Friday September 25th, 2009

On a glorious sunshine-soaked afternoon last week in Santa Clara, Calif., 49ers running back Frank Gore stood outside the team's newly expanded locker room and squinted at the memory of his 22-carry, 30-yard performance four days earlier against the Cardinals.

"What are people saying about me?" he asked a visitor. "What do they think?"

The questions were strange considering Gore, a fifth-year pro, is the only player in franchise history to run for more than 1,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, ranks second to LaDainian Tomlinson with 3,833 yards rushing from 2006-08, and leads all rushers who have at least 700 attempts with an average of 4.72 yards a carry during that time.

But there is a side to the soft-spoken Gore that's comprised of equal parts insecurity and determination. It's important to him that people recognize his abilities because he has yet to get over going unselected until the third round of the 2005 draft, when running backs Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Cadillac Williams, J.J. Arrington and Eric Shelton were all taken ahead of him.

"I want to show everybody that I'm the best after seeing other guys go ahead of me who I felt I was better than," he says. "That's still heavy on my chest, a chip on my shoulder."

Gore didn't run like a man who was burdened by disappointment three days after making the comments. Instead he gashed the Seahawks for 207 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, leading the 49ers to a 23-10 victory and a 2-0 start that has them alone atop the NFC West standings. He also joined Barry Sanders as the only players in league history to score on multiple runs of 75 or more yards in the same game: Gore's TDs covered 79 and 80 yards, while Sanders' went for 80 and 82.

Gore easily would have broken his franchise record of 212 yards rushing but turned an ankle in the fourth quarter. X-rays were negative and he will play Sunday at Minnesota, against a defense that has ranked No. 1 against the run the past three seasons and has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 25 consecutive games, second only to Baltimore (36) for the longest active streak in the NFL.

Gore is not intimidated. He overcame two serious knee injuries at the University of Miami -- the reason for him falling to the third round -- to establish himself as one of the top young backs in the game. He's so conscientious that after the poor Week 1 showing against the Cardinals he phoned offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye Sr. at 2 a.m. to talk about the situation. He wanted to know what he could do to get things going. Should he talk to his teammates? Should he put in more work? Did he miss holes or blow assignments?

"I just needed to know," Gore says.

Raye, who was asleep when the phone rang, assured Gore everything would be fine. Then he dialed up the counter play that worked so effectively against the Seahawks in 2006, when Gore ran for a personal best 212 yards.

The arrival of Raye could be critical to Gore having another Pro Bowl season. Raye was reared in the same offensive system as Norv Turner, who in his only season as the Niners' coordinator in 2006 helped Gore set franchise records for carries (312), yards rushing (1,695), yards from scrimmage (2,180) and 100-yard rushing games (nine).

If last Sunday was an indication, Gore could be headed for the same type of year. And as he runs through the end zone and into the record books, he will carry a burden that motivates him instead of slows him. When asked when the pain of that April draft day of 2005 would leave him, Gore says: "It ain't."

He adds: "That's what keeps me going. I'm going to show them that I'm the best. When our careers are over, my numbers are going to be better than theirs, you know?"

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