All the sweat, tears and pain of the past several years had to feel worth it Sunday for two running backs that many considered to be finished as recently as a year ago.
Garrison Hearst and Ki-Jana Carter arrived in the NFL with similar expectations and both must have felt a kindred spirit of sorts after their performances in victories for their teams.
It's almost fitting that both were teammates, ever so briefly, in Cincinnati in 1996.
Hearst, sidelined the two previous seasons after breaking his ankle in a playoff game against Atlanta in 1998, rushed for 106 yards in 12 carries and scored two touchdowns in the San Francisco 49ers' 40-21 win at Indianapolis on Sunday.
It was the latest inspiring performance in a season that has seen Hearst rebound from four surgeries and circulatory problems that caused a degenerative bone condition in his left ankle.
"Everybody in here loves that guy," 49er guard Ray Brown told the Contra Costa Times recently. "Everybody wants to see him do well. It's a miracle in medicine that he's bounced back."
Hearst seems a lock for the comeback player of the year honor. It would be the second time he has won the award after being recognized in 1995 when he rushed for 1,070 yards two seasons after suffering a knee injury.
Carter reached a milestone when he scored his first touchdown since 1999 during the Washington Redskins' 13-3 victory at Philadelphia.
Carter, who entered the game when Stephen Davis injured his back in the first quarter, gave the Redskins a 7-0 lead on a five-yard run early into the second quarter. He finished with 56 yards in 18 carries.
Selected by Cincinnati with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1995 draft, Carter never established himself with the Bengals. He dislocated his right knee in the third game of the 1999 season and hadn't played until this season. That was after fracturing his wrist in 1998 and suffering a torn knee ligament on the third carry of his first exhibition game.
"Everybody wrote me off, but I knew what kind of player I am," Carter said. "I had confidence in myself. I knew I'd get another shot."
When the Dallas Cowboys put together their best quarter of the season and nearly pulled off the biggest comeback in team history, Emmitt Smith wasn't part of it.
Instead, he was on the sideline with his helmet off Thanksgiving day when the Cowboys scored three touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 26-24 loss to the Denver Broncos.
What made his absence so strange was that two of the scores were one-yard runs by Smith's backup, Troy Hambrick. Those short touchdowns are the signature of Smith's career. He has 43 one-yarders among his 145 scoring runs, the most in NFL history.
"No one asked me to go into the game, but I didn't press the issue," said Smith, who hasn't scored this season.
Smith has 486 yards this season, jeopardizing his streak of 10 consecutive 1,000-yard seasons. He last missed 1,000 yards in 1990, his rookie year.
Mora, Mora, Mora
San Francisco's Jim Mora would have preferred to be any place other than Indianapolis on Sunday.
He would have rather been with his family or on some other NFL sideline--any sideline except the one across from his father, Jim, the Indianapolis Colts' head coach.
"It's not a lot of fun, quite honestly," said Mora, the 49ers' defensive coordinator. "We're really trying to focus on the game more so than the relationship."
The elder Mora concurred.
"It ain't nice," he said. "The only thing that's nice about it is that I get to see him. I'll see him along with my other son, but that's the only thing that's nice about it."
The younger Mora, who bears a different middle name than his father and does not use junior, seemed to have his hands full against the Colts. His job was to contain the NFL's No. 3-ranked offense with one of the league's youngest defensive units.
But San Francisco's Mora did something right as the 49ers routed the Colts, 41-20, and forced Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning into four interceptions.
The odds finally caught up to the Cleveland Browns in their third year of expansion.
For the first time since returning to the NFL in 1999--a span of 41 games--the Browns were not underdogs going into Sunday's game against Cincinnati.
The Browns were six-point favorites against the Bengals, who defeated Cleveland, 24-14, in their previous meeting on Oct. 14.
Cornerback Corey Fuller wonders how the Browns could have been expected to beat the Bengals, who had won four of five against Cleveland since '99.
"Man, I don't know how they favored us against the Bengals," Fuller said with more than a little sarcasm. "The Bengals done beat us here, they done beat us there, they done beat us convincingly."
Final score Sunday: Cleveland 18, Cincinnati 0.
Compiled by Jim Barrero
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