SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Frank Gore has long tried to pattern himself after Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, who played his entire 10-year career with the Detroit Lions.
Gore has seen other great running backs move from team to team while evolving into NFL stars _ and he never wanted to be one of them.
Loyal to the San Francisco 49ers since the day they drafted him in 2005 in the third round out of Miami, Gore hoped to stay put with the same franchise for the long haul, for his career.
That's what he plans to do now.
Gore signed his three-year contract extension with the Niners on Wednesday, keeping the two-time Pro Bowl running back with the team through 2014. He acknowledged it's a relief to no longer have the future weighing on his mind as he prepares for the regular season.
"The team stepped up and showed they wanted me to be here for my whole career," Gore said. "You rarely see running backs get to finish their career with the team that drafted them. I can say I'm one of them. ... It's a blessing that I'm a Niner, and I'm happy."
Gore agreed Tuesday to the $21 million deal, with $13.5 million in guaranteed money. In what was to be the final year of his contract, Gore had hoped to land a new deal before the Niners' Sept. 11 season opener at home against the defending NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks _ and he got it.
He has flourished in San Francisco, all the way across the country from his Miami home.
The 28-year-old Gore missed the final five games of 2010 after fracturing his right hip in a Monday night game at Arizona on Nov. 29. He is fully healthy and begins his seventh NFL season third on San Francisco's all-time rushing list, needing 931 yards to become No. 1.
While Gore has said it is one of his goals to pass the late Hall of Famer Joe Perry as San Francisco's career leader in yards rushing (7,344), he is determined to first do all he can to help turn the franchise back into a contender under first-year coach Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers finished 6-10 last season after a surprising 0-5 start, failing to reach the playoffs or post a winning record for the eighth straight year.
"We haven't been having winning seasons but the fans have been 100 percent behind us," Gore said. "I see Coach Harbaugh and this coaching staff, they're football guys. I have no doubt, I know we can get it done. I know we have talent in that locker room, probably more than any NFL team."
Harbaugh on Tuesday called Gore a "true 49er."
Gore's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, met face to face with the 49ers brass at team headquarters for much of the day Monday. Gore considered that progress, not to mention the fact general manager Trent Baalke and team President Jed York had said they wanted Gore to be a "49er for life."
Gore said he even spoke to Baalke about working for the organization when he's done playing.
During this process, when Gore clearly became anxious at times, he took his bosses on their word _ that they did indeed want No. 21 to stick around.
"Just knowing they wouldn't say anything unless it's true," Gore said. "I knew (Baalke) wouldn't say it if he didn't mean it. Since I've been here, they've been true to me."
Gore didn't play in last Saturday's 30-7 loss to the Houston Texans, and Harbaugh wouldn't say whether he would play in Thursday night's exhibition finale at San Diego. It's nothing new for him to sit, as Gore has rarely played during the preseason in the past.
Gore held out for the first four days of training camp, but hasn't shown any signs of being behind or hindered by the hip. He insists he is ready to go and feels like the "22-year-old Frank Gore" again.
Gore had sought a contract comparable to the $43 million, five-year deal running back DeAngelo Williams _ 20 days older than Gore _ recently received from the Carolina Panthers. That includes $21 million guaranteed. Williams missed the final 10 games last year with a sprained right foot.
Gore ran for 853 yards and three touchdowns last year before getting hurt. He also caught 46 passes for 452 yards and two TDs. His 24 100-yard rushing games are the most in 49ers history.
Gore follows two other 49ers stars to receive big contracts before the start of a new season.
Tight end Vernon Davis signed a five-year extension worth $37 million overall, including $34 million guaranteed, a night before the 2010 season opener at Seattle. That made him the highest-paid tight end in NFL history.
In May of last year, All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis received a $50 million, five-year contract extension that takes him through the 2016 season and includes $29 million in guaranteed money. He earns $10 million per season.
Gore and the rest of the 49ers will wear Perry's No. 34 on their helmets this season. Perry, the first player with back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons and nicknamed "The Jet" for his sensational speed, died in April at age 84.
"Hopefully (I'll) get my name on the 10-year wall and break some more records out here," Gore said.
And Gore isn't ready to say he will call it a career when he hits the 10-year mark. He still has a chip on his shoulder from being a third-round pick, always eager to keep proving himself with his rigorous offseason workouts and attention to detail.
Even in practice, he tacks on a few extra yards to each carry.
"If my body's feeling good, I would love to play more," he said. "Because I love the game of football."
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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