Gore's coronation is championship celebration

It began like a lot of plays have for the 49ers over the past seven seasons, with Frank Gore lining up deep in the backfield and taking a direct handoff up the gut. From there, the powerful tailback has gone in myriad directions over the years to become the most prolific rusher in franchise history. He finally got there Sunday, riding the path that's transformed the Niners into NFC West champions.

Gore is the man who has blazed that trail, the one constant San Francisco's offense could count on during the seven tumultuous, roller coaster seasons since the two-time Pro Bowler joined the team in 2005.

The circuitous path to the top has seen Gore endure through three head coaches, five losing seasons, seven offensive coordinators, multiple injuries and the extreme disappointment of being a first-rate player on a second-rate team.

But even the lowest lows became vanquished memories Sunday at Candlestick Park, washed away by the greatness of Gore's double dose of accomplishment.

He's the new rushing king in San Francisco. And he's carrying the 49ers to the playoffs for the first time in his record-setting career, a place the franchise hadn't been in eight very long, hard and trying seasons.

Until now.

"This is such a great day for Frank," team president Jed York said in a jubilant 49ers locker room after the home team had stomped the St. Louis Rams 26-0 to give this once-proud franchise its first NFC West title and playoff berth since 2002.

"He's one of those guys that deserves to be up on that wall as one of the best players that has put on a 49ers uniform, and unfortunately we haven't had the success on the field to make him really noticeable in that light," York continued. "It's a great thing to have the first division (title) in such a long time and show Frank to the world that he's gained the most yards of any back in the history of the San Francisco 49ers."

It almost seemed appropriate Gore got there Sunday on a simple 2-yard run.

Except that it wasn't so simple. And for a grinder like Gore, that's a testament to the brilliance of San Francisco's new all-time leading rusher.

Gore's first carry of the second quarter saw the 217-pound dynamo take a middle handoff of which he has seen so many since coming to San Francisco. Needing just one more yard to pass Hall of Famer Joe Perry – who had held on as San Francisco's career rushing leader for the past 47 years – Gore's exceptional vision recognized in a split second that there was nothing doing inside.

In a sharp shift of direction incapable of most human beings, Gore instinctively broke the run outside. And even though the right side of the line was collapsing, Gore managed to get to the edge and turn the corner, getting something out of nothing to break Perry's record.

Though Gore had to work hard for his 73 yards rushing on 21 carries, he still gave several glimpses of the special quality that separates him from most other NFL running backs.

Gore flashed vintage form on a 20-yard burst late in the second quarter that set up the field goal that gave the Niners a 9-0 halftime lead.

Following fullback Bruce Miller to the right, Gore cut back inside at the line of scrimmage to find an opening and veered quickly to the right to find a running lane. At full speed, Gore cut back again in a flash and finished by plowing into a defender to tack on additional yardage at the end of the run.

"I actually went up to him after he had passed it and I tried to congratulate him," said Miller, a rookie who has become Gore's new regular backfield mate. "But he was like, ‘Forget that. Let's get the win.' That's the kind of guy Frank is. He's a team guy and all he wanted was to win the game and clinch the division. The rushing record came second."

Gore has done for the 49ers this season what he has done for them every other season as the team's leading rusher and go-to workhorse in the backfield.

But during his first six seasons – four of which finished with him rushing for 1,000 yards or more – it simply wasn't enough to take the Niners anywhere. Gore couldn't do it on his own.

Now he doesn't have to. The 49ers, finally, have built a team around their offensive star. And not a moment too soon.

Gore's playoff dream finally has been realized while he still has something left to give the 49ers as an elite NFL running back. That status may or may not last much longer, but the time is now and Gore will have at least one game on the postseason stage to show the world just how much he has meant to the Niners and what a great player he has become.

"It is a blessing," Gore said late Sunday afternoon, long after his teammates had cleared out of that celebratory San Francisco locker room.

Gore was the last player to speak with the media. He did so as a humbled man, speaking in hushed tones but wearing the glow of a winner and a smile that refused to leave his face.

Gore knows better than anybody what it took for the 49ers to get here, because he has been at the forefront of their slow climb back from the NFL abyss, and he has persevered through the injuries and disappointments and changing rosters that couldn't match him in quality and, hence, couldn't get the 49ers to the next level.

"There has been some tough years here, and now to get the opportunity to go to the postseason and to get to it early, like I said, that is a blessing," Gore said.

Gore gave thanks to God for allowing him to play a game he loves and to "have my name mentioned with some of the guys who were here before me." He also gave thanks to the offensive lineman "that have helped me get this record – the ones who are here now and the ones who were here before."

No matter where he or the 49ers go from here, Gore's name now will forever be mentioned among the great players in team lore. He's now at 7,396 rushing yards and counting, and Gore still has many more runs to add to his legend and numbers before he is through.

Gore still had one more run left Sunday even after the game had finished.

With playoff-starved fans still howling their approval as players walked off the field and disappeared into a tunnel toward the locker room, Gore grabbed a long wooden pole with a flag wearing the 49ers emblem attached to it.

Gore took off from one corner of the south end zone to the other, waving that flag with genuine emotion, sharing a moment he has waited his entire NFL life to arrive.

It was one of those poignant moments in sports that sends chills down the spine and transforms talented and inspirational running backs into veritable heroes.

And it set off a new wave of celebration that carried deep into the late afternoon at Candlestick, long after Gore had rushed his way to the top of the record book and then set out on the exciting new path that waits ahead for both him and the 49ers.

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