Motivation comes easily for Raheem Mostert. It’s right there on a piece of paper he inspects before every game.
“I actually still have the cut dates that I look at,” the 49ers’ running back said. “When I got cut, been on several different teams and the journey's been crazy.''
He knows the teams, and the years he was released, by heart:
Eagles – 2015.
Dolphins – 2015.
Ravens – 2015.
Browns – 2015.
Jets – 2016.
Bears – 2016.
Throw in the fact that he wasn’t even drafted when he came out of Purdue in 2015, and the 27-year-old running back has all the incentive he needs.
By now, everyone in the NFL knows who Mostert is, especially the teams that gave up on him. By now, they know he is one step away from winning a Super Bowl championship.
The running back is coming off a record-setting game in the 49ers’ 37-20 win over the Packers in last Sunday’s NFC Championship Game at Levi’s Stadium. He rushed for 220 yards, the most in franchise history in a postseason game, and scored four touchdowns to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2012 season.
“He has earned everything that he's gotten,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who was behind the strategy to rely heavily on Mostert against the Packers. “He's just such a good person, and for him to help us as much as he has on offense … I can't say enough good things about Raheem.”
Mostert rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, the most in the first half of a playoff game since Keith Lincoln of the San Diego Chargers rushed for 176 in the 1963 AFL Championship Game against the Boston Patriots.
That’s right. It’s been that long since any running back had done something that good. The Chargers no longer are in San Diego and it’s now the New England Patriots.
Tevin Coleman, who played for Shanahan when they were together in Atlanta, had 22 carries for 105 yards and two touchdowns against Minnesota the previous week in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs. So it's uncertain whether Mostert or Coleman will be the featured back against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV next Sunday in Miami.
Or perhaps it will be a combination of the two, assuming Coleman can recover from the shoulder dislocation he suffered against the Packers.
Mostert will do as asked, now that he has found a more permanent home with the 49ers after being passed over a half-dozen times.
“I was a little discouraged in 2015 at the end of that year,” Mostert told reporters. “I was with the Browns. My wife, she’s from Cleveland, so we thought that we had something in the bag with me making the roster and then coming in to training camp. In preseason, I had a little bit of an injury, so I missed the last preseason game. I thought I was on the roster. I made the 53-man roster, was celebrating with my family and then the next day, I got cut.”
Credit Mostert’s wife, Devon, for helping to keep the dream alive.
“I just wanted to show the world what I can do,” Mostert said. “It was just one of those things where I really had a talk with my wife and I was just like, 'Hey, what do you think should happen?' after I got cut. She said, 'Hey, if you love your job, if you love this sport, you will do anything for it and if you love what you do, you will do anything for it.' That was my philosophy from there on out.”
Mostert has been rewarded for his persistence. He became the 49ers’ leading rusher in the regular season with 772 yards and eight touchdowns after Coleman and Matt Breida missed time with injuries, and now he had his Timmy Smith moment in the NFC title game.
Don’t remember Smith? He’s the unheralded Redskins running back who came out of nowhere to rush for 204 yards and two touchdowns in the Redskins’ 42-10 win over the Broncos in Super Bowl XXII after the 1987 season. It was Smith’s first NFL start.
There’s no more anonymity for Mostert, who will be very much on the minds of the Chiefs. But that’s fine with Mostert, because all he’s ever asked for is an NFL home. He found it with the 49ers.
''Not everybody can deal with that type of stress and pain and agony that I went through,'' he said. "But I kept the faith in myself and whoever gave me the opportunity. And this organization has done a great job with that.”
Raheem Mostert this season:
Category .......... Regular season .......... Postseason
Att.-Yds. .......... 137-772 .............41-278
Avg. ............. 5.6 ... 6.8
TD ......... 8 ..... 4
Rec.-Yds. ........ 14-180 ............ 2-6
TD ......... 2 ........ 0