Gore, Rice rush toward mutual respect

San Francisco, Baltimore running backs have different styles, stories but similar respect in their counterpart’s game

The Associated PressJanuary 29, 2013 

NEW ORLEANS — Ray Rice has known nothing but winning since he came into the NFL.

For Frank Gore, it took a while.

Two running backs with contrasting styles and back stories will be on display at this Super Bowl, but they have one thing in common — plenty of respect for each other.

“To battle through what he’s been through? He’s a warrior,” Rice said Monday evening, shortly after the Baltimore Ravens arrived in the Big Easy. “Hats off to my man, Frank.”

Gore, the leading rusher for the San Francisco 49ers, was similarly generous in his praise for Rice.

“He does it all. I love to watch him,” Gore said of his Ravens counterpart. “When I saw him in college, I knew he was going to be a pretty good back in the league.”

They both are.

But, boy, they sure took different paths to get here.

Gore, 29, has endured plenty of losses, personal heartache (losing his mother to kidney failure) and a startling string of injuries that might have broken a lesser man. He tore up both knees at the University of Miami, prompting him to wonder if “football wasn’t for me.” Shaking off doubts, he was drafted by the 49ers, but needed major surgery on both shoulders after his rookie season. Later, he lost part of another season to a hip injury.

Even harder to take, Gore played on a series of bad teams. Really bad teams. His first six seasons in the league, the 49ers failed to post a winning record — which was especially hard for him to take, considering he had known nothing but winning with the Hurricanes.

“It was tough, real tough,” Gore said. “I would see some guys — who are not here anymore — after we lost, and they would just be like, ‘Whatever.’ I was not used to that. If we lost one game at Miami, it was like our season was over.”

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.”

Gore’s style has served him well; he has run for more than 1,000 yards six of the past seven seasons and has become San Francisco’s career leader in rushing touchdowns.

For Rice, the road has been much smoother.

Since he was drafted in 2008 out of Rutgers, the Ravens have made the playoffs every season, including three trips to the AFC Championship game. This season, they got over that hump with a major upset at New England.

“I’ve been blessed and fortunate,” Rice said.

Rice is a slasher of a back, darting through the smallest of openings to break off big gains. He’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards four seasons in a row and is just as valuable in the passing game, recording more than 60 receptions each of those seasons, as well.

In a November game at San Diego, he provided one of the most memorable plays of 2012. With the Ravens down by three and facing a fourth-and-29 play, he hauled in a pass just past the line of scrimmage, swerved away from three defenders, broke a tackle that would have clinched the victory for the Chargers and lunged just beyond the first-down stripe for a 30-yard gain.

The Ravens kicked a tying field goal, then won the game in overtime.

All the warm and fuzzy feelings will be put on hold in the Super Bowl.

But no matter who hoists the trophy at the end of the game, Gore and Rice will remain fans of each other.

“We don’t have to hit each other,” Rice quipped. “I’d like to win on Sunday. I don’t want to see him do good on our defense. But any other time I watch Frank Gore do well, I’m happy for him.”

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