship game. And even through all that, Gore still finds a way to credit Kaepernick for the team's success.
The man looks to credit anyone besides himself. It isn't because Gore shies away from the spotlight, but rather, he never looks for it. It is a craft he has perfected over his illustrious eight-year career.
In hindsight, Niners fans should view the helpless seasons they suffered in years past as a blessing rather than a curse. Without those years, we may have never seen the true character of Mr. Gore.
The resiliency, heart, and passion are attributes that can be easily shown in winners, but it's rare to show them when the chips are down as Gore has done over the years.
Only a few players have weathered the storm.
The 49ers should be ecstatic to deliver a championship to not only the great city of San Francisco, but also to No. 21.
And as we all gear up for the Super Bowl, the discussions will likely center on either Ray Lewis and his impending retirement, or the unlikely nature of two brother coaches duking it out for old time's sake, but the real attention should be on Gore.
Gore has carried this 49ers team for years now, and the organization has finally decided to repay his efforts.
He is truly the unsung hero of the San Francisco 49ers.