NaVorro Bowman is Back and Ready to Make Return on National Stage

Family. 

That's what NaVorro Bowman thought about most when reflecting on his last 18 months during Labor Day weekend.

The San Francisco 49ers defensive leader spent that year and a half sidelined in a grueling rehab process, and it was his loved ones that helped him get through it.

"It's really about my family, man," Bowman said. "They have so much support for me and what I'm doing. They're so excited to see me back out there on the field. I've just been reminiscing about that. On Monday night, knowing that my family is watching me, I want to go out there and give them a show."

Now Bowman is back, ready to return to regular season football and play his first official game inside the 49ers new home at Levi's® Stadium. Gone are the fears of the knee injury he suffered in the 2013 NFC Championship game against the Seattle Seahawks.

A grand stage has been set for Bowman's triumphant return against the Minnesota Vikings: primetime lights, a national "Monday Night Football" audience and the debut of the San Francisco's black alternate uniforms.

None of that, however, will be on the linebacker's mind when he takes the field. It's all business for No. 53, and he's just happy to be back in the office.

"It's not a big deal," Bowman said. "I got the kinks out in the preseason. I'm just excited to lead this team. Us being so young, we have a lot to prove, but it's going to be a great year for us."

Getting the kinks out is a modest way to summarize Bowman's preseason performances. Against the Dallas Cowboys, Bowman recorded a tackle on all three snaps he played. The following week against the Denver Broncos, the linebacker sacked Peyton Manning twice and logged nine total tackles in just two quarters of play. 

For the linebacker, it was the exhibition games that served as his true return.

"I just plan on going out there, making plays for the team and being free; not trying to focus on it being my first game back," Bowman explained.

Going through halftime and stepping back on the field for the third quarter will be the final hurdle Bowman has to clear. He's yet to experience that break in action and mentioned following the Broncos game that he was anxious to see how his knee would respond.

Adrenaline, Bowman said, will be as good of a technique as any to make sure his knee remains ready for the second half.

"I'm just going to try and keep it as loose as possible," the linebacker said. "I think I'll be jacked up so much that I won't really have that problem that I was thinking about. Hopefully the emotions and everything will take over."

Bowman won't be the only superstar making his return to football on Monday. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson missed all but one game in 2014, albeit for an entirely different reason.

The matchup between the two will highlight all the game previews leading up to kickoff. "All-Pro Bo" vs. "All-Day AP."

Bowman said that facing the 2012 NFL MVP provides the perfect challenge for his first regular season action.

"He hasn't played in a while either, so I'm sure he'll be jacked up to run the ball hard," Bowman said. "He's a great 'back. I'm excited about the matchup. This is the 'back that you want to face just to see if I'm back to the level that I was at."

There's a phrase often thrown around that, "game recognizes game." It's the idea of mutual respect between two players who stand atop their respective sport.

In his first two outings since the 2013 NFC Championship game, the 49ers linebacker tallied 12 tackles and two sacks. View the best photos from Bowman's return.

Bowman and Peterson would certainly qualify by those standards, and the linebacker made it very clear on Friday that he has plenty of regard for the Vikings ball carrier.

"He has a motor," said Bowman when asked to provide a scouting report on Peterson. "He's a hard runner. You can tell he's trying to get every single yard that there is to get out there. That's one of the things we love as fans, is to see a running back giving his all every single play."

The admiration is indeed mutual. Also on Friday, Peterson spoke to the media in Minnesota and was asked about Bowman.

Peterson, who tore his ACL in 2011, can relate to Bowman's arduous rehab process. With that knowledge, the running back said that the tape doesn't lie: Bowman still looks very much NaVorro Bowman.

"I haven't had the opportunity to talk to him, but I reached out to him once or twice when he was going through the rehab," Peterson said. "Just watching him this preseason, man, it doesn't look like he is coming off an ACL injury.

"With that, I have so much respect for him because I know how hard it is to get up every morning and push yourself to get back to 100 percent. The way that he's playing is testimony to the hard work he has put in. I'm happy for him. "

When Peterson returned in 2013, the season after his ACL tear, the running back ran for a ridiculous 2,097 yards and 12 touchdowns, nearly breaking Eric Dickerson's single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards.

It's still too early to make any magnificent proclamations about what Bowman's 2015 season will look like from a statistical point of view, but the precedent is there.

Regardless, for Bowman and the Faithful alike, Monday night will be a reunion not soon forgotten.

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