As Frank Gore enters his 16th NFL season, he continues to chug along as one of the most reliable veterans on the roster. A Super Bowl appearance, countless individual records and tons of respect have been accumulated throughout his illustrious career as we take a look at the oldest active running back in the NFL.
Drafted out of the University of Miami in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft, Gore spent nine seasons in San Francisco and was the leading back for the 49ers until he left for the Colts in 2014.
Gore excelled from the word go and soon made his name in the league after his rookie season. In 2006 he posted his career best season in rushing attempts and yards and contributed 8 touchdowns in San Francisco’s 7-9 season. This trend continued over the next three seasons, with Gore consistently achieving 1000+ rushing yards but ending up in a team who couldn’t break .500. It’s worth noting that up to this point Gore had not yet missed a game, but more to come on that later!
2010 would be a backwards step for Gore and the 49ers, with his 853 rushing yards, 3 touchdowns and a fractured hip in week 12 going with a dismal 6-10 record that signalled the end of Mike Singletary’s tenure in charge. Enter Jim Harbaugh, who defied the anticipated ‘rebuilding season’ tag to combine a powerful defence with a great running game which not only included Gore but new dynamic quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
After a regular season record of 13-3 and defeating the Saints in the divisional playoffs, the 49ers came up short in the conference championship against the Giants in overtime. This was the start of things to come, with Gore playing an integral part of not only another winning season in 2012 (11-4-1) but his first and only trip to the Super Bowl. During the regular season finale against the Cardinals, Gore became the all-time franchise leader in rushing touchdowns with 51 and ended the season with 1214 rushing yards and 8 touchdowns. The post season is where he excelled though; 3 touchdowns in defeating the Packers and Falcons meant the 49ers faced the Ravens in Superbowl XLVII.
Despite another touchdown and a 100+ yard performance they came up short, losing 34-31 in a game often remembered by the partial power outage – the ‘blackout bowl’. Two more seasons in San Francisco followed, racking up 1000+ rushing yard seasons in both, but a conference championship defeat to the Seahawks in 2013 was the closest Gore ever got to playing in another Super Bowl.
After leaving the 49ers at the end of the 2014 season Gore signed with the Colts and had three relatively successful years in Indianapolis, before signing for the Dolphins for the 2018 season and the Bills in 2019.
In a career that has an average life span of 3.3 years for a running back, how has Gore managed 15? Drafted before the first iPhone was even released, Gore has become the most durable running back in the NFL. It is outrageous that he has only missed TWO regular season games in the past nine years.
His durability can partly be attributed to his low-end RB1 workload; averaging 236 rushing attempts per season throughout his career. Compared to all running backs for just 2019 he ranks 12th on the list. Of course, a nice workload isn’t the sole reason for his longevity. I was present at Wembley in 2013 to witness his exceptional vision and quick footwork in their win against the Jaguars mixed with a relentless running style that wears down even the best of defences.
Along the way Gore has amassed a plethora of personal achievements and honours that have far outweighed those he has gained with his teams. He is the 49ers’ all-time leader in rushing yards (11,073), most rushing yards in a single season, and most 100 yard games in a single season. Add to that a more than respectable five pro bowl selections and nine 1000 yards rushing seasons.
Being the third highest rushing leader of all time has surely guaranteed him to be a future hall-of-famer, right? For all his talent and exceptional stats, the fact remains that he has never been the league rushing champion, never earned first-team all-pro honours and has not won an MVP award. It’s true that running backs rarely win MVP awards, but during Gore’s career it has been won by Shaun Alexander in 2005, LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 and Adrian Peterson in 2012.
2020 and beyond
After a single season playing back up to Devin Singletary for the Bills, Gore has decided to reunite with Adam Gase in New York for the 2020 NFL season. Gase, who worked with Gore in San Francisco back in 2008 and again in Miami in 2018, feels that a 1-2 punch involving Gore and Le’Veon Bell is the most effective way to move the league’s 31st ranked offense in 2019 forwards.
It’s an offense led by quarterback Sam Darnold, who was just 8 years old when Gore entered the league. The question now is does Gore have what it takes, after so many punishing years, to inspire this Jets offense? Is he an integral part of the Jets’ running game or just an adequate back up to Bell? Both had career lows in 2019, with Gore’s 3.6 yards per carry bettering Bell’s 3.2, but it is hard to see Gore’s role as anything more than limited, with most of his work likely to come in short yardage situations.
Gore’s son, Frank Gore Jr, is set to suit up for Southern Mississippi this season as a freshman. Gore Jr, who is also a running back, is ranked as a 3-star prospect and is only a few years shy of being eligible for the draft. Will this be the first time that we see a father and son duo in the league playing simultaneously? This will obviously depend on how long Gore wants to play for, or if Gore’s body will allow him to continue beyond 2020. After playing for the Dolphins, Bills and the Jets, is it that far-fetched to imagine him completing the AFC East by suiting up for the Patriots in 2021?
As he comes to the twilight of his career, Gore is set to go down as one of the most durable players to ever play in the NFL, at possibly the most demanding position.