The best part about it? They were both wearing white t-shirts and hats that said 2012 Conference Champions.
Gore and Kaepernick led the resurgent 49ers offense in a scintillating comeback over the top-seeded Falcons, as they overcame an early 17-0 deficit and won 28-24 to reach the sixth Super Bowl in franchise history.
“We’re tough,” Gore said. “It’s hard to break us. If we’re down, we’re not giving up. We’re going to keep fighting until the fourth quarter and until the game says double zero.”
If anyone knows about being tough it’s Gore.
The four-time Pro Bowler has overcome serious knee injuries and surgeries and endured through six years without a winning season to start his career. But minutes after the victory, Gore was quick to label it one of the best days of his life.
Likewise, his coach Jim Harbaugh was quick to label Gore as one of the game’s all-time greats.
“I really believe he’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday,” Harbaugh said. “He’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever met. Tremendous performance by Frank.”
In the biggest victory of his life, Gore carried the ball 21 times for 90 yards and two touchdowns. He didn’t break off any big runs, but he was his usual, consistent self, slicing and dicing the defense up the middle.
The 49ers faced a 24-14 deficit coming out of the locker room at halftime, but Kaepernick and Gore guided the team on a quick, 82-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown run from Gore.
“We’re built for this type of game,” Gore said. “We came in here and didn’t have our head down. Coach Harbaugh and Vernon came in and brought us together. We just had to take it one play at a time. Offense, when we go back out there we’ve got to strike. Defense, you got to make plays. That’s what happened.”
Gore put the finishing touches on the comeback with 8:23 left in the game. The 49ers started the drive with a short field, opening the series at the Atlanta 38-yard line thanks to a 20-yard punt return by
Six plays later, Gore went around right tackle and burst through the goal line, giving the 49ers their first and only lead of the game. After the touchdown, Gore busted out his own variation of the “Dirty Bird” dance, made famous by former Falcon Jamal Anderson, in the back of the end zone.
“It’s been a long eight years,” Gore said. “We’ve been scrubbing, scrubbing and scrubbing with the same guys in the locker room. We finally got the right guys in front of us to lead us. We kept working and now we’re where we want to go. We’ve got one more.”
Just as Gore was appreciative of his teammates’ determination and drive, they appreciated all he brings to the team in the huddle and beyond. Twelve-year veteran center
“He’s the heart and soul of this offense,” Goodwin said. “Great player. He did a great job running the rock and he’s probably our emotional leader. I’m happy for him to get this opportunity.”
The Kaepernick-Gore tandem in the backfield certainly poses problems for opposing defenses. Pick your poison.
On Sunday, the Falcons often used a spy package to keep an extra eye on Kaepernick, who rushed for an NFL quarterback record of 181 yards in the Divisional Round win against Green Bay. So as Atlanta focused on Kaepernick, the smart signal-caller took a back seat to Gore on read option plays, often handing the ball off to Gore.
Both Kaepernick and Gore said the option scheme opened up the middle of the field for the 49ers, allowing for Gore to sneak his way through the defense on his way to a big day.
Kaepernick, meanwhile, carried the ball just twice for 21 yards. And he couldn’t have been happier.
“When Frank’s running for 5, 6, 7 yards, it’s not hard to be patient at all,” Kaepernick said. “I’ll keep giving it to him if he’s going to keep running like that.”
As the 49ers boarded their plane back to the Bay Area, the televisions were tuned to the AFC Championship game between the Patriots and Ravens. San Francisco already did its end of the deal, now it’s time for one last countdown to kickoff.
“I couldn’t be any more proud. I wouldn’t want any other group to go with. I love these guys to death.”