Over the course of his nine-year career, Frank Gore has had as astounding and improbable a career as anyone. Having been drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the third round of the 2005 NFL draft, 65th overall, he proceeded to churn out Pro Bowl seasons with regularity, four in total.
The road to success has not been easy, a plethora of injuries and an enormous workload constantly attempting to hamper his production.
While he has not yet succumbed to the perils of the NFL, still playing at an extraordinary level at the age of 30, that dreaded number has typically been a harbinger of doom for the standard NFL running back.
What, then, should we expect this season from the dynamic San Francisco running back? Can he continue to defy his critics, brushing injuries aside and continuing to impress?
Or will the rigors of the NFL finally catch up to him, his age and past injuries teaming up to knock him down for the count?
The answer is not a simple one. On one hand, the general history of the NFL tells us that 28 is considered old for a running back, and getting anything after that is gravy.
On the other, however, is the history of Gore. And that history is one that has shown his ability to overcome anything football can throw at him.
Let's take his career at the University of Miami as an example. After making a huge splash his freshman year in 2001 and overtaking teammate Willis McGahee atop the depth chart in 2002, Gore tore his ACL before he even had a chance to take a snap that season.
While he returned the year after and had decent production, it was clear that missing a year of football had hurt his draft stock. Gore was damaged goods. Any player that has had ACL surgery is. It showed in his drop to third round in the draft, something that has constantly motivated him throughout his career.
That motivation has propelled him to become the most productive running back in the star-studded history of the 49ers, his 8,839 yards and 51 touchdowns both ranking first in franchise history.
After suffering a serious hip injury in Week 12 that caused him to miss the duration of the season, missing out on his fifth straight 1,000-yard season in the process, many believed that Gore’s career could be over.
Not Gore, though. Just like he did after his college injury and draft plummet, Gore came back. In the two seasons following, Gore has put together back-to-back years of over 1,200 yards and eight touchdowns.
Why, then, should we believe that something as silly as a number can derail a man who’s made a career out of overcoming odds? Especially when the man himself is telling us that this obstacle is nothing new, via Matthew Barrows of the Sacramento Bee:
"I feel like every year it's something with me–that I've got to overcome something every year," Gore said.
Can Gore be the back that bucks the trend? The back that proves that age is just a number? Who knows? He does, though, have some things in his favor.
The first thing is running back depth. Unlike in the past, when he was forced to take far too big of a load, Gore has help. LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter allow him the luxury of not having to play every snap, something that should help keep him fresh throughout the season.
Another thing is the emergence of his offensive line. Having taken huge strides last season, particularly with the enigmatic Anthony Davis, the 49ers boast one of the top lines in football.
Sure, he’ll still get hit the majority of the time he touches the football. But the holes these men produce should allow him to gather bigger chunks of yards at a time, diminishing the need to be out there as often. And should he start to decline a bit as a player, the work of the line should help hide it.
The last thing he has going for him is the evolution of the offense. Known for years as a ground-and-pound team, the insertion of Colin Kaepernick into the starting lineup has added a whole new dimension, one that will help shift attention away from Gore.
Smart play calling from Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman will allow Gore to do more with less touches, as well.
That being said, only time will tell if Gore can laugh in the face of history. He has many factors that appear to be saying he can. There will be one thing, however, that will trump everything: Frank Gore himself.
Gore believes he can still be productive and has found a new form of motivation: his age. And if his personal history is any indication, a motivated Gore is a reliable Gore. Look for Gore to notch a seventh 1,000-yard season, breaking the 10,000-yard mark for his career.