“Man, I just love football.”
That’s a part of the answer to almost every question I have ever asked Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore, who is one productive season away from moving from a large pile of potential Hall of Famers to a short stack of sure things.
“Frank, how long can you play this game?”
“What’s the secret to getting it done at this level for so long?”
“How does the hard work to stay in shape pay off?”
The answer has become a mantra in Indianapolis: “Man, I just love football.”
Sometimes, Gore will ask me questions, or one specific question, especially after a game where he defies his age: “How old did I look today?” It’s a defiant question – the kind of question that is asked through gritting teeth. I tell him not a day over 25, and he grins.
Gore speaks quietly and with an economy of words. What he lacks in volume and verbosity, he makes up for with passion. When he tells me he loves the game, Gore does it with a pleading in his voice and eyes that compel both belief and admiration.
In a town that last weekend saw Indiana Pacers forward Paul George choose branding over loyalty and love of the game, Gore’s quiet and determined work ethic resonates, and it should.
NFL history tells us that age 30 is the point at which skills and productivity begin to erode for running backs. Last season, Gore became the first 33-year-old back since John Riggins in 1984 to total more than 1,000 yards in a season. In 2017 he will try to do it again.
When former Colts GM Ryan Grigson signed the then 32-year-old Gore to a three-year, $12 million contract prior to the 2015 season, many thought this was another misguided short-term move that would do nothing but cost owner Jim Irsay a big pile of cash. Gore proved the skeptics wrong by rushing for 1,992 yards, 10 TDs, rarely missing a blitz pickup, and starting all 32 games in two seasons.
All Gore needs is 619 rushing yards to pass three running backs (Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, and LaDainian Tomlinson) ahead of him to nestle nicely into fifth place among the all-time leaders. Curtis Martin lies an additional 417 yards ahead, so he is within striking distance of finishing his career with more rushing yards than anyone to ever play the game other than Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, and Barry Sanders.
That’s a hell of an accomplishment for a guy whose career was endangered by a torn ACL during spring practice prior to his sophomore season at Miami in 2002.
There is nothing fancy about Gore. He’s a football player, not a brand.
Gore loves football, not himself, and that love of the game drives him during offseason workouts that allow his body to withstand the punishment of the 250-plus tackles he is subjected to virtually every NFL season.
Those workouts, Gore says, will determine when he hangs up his cleats.
“When I can’t keep up with the young guys in Miami, I’ll know it’s time,” he said a few weeks ago just after telling us that he is ready to compete again in 2017.
During a time when logos, shoe deals, and precious seconds on Sportscenter determine value in today’s sports marketplace, it’s refreshing to watch a football player who plays for only one reason — because he loves the game.
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