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Since he was drafted in 2008 out of Rutgers, the Ravens have made the playoffs every season, including three trips to the AFC championship game. But it ended there. This season, they got over that hump with a major upset at New England.

“It’s been a great journey for me,” Rice said. “I just have a lot in my life.”

He’s rushed for more than 1,000 yards four years in a row and is just as valuable in the passing game, also getting more than 60 receptions each of those seasons. Describing himself, he uses terms like “complete player” and “all-purpose guy,” both of which are right on the mark.

In a November game at San Diego, Rice provided one of the most memorable plays of 2012. With the Ravens down by three and facing fourth-and-29, he hauled in a pass just past the line of scrimmage, swerved away from three defenders, broke a tackle that would have clinched the victory for the Chargers and lunged just beyond the first-down stripe for a 30-yard gain.

The Ravens kicked a tying field goal, then won the game in overtime.

As for Gore, his numbers are equally impressive _ more than 1,000 yards on the ground six of the last seven seasons, as well as becoming San Francisco’s career leader in rushing touchdowns.

“We always credit Frank with the tough yards,” Miller said. “He doesn’t get the easy runs. It’s up the middle, three or four yards a carry. But he just continues to move the chains. That’s why we’re here.”

Even so, both running backs are a bit overlooked heading into the title game.

In San Francisco, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the pistol offense are all the rage. For Baltimore, much of the attention is focused on retiring linebacker Ray Lewis and quarterback Joe Flacco, who has finally escaped his playoff demons.

“When you look at the criticism that Flacco has been through, and you see what a young quarterback like Kaepernick is doing, I would make them the headlines, too,” Rice said. “I’m just being honest.”

But, chances are, Rice and Gore will have a significant impact on the outcome Sunday, especially since their rookie backups _ LaMichael James in San Francisco, Bernard Pierce in Baltimore _ emerged as major threats late in the season and playoffs, taking some of the load off the two starters.

“It keeps me fresh,” Gore said. “Early in my career, I probably wouldn’t have liked it. Now, it gets me ready for the fourth quarter. When the defense is wearing down, that’s when I get going.”

No matter who’s hoisting the trophy at the end of the game, Gore and Rice will remain fans of each other.

“We don’t have to hit each other,” Rice quipped. “I’d like to win on Sunday. I don’t want to see him do good on our defense. But any other time I watch Frank Gore do well, I’m happy for him.”

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