Frank Gore’s first chance in an expanded role with the New York Jets comes against original employers from the Bay Area.
September has been a delightful throwback to the late 2000s/early 2010s for Miami sports fans. The Heat are taking on the Boston Celtics in the NBA’s Eastern Conference Finals. The Marlins are aiming for their first winning season since 2009. On Sunday, Hurricanes legend Frank Gore will partake in an NFL football game involving the San Francisco 49ers.
Gore isn’t donning San Francisco’s red and gold this time around, rather the green and white of the New York Jets (1 p.m. ET, Fox). The Jets’ 2020 MetLife Stadium debut comes against the team that hosted Gore’s heyday. After three seasons in Coral Gables, the Magic City native Gore entered the league as the 65th overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. He has gone from third-round pick to third all-time in rushing in the ensuing 15 seasons, standing at 15,371 yards entering Sunday. Only Emmitt Smith (18,355) and Walter Payton (16,726) remain ahead of him.
The first 11,073 of Gore’s yards came with the 49ers, while the most recent 24 came with the Jets (0-1) in their Week 1 loss to Buffalo. New York is the fourth stop Gore has made on his football tour since departing San Francisco after the 2014 campaign. This will be the second time that Gore faces the team that gave him NFL life, earning 86 yards as a member of the Colts in an October 2017 win.
If these truly are the final NFL days for the 37-year-old Gore, his career may be coming full circle in an undesirable fashion. Gore was a rare silver lining of consistency during the 49ers’ mid-2000s rebuild kickstarted by the departures of Terrell Owens, Garrison Hearst, and Jeff Garcia after the 2003 campaign. A streak of eight consecutive non-winning seasons went by a little faster thanks to Gore’s prowess. One such occasion was a 214-yard single-game output in just his second season, earned during a 20-14 win over Seattle in 2006.
San Francisco eventually got it together in 2011, upon the hiring of Jim Harbaugh. Three consecutive playoff trips followed, all of which ended no earlier than the NFC title game. Nowadays, Gore has eschewed ring chasing for latching on to budding football projects. He previously worked with the late rebuild projects in Miami and Buffalo, making a playoff appearance in the latter. Now he’s working with a Jets squad that’s eager to make a trying season of transition move a little more smoothly.
So far, it appears the transition is going well.
“Everything that comes out of his mouth is kind of like wisdom,” fellow Jets rusher Le’Veon Bell said in training camp report from ESPN’s Rich Cimini. “”The fact that he’s been playing so long is because of his training and the things he does in the offseason.” He tells me, ‘You have the same trainer I have and you’re doing the same things I am, so you can do it, Le’Veon.’ That’s why I feel like I’m going in the right direction, and I feel like I’m doing the right things correctly because I’m hearing it from guys who have done it already.”
Gore was likely added for depth and inspiration, but the San Francisco reunion coincides with Gore taking on increased duties in the Jets’ offense. With Bell on short-term injured reserve (hamstring) with other offensive weapons and depth relatively short behind him (Josh Adams, newcomer Kalen Ballege, injured rookie La’Mical Perine), Gore will be likely be heavily relied upon when the Jets welcome in the defending NFC champions. San Francisco (0-1) allowed 180 yards on the ground in their narrow opening weekend loss to Arizona.
True to form, it’s a challenge Gore is ready to take. He was familiarity with Adam Gase’s offense during the 2018 season with Miami’s other football squad, the Dolphins. Gase and Gore also collaborated in 2008, when the former was an offensive assistant in the Bay Area.
“I know that’s a big load, Le’Veon not playing this week and being out for a couple weeks,” Gore said to team reporter Randy Lange. “But even when Le’Veon was here, I was always preparing like I was the guy just because you never know what happens. That’s why every day I go out on the practice field and prepare like I do.”
“He looks the same as he did 12 years ago,” Gase said in Cimini’s report. “I can’t explain it. It’s unbelievable how, when I watch him, I flash back to 2008. He looks the same. I don’t know how. It doesn’t make sense, but Frank has been one who refuses to listen to what anybody else says. He goes out there and he’s an old-school football player. He looks good. His burst looks good. His vision is never going to change. It’s going to be like that when he’s 60. Frank is special. There’s a reason why he’s third all-time in rushing yards.”
Having never earned more than 1,000 yards with the Hurricanes, it might be a little shocking to some to see Gore rank among the most illustrious rushers in NFL history. But Gore knows to cherish every moment, every play he has left….because he knows how it nearly never happened.
Gore partook in Miami’s legendary championship trek as a true freshman in 2001, backing up fellow future NFL back Clinton Portis en route to their Rose Bowl blowout over Nebraska. But prior to his sophomore campaign, a torn ACL ended affairs before they ever truly began.
After watching Miami return to the national title game (their controversial Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State) and his successor Willis McGahee break Coral Gables records left and right, Gore returned to the backfield in 2003…ironically sharing duties with the late Walter Payton’s son Jarrett (who made a name for himself in NFL Europe). Gore began his season with three straight triple-digit games in yardage (including 127 yards and the finishing touchdown in a 23-point comeback win over Florida). But another torn ACL ended his year early, along with, some felt, his football career entirely.
Instead, Gore returned to play a full 12-game season, featuring a collegiate-career-best 191 yards in an upset win over Virginia. San Francisco took him in the third-round that spring.
“Me going through all the injuries, and then when I get to the league just hearing all the negative stuff, I set my goals and said I’ll never let a man judge me,” Gore said of his injuries to Jim Trotter of NFL.com back in May. “The only man I’ll let judge me is that man up above. But I was determined to be the best in my class.”
Irony continues to reign in the fact that Gore’s new duties coincide with the 49ers’ visit. His former stomping grounds of Candlestick Park having been torn down, time will tell if Gore is able to visit Levi’s Stadium as a player, where fans of the ovaled SF can pay give him a proper send-off.
If such a reunion doesn’t come to pass, Gore has nonetheless ensured his career will end where it began. The rusher confirmed to Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports Bay Area that he and the team have an agreement in place that will allow him to retire as a member of the 49ers. His No. 21, one he currently bears with the Jets, will likely be retired alongside the San Francisco greats like Joe Montana, Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. Despite the Niners’ illustrious history, no rusher has earned red and gold immortality since High McElhenny and Joe Perry were invited in 1971.
“That’s the team that gave me the opportunity to do something I always wanted to do when I was a kid, play NFL ball,” Gore said in Maiocco’s report. “I was there for 10 great years. Been on bad teams and been on great teams. I love it out there.”
For now, though, the 49ers are only a challenger in Gore’s path. He may not be ring chasing from a traditional standpoint, but that doesn’t mean he’s not looking to earn a few wins on his potential way out.
“”I want to win, especially coming off a loss last week,” Gore said, per Lange. “I want us to look a lot better as an offensive team, and that’s doing whatever it takes to win.
“It could be the 49ers, it could be Seattle, whoever. I just want to get a win.”
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags