Hearst, in his ninth-year out of Georgia, has battled back from an ankle injury
that was thought to be career-threatening. He has missed the past two seasons
and has endured five surgeries on his ankle. Hearst has fought back to become
the only player in NFL history to rush for 1,000 yards after a two-year layoff.
"It's the best story of the year, and the best story around here for a while," said 49ers coach Steve Mariucci. "He means a whole lot to this team in the locker room, on the practice field, in the games - he's a leader and an inspiration to everybody."
Hearst earned his second career Pro Bowl selection after finishing fifth in the NFC in rushing yards in 2001. Hearst finished the regular season with 1,206 yards rushing on 252 carries and scored four touchdowns. The former Georgia Bulldog and the 49ers are heading back to the playoff this season, the first time since 1998, which was the last time Hearst was in uniform for the 49ers. The 49ers are 35-10 in the regular season since 1997 when he is in the lineup.
This is the second time Hearst has been named NFL Comeback Player of the Year, but the first time he has been named by The Associated Press. Hearst also earned the Victor Award as NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1995 after returning from a severe knee injury.
The Associated Press NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award was established in 1998. QB Doug Flutie (Buffalo) won the inaugural award in 1998, followed by Hearst's teammate DT Bryant Young, who won the award in 1999. DE Joe Johnson (New Orleans) won the award last year. The 49ers are the only team to have two players receive the honor.
Pro Dawgs Notes
- Brandon Miller and Brett Millican signed Thursday with the Falcons and both will be allocated to NFL Europe. Both were out of football this season after being released by the Colts during training camp.
- Kendrell Bell was named the Steelers' Rookie of the Year in a unanimous vote by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association. Bell was recently named a first alternate to the Pro Bowl after leading the Steelers with 15.5 tackles for loss and tying for third with 88 tackles. Bell is a leading candidate for the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year award that will be announced on Tuesday. Related Article
- Hines Ward eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in receiving yards for the first time in his four year career with 1,003 yards on 94 receptions. Ward led the Steelers and was 5th in the AFC in receptions.
- Saints LB Charlie Clemons tied for 4th place in the NFL with 13.5 sacks, a career high. This season was Clemons's first season as a starter after three seasons as a backup with the Rams and sitting out last season with an Achilles injury.
- Rookie Richard Seymour saw action at fullback during goal line situations in the Patriots' final regular season game against Carolina. Seymour started 10 games at nose tackle and made 3.5 sacks and 45 combined tackles.
- Robert Edwards worked out for the Miami Dolphins earlier this week in his bid to comeback from a knee injury sustained in January of 1999. Edwards sat out this season after being released by the Patriots in August. He reportedly impressed the Dolphins with his workout but has not been signed for next year.