Today, Frank Gore is another year older. At a spry (by NFL standards) 38 years old, he’s at the age when he’s outlasting quarterbacks, which is just not something running backs get to do.
After two ACL tears at the University of Miami back before the iPhone was invented (yes, really), Gore went on to play 241 of a 256 possible games in the NFL over a 16-year career. Whether or not he returns this year for his 17th season remains to be seen, but on his birthday, let’s talk about his greatness, and why this living legend is a surefire Hall of Famer.
Debates rage on as to whether or not Gore belongs in Canton. The prevailing arguments against him are that he never led the league in any statistical category in any season, and that he never won a Super Bowl, although he was the lead back for the 49ers in their Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens in 2012. He did his part in that contest, rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown. But these two arguments against Gore, in my opinion, do not come close to painting the whole picture of his candidacy.
First, you needn’t look any further than the all-time rushing yards list, where Gore currently sits third. Gore has rushed for — exactly — 16,000 yards in his career, third all-time behind Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726). Gore is joined on that list by still-active contemporary Adrian Peterson, who is currently fifth with 14,820 rushing yards. Every running back aside from Gore and Peterson in the top 16 in all-time rushing yards has been elected to the Hall of Fame.
While — granted — Gore never led the league in any category, I would strongly argue that longevity, durability, and sustained production is its own greatness. Gore had 12 straight seasons with 1,200-plus scrimmage yards, and is fourth all-time in the category with 19,985. He has the most games played by a running back in NFL history with 241. He has 7,161 rushing yards since turning 30 years old; Emmitt Smith had 5,789. Is it more impressive to lead the league for a few years, or continuously, consistently produce for over a decade? I’d argue the latter.
The league is rapidly moving toward that of super short shelf lives at the running back position. Whether from injuries or a lack of production, sustained excellence feels like a thing of the past. Let’s look at the 2016 season, for instance. Only five years ago.
Here are the top-12 rushers from that season:
Oh look, there’s Frank Gore. Of the rest of this list, Ezekiel Elliott is the only running back still producing at a high level, and 2016 was his rookie season. Howard, Bell, McCoy, and Miller are backups. Freeman, Blount, and Ajayi are out of the league. Johnson and Ingram now split an AARP-sponsored backfield in Houston.
Running backs do not do what Gore has done.
To do what Gore did for 12 years of consistently high production, while being on the field and available for 94 percent of his career games, is a staggering accomplishment. This is not a stat-compiler argument. This is not a, “But Jon, this isn’t the Hall of pretty good.”
Frank Gore is greatness personified, and embodies everything that the Hall of Fame stands for. He should walk into Canton and have a bronze bust enshrined alongside the greatest players in NFL history. He deserves it.