He may only be 36 years old, but Frank Gore seems much older. He’s only been in the NFL two years longer than Adrian Peterson, yet an immense space separates the two future Hall of Famers. They’re significantly different players and people. However, their greatness is undeniable, something that hasn’t always been a given in Gore’s case.
Gore is in his 15th season, the same number of years Emmitt Smith played to set the NFL record in rushing yards. The 5-9, 212 lbs. running back is on his third team in as many years, and it’s the fourth team of his career. Ordinarily, that would signal the approaching end of a player’s career. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Gore kept playing though, trying to grind out one last ride.
Make no mistake, the end is coming for the Miami product who fell to the third round of the draft a decade and a half ago. It will only come when he wants it to, though. Father Time waits on Gore’s signal, not the other way around.
Perhaps it just feels unnatural to question Gore’s will and skill at this point. Coming out of college, Gore faced plenty of questions, especially about his durability. In the NFL, questions abounded when Gore’s productivity declined, leading to his departure from San Francisco, the place he’d called home for the first decade of his career.
Now, there is no denying that all of those questions were misplaced. They grasped at strings, attempting to justify misjudgments and poor decisions. It’s time for everyone to accept the inconvenient truth. Gore proved all of the doubters wrong. He outlasted everything, grinding through his troubles with determination and consistency.
In Week 12, on a six-yard run in the fourth quarter, Gore moved into third on the all-time rushing yards list, surpassing Barry Sanders’ mark of 15,269 yards. Only Walter Payton (16,726) and Emmitt Smith (18,355) have more career rushing yards than Gore’s 15,289. The move is the nail in the coffin of Gore’s Hall of Fame career. He won’t play long enough to pass Payton or catch Smith. This is his final resting place among the greats.
Despite all of his achievements, some people still don’t believe Gore belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They have some interesting points, especially when they point to Gore’s career accolades.
The veteran has gone to five Pro Bowls and was a Second Team All-Pro in 2006. Otherwise, Gore doesn’t have any accolades to speak of. He’s never led the league in rushing yards. He’s never been a great receiving threat or the best running back in the game. Yet, he is one of the most respected players at his position in NFL history, and he now separates three of at least the top five running backs of all-time on the career rushing yardage list.
His story is more than one of merely rushing yards, though. Gore ranks fourth all-time in yards from scrimmage with 19,155. He only trails Payton (21,264), Smith (21,579), and Jerry Rice (23,540). Gore is also ninth all-time in all-purpose yards, which is crazy when you consider that that statistical category includes return yardage. If he gains 100 yards before the end of the season, he will move into seventh place on that list.
Gore’s signature consistency has also contributed to his legacy and has overridden his lack of superlatives. He has rushed for 900 yards or more in 11 seasons. Smith hit the mark 14 times, which explains why he’s the all-time rushing leader. Payton and Sanders hit the mark ten times each. Peterson is currently at nine and counting. The great Jim Brown, Faulk, Franco Harris, and LaDainian Tomlinson all stopped at nine. Tomlinson retired after his age 32 season and is just four years older than Gore, but he’s been out of the league for eight seasons.
Other all-time great running backs didn’t even get as far as Tomlinson. Tony Dorsett stopped at eight. Eric Dickerson peaked at seven. Marcus Allen got six. Earl Campbell and O.J. Simpson lasted five. Injuries halted Terrell Davis at four. The moral of the story is that Gore’s longevity is rare, even among the greatest running backs in history.
Gore also stands up well to modern runners. For instance, DeMarco Murray won the 2014 Offensive Player of the Year award. Murray entered the NFL in 2011. He retired after 2017; his entire career encapsulated in Gore’s long march toward history. Steven Jackson, who ran for 1,000 or more yards in eight consecutive seasons, entered the league in 2004. Yet, he’s the same age as Gore and has been retired for four seasons.
Michael Turner also entered the NFL in 2004, but his final season came in 2012. Maurice Jones-Drew got his start in 2006 but was out of gas after 2014. Arian Foster’s career lasted from 2009-2016, featuring high peaks and crushing injuries. There was a time when Jamaal Charles, who the Kansas City Chiefs drafted in 2008, stood on similar ground as Peterson. He retired after his age 32 season, last year. The extreme wear and tear of the running back position kept Charles’ career short and prevented him from fulfilling his potential.
All of those modern players had good careers, leaving their marks on their respective franchises. However, none of their careers outlives Gore’s and their career numbers pale in comparison. Gore’s longevity has put him on equal footing with players who have higher potential or who peaked and then faded because their bodies gave away under the burden of being a feature back. Gore has defied the ordinary rules for running backs by ducking Father Time for so long.
The inconvenient truth is that it doesn’t take a superstar player to put together a Hall of Fame career. The inconvenient truth is that consistency will outlast flashy play and high peaks. The inconvenient truth is that there’s no single mold for legends. It’s time for Gore’s final doubters to give in. It’s impossible to deny the truth, even if it is inconvenient.