It feels like Frank Gore started playing in the NFL before I was born, which would have been over 26 years ago. Nonetheless, the fact that he just wrapped up his 15th season is an amazing feat that speaks to the unprecedented longevity and durability of the veteran running back.
The craziest part of his underdog story is that it almost never started. But thank God it did because we will probably never see the likes of a Frank Gore type of player ever again.
You may say, “Wait, what about Tom Brady?” Sure, Brady is 42 and needs two hands for his Super Bowl Rings, but Gore’s career is equally impressive, even without the rings. Brady’s unparalleled regular season and postseason success may never be seen again by any position player, but Gore plays a position that is arguably the most violent in all of professional sports.
Frank Gore has played fifteen seasons at the running back position. To put his career length in perspective, the average NFL running back lasts just 2.57 years. Gore has played about 12 ½ years longer than many of his fellow running backs. But what’s far more impressive is his journey to the NFL – a journey that may very well have never begun.
Growing Up Fast
How an unprivileged kid from Coconut Grove, Florida landed and stayed in the NFL for this long is a miracle in and of itself.
Gore has told reporters that one of his life-changing moments occurred as a sophomore in high school. He went to use the bathroom one night and saw his mom using cocaine. The drug had taken a toll on his mom but had an even greater effect on Gore, whose life also could have been swallowed up like a black hole from the devastating effects of his mother’s drug addiction.
That night, Gore had a heart-to-heart that changed his mom’s life for the better, and as a result, his own. This was a huge moment that in some respects was make or break for him and his family. But Gore did not let it break the bond between him and his mother.
Gore’s personal life challenges were trying and tumultuous. But his journey to the NFL was just as much of an uphill battle.
“I’ve been through a lot,” he told the Indy Star in 2015. “But I think it all happened for a reason. I think what I went through made me appreciate the game even more. Even life, really. I wasn’t guaranteed to be here.”
“But I’m here.”
Gore, first and foremost, wanted to improve his life. He aspired to play college football but had to focus on home life, where at one time he and nine other family members shared a two-bedroom home.
The problem was his dream had no foundation – no one to help guide him toward his goal.
Joe Montoya, Gore’s high school football coach at Coral Gables High School, saw a kid with no direction. Fortunately, though, Gore was not lost, just misunderstood with an undiscovered learning disability: dyslexia.
Gore suffered from a severe form of dyslexia to the point where he could only earn a special-education diploma upon high school graduation.
But he refused the labeled diploma – one that would prevent him from playing college football altogether. So with the help of Montoya, Gore was able to manage a regular curriculum with consistent and intense specialized tutoring.
Without Gore’s steadfast determination and work ethic – two traits that would serve him well in the NFL – his dream to graduate high school may have stayed just that.
An Uphill Battle
Gore finally began seeing success and progress toward his dream, until, like in football, life leveled him with a blind-side hit.
Just as Gore settled into his academic pursuits, while also flourishing on the gridiron, his mother’s kidneys started to fail. Before a big playoff game, he visited his mom in the hospital and asked, “Mom, do you want me to play?”
She said yes, giving Gore all the moral support in the world to go out and dominate in the game he loved for the woman he loved, his mom.
Despite Gore’s undying love for the game of football, his mother was his first priority. After the close call that fall, Gore’s mother required frequent dialysis, forcing him to miss practices, but also, through the support of his coaches, arranging rides for her to get to her treatment.
Despite his mother’s health issues, Gore eviscerated every Miami-Dade County High School defense on a weekly basis. He finished high school with the county’s single-game (419 yards) and single-season (2,953 yards) rushing records.
Through his strong commitment to graduate high school, Gore received his diploma. No strings attached.
With high enough SAT scores and grades, he received a scholarship to the University of Miami. The school was a perfect fit; boasting a storied football program and a campus that allowed him to remain close to his mother.
Unmatched Work Ethic
Coming in as a freshman running back, Gore faced another uphill battle, but this time for the opportunity to play. On the depth chart, he sat behind Clinton Portis, Willis McGahee, and Najeh Davenport – all three future NFL backs.
No matter. Gore was born running uphill. He would compete and find a way to prove why he is a true running back savant. He expected to play, through sheer determination and hard work.
