In the next few years Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters will face a mind-bending conundrum: What to do with Frank Gore?
At first blush it might seem obvious that the third-leading rusher in NFL history will be enshrined in Canton. But what does one make of a hyper-productive back whose career had no exclamation point?
This weekend will very likely mark the end of Gore’s 16-year run through NFL defenses, and it seems fitting that it ends with 16,000 career rushing yards to his credit, a perfect 1,000-yard per season average. Consistency, after all, has been Gore’s hallmark since he first arrived in the San Francisco 49ers’ backfield in 2005. But has his career been one of Hall-of-Fame greatness or one of long-term aggregation without ever truly becoming the kind of player who belongs in the Hall?
Gore’s 48 rushing yards a week ago helped the New York Jets upset the Cleveland Browns, and it left him behind only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726) in career rushing yards. Of the top 16 career rushers, all but Gore and Adrian Peterson are in the Hall ... and Peterson seems a shoo-in after his career ends. As for Gore, the end seems likely to have come last weekend on a day when the 37-year-old runner carried 14 times to end up third all-time in rushing attempts with 3,735 carries.
Frank Gore produced over 1,200 yards from scrimmage 12 times which is a league record. He scored 100 touchdowns and ran for over 1,000 yards nine times with two additional seasons of over 900 despite having suffered at various times from a torn ACL, a broken hip and reconstructive surgery on BOTH shoulders.
Clearly, Frank Gore has been the definition of endurance, durability, longevity and, perhaps most importantly, reliability. As Hall-of-Fame coach Tony Dungy often says, a big part of ability is availability. For 16 year, Frank Gore was nearly always available. Yet not once during those years was he considered the best running back in the league.
If one looks at his lengthy resume those 16,000 yards jump out at you because entrance to the Hall is about production. But if one looks a little deeper you find not a single year in which Gore led the NFL in any offensive category, including rushing yards. In fact, he was only in the top FIVE in rushing one season, 2006, when he ran for 1,645 yards.
Although he went to five Pro Bowls, Gore was never once voted All-Pro. In 16 years he not only was never named the league MVP, he never got a single vote. So what was he really -- Hall of Famer or Hall of Very Good?
Hall-of-Famer Marshall Faulk isn’t sure about that, but he’s convinced Gore’s bust belongs alongside his in Canton because consistency should count as much as a few spectacular seasons of greatness.
“If you can have a stellar short career and have some fantastic seasons like guys have had, and you let them in for that, then longevity at the position that we play has to get the same kind of — you have to look at it the same way,” Faulk said. “You have to look at longevity at the position.
“Here’s the reality: Frank wasn’t a guy that you were platooning. I mean, his days, you know, he was bell-cowing it. He’s the down-and-dirty guy. He’s not the run-outside, third-down back. No, he’s your hammer. He’s your hammer. And he’s consistently been that wherever he’s been.”
That would certainly get him into the Hammer Hall of Fame, but will it punch his ticket to Canton when he becomes eligible in the next five or six years?
Those 16,000 yards will very likely be enough for Gore to eventually don a gold jacket because how do you deny the game’s third-most productive back a place in the Hall of Fame? Yet if one takes a hard look at that production we find he is one of only two backs (Smith being the other) to have started over 200 games at running back, which is how someone whose career average of 66.4 rushing yards per game (putting him behind the likes of Willie Parker, Priest Holmes, Robert Smith and Ray Rice among others) ends up near the top of the rushing yardage list.
In the end it is likely Frank Gore will be enshrined in Canton, but it won’t be as easy as his supporters believe, and it will surely take longer than many will like. He is the rushing version of Art Monk, who retired as the league’s all-time leading receiver but was a finalist six times before finally reaching Canton in 2008, eight years after he first became eligible for induction.
Frank Gore took a long time to get to 16,000 yards. He will have to follow the same long road to get to Canton.