Frank Gore, who will attack the Broncos Thursday night, is all the things we strive to be. Dependable. Diligent. Resilient. Durable. Resourceful. Tireless.
He’s the teammate we seek, but seldom find, on the field or at the office.
He’s low flash. He’s about as fast as a typical high school football star. He’s short. He’s never been the best running back in the NFL.
But he’s endured with a freshness and fierceness seldom seen in NFL history. He labors without ceasing. He watches his diet, refusing to indulge in pizza with his teammates. He’s survived on his will more than his talent.
On Sunday, the 34-year-old Gore carried 36 times in a raging Western New York blizzard against the Bills. Think of it: The Colts placed the burden of their offense on the shoulders of the NFL’s oldest running back. He gained 130 yards, but could not quite deliver victory.
Gore, a native of Miami, had never before played in snow. And he had never before carried the ball 36 times. Older men inhabit NFL rosters. Tom Brady is 40. Drew Brees is 38. But they don’t endure the constant brutality of playing running back, a position that sends even the strongest of men to early retirement.
“I’m doing something that I still love,” Gore said, explaining his long run through the NFL. “They said I should have been done. Everybody said I should have been done but I still have the opportunity to compete. .. .I still love the game.”
The NFL version of Gore is not the version that might have been. Gore runs a pedestrian 4.58 40. He’s broken only one run for more than 50 yards in his 3,175 carries for the 49ers and Colts.
Remember, Gore arrived in the NFL in 2005 after surgeries to repair ACL tears in both his knees. As a freshman at Miami, before the injuries, he averaged 9.1 yards per carry. He lost a step, and maybe two, to the surgeries, but gained career-sustaining hunger.
“I look at it as God wanted me to go a different route,” Gore said in 2013. “Before I got injured, football was very easy, I didn’t have to work out. I guess He wanted me to work hard and appreciate the game that He blessed me with the talent to do. That’s one thing I focus on.”
Gore talks constantly about work, but it’s not just talk. Jamel Singleton will vouch for this truth.
Singleton coached running backs at Air Force, where he transformed Chad Hall from unreliable fumbler to one of the dangerous Mountain West runners of the 21st century. In 2016, Singleton moved from the college ranks to the Colts.
First day in his office, Singleton looked out the window at the Colts practice field. There, he could see Gore sweating through drills. Gore was alone, and training camp was four months away.
“Frank Gore is unbelievable,” Singleton told me. “Just unbelievable. Nobody works like Frank Gore.”
Broncos fans have painful memories of Gore at peak strength. On New Year’s Eve day in 2006, the final day of the NFL regular season, Gore and the 49ers arrived at Mile High with a 6-9 record and no shot at the playoffs. The Broncos were a disappointing 8-7, a year after finishing 13-3, but could crawl into the playoffs with a victory.
Gore buried the Broncos, gaining 153 yards on 31 carries, delivering gloom to the Front Range and hurrying the eventual departure of “coach-for-life” Mike Shanahan.
He also revealed a powerful running back destined for big things. Gore, using his low-flash style, has gained 13,827 yards, fifth on the NFL’s all-time list.
Still, he’s never quite become the football celebrity he deserves to be. He came achingly close. Gore was spectacular for the 49ers against the Ravens in Super Bowl 47. (Those Ravens, of course, had upset the Peyton Manning-led Broncos in the playoffs.) Gore rushed for 110 yards on 19 carries, or 5.79 per touch.
In the signature moment of his career, Gore sprinted 33 yards to the Ravens 7-yard-line just before the two-minute warning. The 49ers, trailing by five, were in the shadow of the goal line, and NFL supremacy, and Gore and Colin Kaepernick would have reigned as lead heroes.
But the drive fizzled, and Gore remained in the shadows.
This might be his final run with the NFL bulls. He’s talking about moving to an NFL front office. In retirement, he might even eat pizza.
His youthful teammates once watched him on TV and on Madden video games. He was their go-to player on fantasy football teams.
Even in twilight, Gore is a dependable, noble pick this week for your fantasy team. Think about picking the old man.