Don Soldinger, former running backs coach at Miami, shares a story of Gore as a freshman that epitomizes who Gore is, not only as a player but as a person:
“I gave him a playbook and I said, ‘Look, bro, there’s like 19 different pass protections in there,” Soldinger said. “At Miami, you ain’t playing if you can’t protect the quarterback.”
Soldinger thought this would be the only conversation he would have with Gore about the protection for the fall because there would be no way a freshman could pick up all of these pass protection schemes. Wrong.
“Well, I get a call at 2:30 the next morning, and it’s Frank,” Soldinger said. “I’m like, ‘Are you okay?’ He tells me, ‘Coach, I just learned all those protections and I want you to quiz me on them.'”
Gore refused to let what appeared to be a difficult task hold him back from his dreams and aspirations because he has always been wired to overcome adversity, rather than succumb to it.
As a result, Gore ran for 562 yards as a freshman, until yet another roadblock hit. Just another day in the life of Frank Gore.
In 2002, Gore’s sophomore season, he tore his ACL. After an arduous rehab process to get back onto the field, he tore his ACL again in 2003. At this point, he was at a crossroads. He questioned whether football was right for him.
“It made me ask, ‘Man, is football really for me?'” Gore said.
His undying advocate, Soldinger, gave him the answer Gore needed:
“He told me, ‘Are you freaking crazy?'” Gore recalled.
“He was down in the dumps,” Soldinger says now. “His mom was sick. A lot of things were coming down on him at the same time. But God gave him an ability, and he needed to use it.”
He needed football more than ever, and Gore’s decision to stick would football despite all of the personal, family, and health issues in his life would pay dividends for Gore and everyone else that has seen him destroy defenses for the past two decades.
In 2007, at the start of his third season for the 49ers, his mother passed away from kidney disease. But without a doubt, Gore helped extend his mom’s life through his unwavering love and dedication to her.
She saw him achieve his dream, and she’d be proud to see what he’s accomplished since.
A Career Defined By Longevity
So how is Frank Gore still cutting through defenses in 2019? His relentless work ethic.
His workouts with his trainer Brain Schwartz give us the proof in the pudding for Gore’s longevity in the league. Early on in his career in San Francisco, Gore added boxing to his offseason workouts.
These were not just any run-of-the-mill boxing workouts to improve simple footwork and cardio. Schwartz would put Gore through the gauntlet. The same hill that made Jerry Rice famous years ago, Gore would run with Schwartz but in full boxing gear. Over and over again.
“He’d go practice with the team and then be with me that same night,” Schwartz told Bleacher Report in 2016. “And the workouts were hard. He didn’t want to take any breaks. His work ethic is like nothing I’ve ever seen.”
This vigorous training all started at age 29, when most running backs are supposed to be wearing down and preparing for their NFL exit interviews.
Schwartz would often tell him, “You can’t do that, old man.” He knew how to push Gore, a man who already pushed himself to limits few athletes have ever reached in strength and conditioning for a sport.
“It helps my mindset,” Gore said. “Even though I try not to care or pay attention, I often hear that, ‘Oh, he can’t do this because he’s old.’ Well, I’m training and thinking about that, and it makes me go that much harder.”
The big question now about Gore, after fifteen seasons of consistent excellence and durability: Is he a Hall of Famer? You’d think that over 12,000 rushing yards would be enough, as every other running back to achieve that feat has been inducted.
Matt Maiocco, a San Francisco sportswriter, who holds a Hall of Fame vote said it best: “In six or seven years, I’ll have to give an argument for Frank Gore in front of that group and believe me—that’s something I’m really looking forward to doing,” he said. “I can’t give a higher recommendation for a guy to be a Hall of Famer than Frank Gore.”
“He’s been the absolute model of consistency even at a time when everyone would have expected him to fall off.”
But Maiocco might need to wait longer to make Gore’s Hall of Fame case after hearing this from Gore:
“I’m healthy, and I’m training the same way in the offseason with younger guys who are keeping me honest,” Gore said.
“They’re pushing me, and I’m competing against them and still look good. And I still love it. So why not go out there and have fun, and put it in your head that you’re a young guy, and I’m still 22 or 23? Why not?”
Watch out, Tom Brady. Frank Gore may also be playing at 45 too. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Want More Underdog Stories?
Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for a bite-sized rundown of the best underdog stories in sports!Subscribe Now