Gore's early Xmas gift: Starting in Pro Bowl
"I'm just happy," Gore repeated several times hours after it was announced he and guard Larry Allen had been selected to the NFC squad, with 49ers cornerback Walt Harris being selected as a first alternate and defensive lineman Bryant Young named as a second alternate. "I feel like I deserve it," Gore continued. "I worked hard all season, worked hard all offseason. Right now, battling all the injuries, not getting to show my talent (because of the injuries), I just feel right now that God was with me and gave the opportunity to show people what I could do, and it happened. Leading rusher in the NFC … I'm just happy about how everything is going this year." Tiki Barber of the New York Giants and Steven Jackson of the St. Louis Rams were the other running backs named to the NFC squad, but they must stand down to Gore as reserves. The NFC's leading rusher with 1,491 yards - 134 more than Barber and 255 more than Jackson - Gore ranks third in the NFL behind San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson (1,626 rushing yards) and Kansas City's Larry Johnson (1,516). Gore's 5.5 average per carry is the best among all 24 NFL running backs who have rushed for 783 yards or more. Tomlinson was named as the AFC's starting running back, while Johnson and Pittsburgh's Willie Parker were selected as the AFC's reserves at the position. So now, after all the adversity he has had to overcome to get to this point, Gore clearly is gaining recognition around the football world as one of the NFL's elite running backs. And that means something. "It means a lot to me," Gore said. "LaDainian Tomlinson, LJ … These are great running backs. This is my first year (as a featured starter) with the other top backs in the league and I'm in the top three. I know I still have a lot of learning to do and so does our team, but this allows people to know that what we've got going on here in the (San Francisco) Bay Area is just going to get better." Even while he has been shattering team records this season - with two games remaining, he's only 79 yards away from Garrison's Hearst's franchise single-season record - Gore said he never gave much thought to the Pro Bowl. But now that the honor has been bestowed upon him, Gore made a point to thank his teammates, and particularly fullback Moran Norris and the offensive linemen who have helped pave the way in front of him for all those yards, and without whose efforts Gore said his accomplishments wouldn't have been possible. Gore also gave thanks for the opportunity presented to him by San Francisco coaches, who traded away incumbent starter Kevan Barlow to the New York Jets in August, clearing the way for Gore to become a featured, every-down back. "That surprised me, but it let me know that the coaches were behind me," Gore said. "It made me feel 100 percent behind coach Nolan and everybody else. (Nolan) saw something in me despite my past (history of injuries), and he gave me the chance." Gore came into the NFL with questions about his durability after he had major reconstructive surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate ligaments in each of his knees during college. He also had multiple surgeries last year to repair torn labrums in each of his shoulders after his first season with the 49ers, when Gore became the first rookie in 15 years to lead the team in rushing. "I know there was a lot of doubters out there (wondering) if I could take it physically, being the starter," Gore said. "People kind of forgot about me with my injuries … I'm just thankful I got the opportunity to show the skills that God gave me." Gore already has broken the previous franchise single-game record with 212 yards rushing in November against Seattle. His eight 100-yard games this season also breaks the previous team record held by both Roger Craig and Hearst. Gore gets an opportunity to go after another of Hearst's records when the 49ers host the Arizona Cardinals on Christmas Eve. Hearst's 1,570 yards rushing in 1998 is one of the most glamorous records in 49ers annals, but in typical fashion, Gore said he isn't looking that far ahead. "Really, I haven't thought about it yet," Gore said. "But I know, if I run the ball successfully, most likely I'll get it. If that happens, it would be great. It would be a real good Christmas present." Just like the early Christmas present he just received.
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