As teams are gathered this week for another round of organized team activities, there are roughly 30 players over the age of 36 dotting the rosters of NFL teams.
Only one is a running back.
And given his history, he might be the most unlikely 36-year-old running back in recent memory.
Happy birthday, Frank Gore
Tuesday marks the 36th birthday of Frank Gore, now with the Buffalo Bills. When Gore was coming out of the University of Miami in 2005, he faced major questions about his durability: while with the Hurricanes, he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament twice, in back-to-back years.
There has been a lot of development in how ACL surgeries are handled; once a career death sentence, it’s not uncommon now to have players back on the field in 7-8 months if there are no complications.
But two surgeries on the same knee, which led to the once highly touted prep player seeing limited playing time with Miami, meant Gore wasn’t drafted until the 65th overall pick in the 2005 draft by the San Francisco 49ers. Five running backs were taken before him. All five were out of the NFL by 2014.
Gore is still going, though fellow 2005 draftee and running back Darren Sproles, who will turn 36 in June, would like to play this year, though he’s currently without a team.
Now with the Buffalo Bills, Gore has defied those assumptions about his longevity. He’s beginning his 15th season, and has missed just 12 of a possible 222 regular-season games.
He’s started 196 of those 210 regular-season games, including all 14 games he played for the Miami Dolphins last year. Gore had 168 touches for Miami, 156 carries — he averaged 4.6 yards per carry — and 12 catches, totaling 846 yards from scrimmage.
It marked the first time since his rookie year that he didn’t have at least 1,200 yards from scrimmage.
ESPN’s Field Yates tweeted some of the remarkable stats from Gore’s unexpected career on Tuesday morning:
He has an NFL-record 14 consecutive seasons with 600 or more rushing yards.
And an NFL-record 14 consecutive seasons with 125 or more rushes.
Climbing the charts
With 14,748 career rushing yards, Gore is currently fourth on the all-time rushing list, behind Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders. He is 522 yards from passing Sanders.
He’s also fifth all time in yards from scrimmage at 18,544; fourth on the list is Marshall Faulk, and Gore can surpass him with 611 yards from scrimmage.
It’s so rare for a running back to be productive at his age that one back in the last 20 years has picked up 100 rushing yards or more in the season he turned 36: Lorenzo Neal, who was technically a fullback.
Gore spent 10 seasons with the 49ers, and left after the 2014 season as the franchise’s leading rusher with 11,073 yards.
An amazing life
It’s not just Gore’s NFL career that has defied the odds: born into poverty in the Coconut Grove area of Miami, where at one point he and nine other family members shared a two-bedroom home, Gore has excelled in life despite myriad obstacles.
As he shared with Indy Star reporter Stephen Holder in 2015, his mother, Lizzie, was a cocaine user who didn’t try to get control of her addiction until the night Gore caught her using late one night when he was in high school.
He sat down with Lizzie and asked her, “Mom, why?” She got off the drugs after the heart-to-heart with her son.
Gore also had been labeled as a slow, unteachable student and placed in special education classes. But it was a severe form of dyslexia that led to his reading and writing struggles.
Had he graduated Coral Gables High School with the special ed diploma, Gore wouldn’t have been eligible for college. But thanks to a high school coach, intensive tutoring and a lot of work on Gore’s part, he took regular classes and graduated as well as earned a qualifying SAT score.
But Lizzie’s health slowly declined throughout his time in high school due to liver failure, and Gore chose Miami to stay close to her. She died in 2007.
After his two knee injuries, Gore learned how much work it truly takes to maintain his body, and his offseason workouts are a big part of the reason he’s been able to, at his advanced football age, keep a job a young man’s game.
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