FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — A running joke around the NFL is that Frank Gore will play football forever.
Or, at least until he’s 60. If he feels it’s time to stop then.
The 37-year-old Gore is a rarity in a brutally physical business that often forces players 10 years younger than he is — or more — to find a new profession. Instead, he’s back for his 16th season in the pros and first with the New York Jets, and approaches training camp with the passion and enthusiasm of a rookie.
“It’s just the love of the game,” Gore said during a video call Monday after practice. “And also the stuff I’ve been through even just to get to this point in the league. It wasn’t easy to get here.”
Gore is the third-leading rusher in NFL history, but there was a time — and it feels like forever ago — when playing at all at this level was no certainty.
As a sophomore at the University of Miami in 2002, Gore tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee during a spring practice. He bounced back from that only to tear the ACL in his left knee in a game against West Virginia the following year.
He returned to have a solid season in 2004, but injury concerns caused him to slip until the third round of the 2005 draft. Gore had the skills for stardom, but his surgically repaired knees didn’t bode well for a lengthy career as a running back.
“Both of my knees were torn, I get written off,” Gore recalled. “God blessed me to get the opportunity to do something I love. And when I got that opportunity, I took advantage of it.”
And, remarkably, he has stayed mostly healthy since, other than a hip fracture in 2010.
When he was held out of the Jets’ first full practice of camp last Friday as a precaution to rest a hamstring issue, Gore couldn’t stand the wait.
“He didn’t want to hear any of that,” coach Adam Gase said with a smile. “He wants to be on the field. He wants to get reps. He wants to contribute. He wants to go out there and compete against those guys.”
Talk to any coach or player who has worked with him, from his 10 seasons in San Francisco to his three-year stint in Indianapolis and his one-year stops in Miami and Buffalo, and they all echo the Jets coach’s description of the ageless Gore.
“You can see why the guy’s still playing,” said Gase, who previously coached him in both San Francisco and Miami. “He runs out there on the first day like it’s the first time he played a practice in the NFL. You can tell that’s why he still plays, he still loves it. He still loves the first practice. He’s excited about it, he’s nervous about it.
“I mean, it’s pretty cool to see a guy that’s a future Hall of Famer that still gets like that.”
Gore has rushed for 15,347 career yards, just 1,379 behind Walter Payton on the all-time list. That number might seem out of reach. But, there’s no telling when Gore will stop playing.
Consider this: Jets rookie tackle Mekhi Becton was 6 when Gore started his NFL career, and now Becton will be blocking for him. Oh, and Gore also has a son — Frank Jr. — who’ll be a freshman running back at Southern Miss.
“Frank, man,” wide receiver Breshad Perriman said, “he’s like no other.”
Gore uses light boxing in the offseason to keep his legs fresh and ramps up the intensity of his workouts in the six weeks before training camp so he arrives already in terrific shape.
In 2019, Gore was off to a solid year before Buffalo switched its focus to rookie Devin Singletary in the backfield. Gore understood the move, but also thought he could have put up big numbers.
“I did some good things and showed people I can play,” said Gore, who finished with a career-low 599 yards rushing. “I think if they would have let me continued on with the season, I would’ve gotten over 1,000 (yards).”
He has done that nine times in his career, but not since 2016. And he’ll be hard-pressed to reach that mark in New York, where Le’Veon Bell remains the main running back. Gore understands that, and thinks he and Bell will complement each other well.
“I know he’s our lead dog,” Gore said. “My goal is to do whatever it takes to help this team be successful.”
At this point, the numbers don’t matter much to Gore. It’s winning that drives him, and beating the odds.
“When you touch the age of 28, they kind of write you off,” Gore said. “So my mindset got stronger and stronger. Every time I’m on the field, I just try to show people it doesn’t matter what age you are.”
And there was Gore over the weekend, hitting the practice field with the wide-eyed excitement of a youngster finally living out his dream.
“I want them to know that just because I’m older, I want to be out there with them, and do everything they do,” Gore said. “Let ’em know I’m all in.”
Even after all these years. And with no end in sight.
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