SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- He was dancing for a few seconds after scoring what would prove to be the winning touchdown in the NFC Championship Game.
Then, suddenly realizing it was out of character -- even when it meant a trip to the Super Bowl -- Frank Gore waved his arms as if to say "this isn't me" and stopped.
For Gore, the 49ers' all-time rushing leader and, some would say, spiritual leader, the celebration would be private, out of respect for a late mother who kept his dream alive and to former teammates who never made it this far.
Gore, 29, and nearly finished with his eighth season, is a contrast with so many modern athletes. He's quiet and almost too unassuming. When he speaks, as he did to a media mass Friday at the 49ers' training facility, it is so softly that even those next to him have difficulty hearing.
He still carries the burden of a difficult childhood. Two families in one home in Coral Gables, Fla. The embarrassment of dyslexia not immediately diagnosed. A single mother with kidney disease trying to feed Gore and his sister and brother.
Liz Gore was 46 when she died in September 2007, Frank's third year with the 49ers, and he still recalls the tears he shed in the locker room when the phone call came.
He's not specifically dedicating this Super Bowl to her memory, Gore said, because all of his accomplishments already have been aimed in that direction.
"Every time I step on a football field, I think of her," Gore said. "When I was a kid, she did everything she could to put food on the table and clothes on my back. So much hard work for me, my brother and sister. I know God blessed me with the talent I have, and that's why I try to do my best every day."
Gore is a reminder of how far the 49ers have come. He and Alex Smith were part of the 2005 draft as San Francisco tried to build after a 2-14 season. Not until Harbaugh arrived for 2011 did the 49ers end a streak of eight consecutive years without making the postseason.
"We knew we had the right guys in the locker room," Gore said. "Now we've got the right guy to lead us, and we're taking advantage of it."
Gore had an uneasy relationship with the pistol offense, installed this season for the benefit of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who ran it at the University of Nevada. In the pistol, the quarterback is only three yards behind center, with the running back behind him.
"I felt that's not real football at first," Gore said, "but it's helping us get to where we want to go and win it all. I come from Miami. It was like pro-style offense. I didn't think big of [the pistol]. But now I love it."
As a freshman at Miami, Gore was called one of the nation's best runners. But he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and after that healed, he tore the ACL in his right knee. Although he would run for more than 1,000 yards for the Hurricanes, NFL teams worried about his injuries and he fell to third in the 2005 draft.
With the 49ers, he fell on hard times, with abdominal strains, hip pointers, a broken hand and broken ribs. "I want to play," said Gore, who didn't miss a game this year despite the latter injury. "I'm a football player. I love the game."