New York Jets fans constantly complained about Frank Gore’s usage. But the experienced rusher left a lasting impact on his young teammates.
When 2020 denied us sports, America talked about…well, sports.
The major professional sports leagues made their return amidst the ongoing health crisis (with varying degrees of success). But, in the interim, we, the sports-loving public, amused ourselves with icebreaker-like games on social media. One such pastime, played in a tongue-in-cheek manner, named “legends” from countless sports…but facetiously remembered them for their most obscure seasons and uniforms. Local examples included “Giants legend Kurt Warner” and “Knicks legend Tracy McGrady”. A reverse example would include Orlando Magic legend Patrick Ewing.
Frank Gore’s name could be a popular name when that game is inevitably played again. The running back is best known for his decade in San Francisco but has since embarked on a gridiron sabbatical that has taken him to Indianapolis, Miami, Buffalo, and the New York metropolitan area over the past six seasons.
Gore’s final NFL snaps could well come with the New York Jets, with whom he signed a one-year deal in March. This single season ended on Sunday in East Rutherford against Cleveland, as Gore will not play the Jets’ 2020-21 finale against New England on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) due to a lung contusion. Prior to departing, Gore made NFL history in a Jets uniform, joining Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton as the only members of the NFL’s 16,000-yard club. His entry was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak season for New York football, as the Jets’ 13-loss tally is their worst since 1996. Gore did manage to score a touchdown and earn a crucial catch in the Jets’ first win of the season, a 23-20 triumph over the Los Angeles Rams on December 20.
Save for that memorable landmark, Gore, 37, has struggled to leave a true on-field landmark in a New York uniform. He was ostensibly seen as a spell option for Le’Veon Bell but was pressed into service upon the former’s release in October. Gore tallied 653 yards on 187 carries, two of which went for scores. He improved on yardage (up from 599 with the Bills last season) but the 3.5 average was the lowest of his career.
The Miami alum has been mum about his future but seemed to hint that retirement was on the horizon following the Jets’ 34-28 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in November. It was their tenth loss in a row to open the season.
“We’re thinking about (0-16) every day,” Gore said, per Rich Cimini of ESPN. “We’ve got to get one. You don’t want to go 0-16, especially (since) this might be my last year. I can’t go out like that.”
One could hardly blame Gore for walking away. Sunday’s trip to New England will mark only the third NFL weekend over the past decade that won’t feature a dressed Gore. An elusive Super Bowl aside, he’s accomplished plenty at the NFL level, including five Pro Bowl invitations, a spot on the league’s All-Decade Team for the 2010s, and the 2016 Art Rooney Award for sportsmanship. Even if Gore sticks it out for another year, there’s no use in delaying the discussion on his legacy.
With his resume, Gore is likely on his way to football immortality in Canton. He’s likely well on his way to a one-day contract in San Francisco so he can retire a 49er. The team will likely retire his No. 21 when fans are allowed to visit Levi’s Stadium again. His previous employers during his traveling days are inching toward completed rebuilds, but the Jets are set to complete one of the most brutal seasons in their already star-crossed history. With Gore possibly set to move on before the renovations are completed, it’s fair to see what role he’ll be eventually remembered for in this latest chapter of change, especially with his name etched all over this year of toil and drudgery.
In the eyes of some observers, Gore will be seen only as a hindrance. It was clear at several points this season that he was no longer capable of a primary rusher’s workload. Signed with the intentions of being a spell back, it was clear Gore was meant to be a temporary solution, not part of the Jets’ plans beyond the start of the new decade. When the situation became increasingly dire, the Jets had an opportunity to take advantage of free research and development. Instead, Gore continued to receive a majority of the New York carries over La’Mical Perine, Ty Johnson, and Josh Adams.
An opportunity was there for the Jets to cross an item off their offseason shopping list, a chance to audition someone like the fourth-round rookie Perine or Johnson, the first Jet to reach triple digits in yardage in a single game in over two full calendar years after Gore was hurt in a December loss to Las Vegas. Gore got his retirement tour, though, perhaps stemming from the relationship he previously built with head coach Adam Gase in Miami.
Yet, Gore has a chance to leave a positive impact on One Jets Drive, especially if the words of his teammates are to be believed.
If anyone knows about rising from the depths of the football underworld, it’s Gore. He first did so on a personal level, recovering from a devastating ACL tear at the University of Miami in 2002 (where he beat out future NFL starter Willis McGahee for starter’s reps in his sophomore season) to become a third-round pick of the 49ers in the 2005 draft. If retirement is truly on the way, Gore’s career is bookended by some truly garish times on the turf. It took him seven seasons to just to experience a winning record in the pros, as he and other homegrown San Francisco talents (Alex Smith, Patrick Willis, Vernon Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Colin Kaepernick, and Joe Staley among them) eventually built them into Super Bowl contenders.
If there’s any voice the players of this developing team needed to hear, it was that of the resilient Gore.
“The young guys including myself and all the guys on the team look at him and you just want to embody everything that he shows on a day-to-day basis,” Jets quarterback Sam Darnold said of Gore, per Andy Vazquez of NorthJersey.com “It’s so consistent, and that’s why he’s had such a long career, that’s why he’s had the career that he’s had, because of how consistent he is day-to-day, regardless of circumstance. He isn’t a “rah-rah” guy, but you know when he has something to say, people listen and it’s important. He’s a great leader for this team and one of the best ones to ever do it. I’m super happy to have played with him and very grateful to play with him this year.”
“Frank, man, he’s like no other,” wide receiver Breshad Perriman, a rare veteran in the Jets’ organization, said of Gore in a training camp report from Rich Cimini of ESPN. “If you know Frank, if you see him work, especially in the offseason, he grinds so hard. He works like he’s young, you know what I’m saying? Like he’s young, like he hasn’t accomplished anything. He’s still got that hunger, that drive, and you see it every time he works. You have to respect that.”
For a player like Perine, a third-day choice looking to prove why he belongs at the NFL level, Gore was a welcoming prescience, a bright light to turn to.
“We come in every week and meet one-on-one to go over the plays, every Wednesday. He’s a guy I look up to, Perine told team reporter Jack Bell in October. “I’m trying to find my routine, and he has a good routine. I just hope I can last as long as he has. He’s a great leader on and off the field. I just try to learn from him.”
At the end of the day, Gore’s Jets career, seemingly set to last only 15 games, won’t be fondly remembered by metropolitan football fans, at least not in the present day. If his words and experiences can even lead to even one unexpected victory, they’ll come to appreciate his brief time in green, even if it comes in an unwitting fashion.
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags