ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — 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 (4-1) 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.
And don’t ever suggest luck has had anything to do with it.
“I’ve been through a lot. ... 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.
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.
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.
Age hasn’t been an issue. According to Pro Football Reference, Gore’s 6,242 yards rushing after turning 30 leads 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.”
Thomas isn’t making comparisons in noting that unlike Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton, Gore has 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 he noted Gore joined Smith as 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.
“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.”
Gore’s proving to be an exception, even if it means putting up with a few old-man jokes.
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.”
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.