NEW ORLEANS – Frank Gore never lost hope.
Not through all the injuries, all the losing early in his career.
That perseverance finally paid off this season for the San Francisco running back.
The 29-year-old Gore helped the 49ers reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995, a triumph that is especially sweet given all he’s been through. He tore up both knees in college. He underwent major surgery on both shoulders after he got to the pros. He lost part of another season to a hip injury.
Not to mention, Gore didn’t experience winning in the NFL until his seventh year.
“It was tough, real tough,” he said Monday. “It was tough coming to work, especially for me coming from a winning program [Miami] in college. I was never used to losing. I used to take it hard.”
One of his teammates, fullback Bruce Miller, has noticed the determination in Gore’s eyes as the team prepares to face the Baltimore Ravens in the title game Sunday.
“It means a lot to him,” Miller said. “In meetings and at practice, you can see how intense and focused he is. He’s worked hard for it.”
The Ravens have their own threat out of the backfield.
Like Gore, Baltimore’s Ray Rice has been overshadowed by more prominent teammates on the run to the title game, namely quarterback Joe Flacco and retiring linebacker Ray Lewis.
But both Gore and Rice have the potential to take control with their contrasting styles.
Gore is a power back, someone who can churn out the tough yards between the tackles. That style has served him well; he’s run for more than 1,000 yards six of the last seven seasons and become San Francisco’s career leader in rushing touchdowns.
“We always credit Frank with the tough yards,” Miller said. “He doesn’t get the easy runs. It’s up the middle, three or four yards a carry. But he just continues to move the chains. That’s why we’re here.”
Rice is more of a slasher, a player who can dart through the smallest of openings and break off a big gain. He’s also a major weapon in the passing game, hauling in more than 300 throws his first five years in the league.
Gore said he’s impressed by his Ravens’ counterpart.
“He does it all,” Gore said of Rice. “I love to watch him. I watched him in college. When I saw him in college, I knew he was going to be a pretty good back in the league.”
2012-13: 282 attempts, 1,214 yards, 8 TDs
Career: 1,911 attempts, 8,839 yards, 51 TDs
2012-13: 257 attempts, 1,143 yards, 9 TDs
Career: 1,216 attempts, 5,520 yards, 33 TDS