ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP)Frank Gore isn’t scared of anything. Not the next hit he’ll take. Not how many yards he’ll gain. And especially not questions about his age.
Whatever fears the 36-year-old Buffalo Bills running back once had evaporated during his college days at Miami where his pro football career was in jeopardy of being over before it even began after Gore tore ligaments in both knees over a two-year span.
”Fear? As long as I’m healthy I’m good,” Gore said.
”Just knowing it could be taken away from me, that’s why I try to go hard every time,” he added. ”What I’ve been through, I know it’s not guaranteed. So why not? I feel if God blessed me to do this, why not go have fun? Why not go 110 (percent)?”
And don’t ever suggest luck has had anything to do with it.
”I’ve been through a lot. To get here wasn’t easy for me. I’ve been through ups and downs. I had to learn how to walk again, run, get my mind strong,” Gore said. ”I can’t say luck. I’m blessed. It’s the man above.”
Though Gore is known for putting himself through a grueling offseason workout regimen, someone has certainly been looking out for him over a career which stands as a model of consistency and durability. And he’s showing no signs of dipping five games into his 15th season, and first with the Bills.
Since the San Francisco 49ers selected him in the third round of the 2005 draft, Gore has missed just 14 games because of injury – and only two since 2011.
In the meantime, Gore has eclipsed his contemporaries – including college teammates Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, as well as former Bills teammate LeSean McCoy – to enter an elite echelon.
Two weeks ago, he became the fourth player to surpass 15,000 yards rushing with a 109-yard performance in a 16-10 loss to New England.
When Buffalo (4-1) returns from its bye week off to host Miami on Oct. 20, Gore will be 79 yards away from becoming the ninth player to reach 19,000all-purpose yards.
Age hasn’t been an issue. According to Pro Football Reference, Gore’s 6,242 yards rushing after turning 30 lead all players.
Gore has finished each of his 14 seasons leading his teams in yards rushing, including a three-year stint in Indianapolis and last season in Miami. And he’s currently leading Buffalo with 333 yards rushing on 75 carries.
The numbers are so mind-boggling, Hall of Fame running back Thurman Thomas couldn’t think of a better way of expressing his respect than by saying: ”Frank freaking Gore.”
”That’s crazy, crazy numbers,” said the former Bills star. ”I don’t think he gets the respect that he deserves throughout the National Football League. People need to take notice and really understand his career and understand that this guy has been a great player throughout.”
Thomas isn’t making comparisons in noting that unlike Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, Gore having played on some forgettable teams. Gore has reached the playoffs only three times, all during the 49ers’ three-year run ending with the Super Bowl loss to Baltimore in the 2012 season.
What led Thomas to take notice is when noting Gore joined Smith as being the only two running backs to have started 200 games.
”Phew, I don’t know, can he play two more years?” Thomas said. ”Probably so.”
Gore doesn’t have an expiration date in mind. He reassesses his future each offseason in determining whether he still believes he can produce and, just as important, whether a team is interested in signing him.
Gore acknowledged a sense of relief when the Bills contacted him once the free-agency period opened in March. He was so excited upon signing a one-year contract, Gore spent part of the day parading around the team’s facility wearing a Bills helmet.
”A lot of teams are scared to deal with guys my age, at my position,” he said. ”They say, a running back shouldn’t be playing past 30. Can’t do it.”
Gore’s proving to be an exception, even if it means putting up with a few old-man jokes.
Teammates rib Gore by noting they were in middle school when toggling him while playing Madden NFL.
Upon suggesting a reporter watch tape of his running style in college, Gore broke into a hearty laugh when jokingly asked if they used film back then.
And Gore smiled, when noting the only thing that makes him feel old is being reunited with former college and 49ers teammate Ken Dorsey, who now serves as the Bills quarterbacks coach.
Dorsey isn’t surprised by Gore’s accomplishments. He recalled how driven Gore was to stand out among his peers at Miami before and especially after his knee injuries.
”Obviously, when you’re young, you’re not saying, `OK, this guy’s going to be a top-four leading rusher’ at the time. But now, looking back it makes sense,” Dorsey said. ”He’s always wanted to be on the football field. He’s always wanted to play and compete. That’s just who he is.”
Gore chalks it up to one simple reason: his love of football.
It’s a passion he developed as a youngster playing tackle football with his friends in the backyards, streets and playgrounds in Coral Gables, Florida. He took pride in knowing how difficult it was to bring him down.
It’s the same desire that got him through his injuries, and what keeps him coming back each spring.
”I don’t think about no age,” Gore said. ”As long as you love it, and continue to think young, you can do it, right?”
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