Running back Frank Gore admitted to crying in the players' parking lot after a brutal loss his rookie season. Gore was selected by the 49ers out of the University of Miami in the third round of the 2005 draft. He was used to winning.
But after a particularly galling 34-31 defeat against Dallas at home that year, Gore saw players yucking it up in the parking lot. That's when he called his cousin, Rodney Best, and just broke down. Gore couldn't believe players were laughing after losing. For the next six seasons, Gore suffered through losses with the rest of his teammates, and he moved through the locker room like someone carrying a heavy burden. At times, the frowning Gore seemed almost morose.
Now with the 49ers at 6-1, Gore is a changed man. He smiles and even jokes. When reporters huddled around him Monday after San Francisco's fifth consecutive win, a 20-10 humbling of Cleveland, Gore was told the 49ers could possibly wrap up the division by Thanksgiving.
Gore shot back, "For real?" His flashing eyes and instant smile at the revelation had reporters busting up, which was probably a Gore first -- getting the media to laugh.
Later when the group migrated to interview rookie fullback Bruce Miller, Gore peered over the shoulders of the press and called Miller a "mini-Tom Rathman." Rathman was the 49ers' hard-nosed fullback during the Super Bowl-winning 1980s, and he now serves as the team's running backs coach.
Gore is relishing the winning, particularly with those who have been through the rough years. Gore often has confabs with quarterback Alex Smith and guard Adam Snyder, two players who were members of Gore's 2005 draft class. And Gore feels a kinship with another long-suffering part of the 49ers community -- the fans.
"The fans, they are happy, and I'm happy for them," Gore said Monday. "There's been some rough years, and they've always been there, and now we're doing something really great for them."
--As the 49ers try to figure out how good they are, one nettlesome issue has surfaced particularly over the last two games. The team has been unable to strike on a big play in the passing game.
Quarterback Alex Smith had ample opportunity in the 20-10 win over the Browns, but he overthrew wide receiver Michael Crabtree three times. However, Crabtree and Smith did hook up for a 41-yard gain in the third quarter. Nevertheless, with defenses geared up to stop the 49ers' power run game, the deep pass appears open, but not if the 49ers can't hit the big play.
Coach Jim Harbaugh admitted he'd like to hit on some more big hitters and he listed one of the missed long passes as a mistake that took place during the game. The other included a reverse late in the game that lost yardage.
Harbaugh also intimated that he'd like to hit on the long passes because Crabtree is getting himself open. In the last two games, the former top-round pick has been thrown to 24 times. He's caught 14 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. With his production, his punishing blocking down field and fearlessness over the middle, Harbaugh believes Crabtree's prima donna reputation is misplaced.
He said, "I really think Michael's been playing great football the last three weeks, (he) just keeps getting better and more comfortable. His abilities are shining through and he's a consummate team type of guy the way he's blocked."
Harbaugh also said he's been the leader of the team on going over the middle.
"Some guys just refuse to do that," Harbaugh said.
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