He’s done it again.
For the seventh time in his nine NFL seasons, Frank Gore has eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark. The only times he didn’t pass that milestone were his rookie year in 2005 and an injury-shortened 2010 campaign, when he only appeared in 11 games.
Years ago, when the NFL used to be a 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust league, 1,000-yard rushers were the norm. Not today. Only 16 players passed the milestone last season. Fifteen crossed it the year before, 17 in 2010 and 15 in 2009. There haven’t been more than 20 1,000-yard running backs in a season since 2006, when LaDanian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson were atop the list. Gore finished third that season with 1,695 yards.
Success at running back is typically short-lived. No position on the field takes as much of a beating, and most running backs’ bodies just can’t hold up. For every Gore who has sustained success, there are countless Darren McFaddens and Chris Johnsons who have one or two great seasons before quickly fading away.
So when the Bay Area media asked 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh on Monday whether his bell cow deserves to one day be enshrined in Canton, Ohio,his answer came as no surprise.
And he’s right. Gore belongs in the Hall of Fame.
The NFL is a pass-happy league where running back by committee has become the norm. There aren’t many featured backs who not only bring it every game, but bring it every season. Gore is one of those.
He has rushed for 9,856 yards in his career and is third among active players behind Adrian Peterson of the Minnesota Vikings and Steven Jackson of the Atlanta Falcons. Only nine players have more 1,000-yard seasons than Gore.
But what’s really impressive is how he has done it. For most of his career, Gore was really the only offensive weapon on the 49ers. During his first six NFL seasons, before Harbaugh arrived, San Francisco had some awful offenses. The 49ers offense ranked last in the NFL twice (2005 and 2007), and its high mark between 2005 and 2010 came in 2008 when it finished 23rd. The quarterbacks who started games in those seasons include a young Alex Smith, Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Cody Pickett, Trent Dilfer, Shaun Hill, Chris Weinke, J.T. O’Sullivan and Troy Smith.
Gore was like a Clydesdale in a pack of ponies.
The crazy thing is that Gore doesn’t appear to be slowing down. He turned 30 during the offseason, the age that is typically considered over the hill for running backs. History says he was supposed to slow down this year. But if Gore continues at his current pace, he’ll finish 2013 with 1,162 yards, the fourth-most of his career.
He should pass the 10,000-yard mark by the end of the season, something only 28 others have done before him. And even if Gore has a drastic drop off after this year, although no signs point that direction, it’s fair to think he’ll finish his career at least at the 1,100-yard mark. Of the players eligible for the Hall of Fame with that many rushing yards for their career, only Jerome Bettis and Corey Dillon have not been selected. Dillon had character issues, which most have been pointed to as the reason he hasn’t been elected, and many were shocked when Bettis wasn’t enshrined.
When it comes to Gore, voters can’t ignore how many team records he holds for the 49ers either. He leads one of the most prominent NFL franchises in career rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns – and it’s not even close.
When his career comes to an end, whenever that may be, Gore will go down as one of the best backs of his generation. And while he may never lead the league in rushing, his durability and longevity will separate him from almost all of his peers.
The career numbers don’t lie. Frank Gore belongs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. And by that point, he might have another 1,000-yard season or two on his résumé as well.