Frank Gore is going to reach 10,000 career rushing yards. You already know that. It will probably happen this year, most likely in the Cardinals game. At worst, we can expect it to happen in his first game of next season. It’s a milestone fewer than 30 men have reached, and a big round number that Hall of Fame voters seem to love. We’ve discussed for months whether 10,000 is enough to secure his HOF status, and while there really is no settling such a question until the voters get a chance to settle it for us, it hasn’t stopped us from trying. If not 10,000, than would 11,000 be enough? 12,000 should do it comfortably right? Or maybe all he needs is a Fred Taylor worth of yards (11,695). By now, we all know the numbers.
Here's a not so secret, secret: Perception matters.
Beyond stats and numbers, perceptions and popularity are more a part of Hall of Fame status than any of us would like to admit. Hall of Famers through the decades have been carried to Canton on the backs of thousands of newspaper headlines, SportsCenter highlights, and NFL Films homages. These days it may not be newspaper headlines but twitter mentions and FanPosts that make or break a HOF reputation, so just in case that’s so I wanted to say I’ve done my part.
If we are honest with ourselves we know that Frank hasn’t gotten enough of these in his early career when he toiled in obscurity for bad teams that have been mercifully forgotten already. Now that the Niners are back in the national spotlight, he must make up for lost time. The images of Frank Gore that stick in the national consciousness, and the consciousness of the HOF voters, are images forged on the national stage. The national perception of Frank Gore is still very malleable, that perception is being made right now.
With all that in mind lets do a thought experiment. Lets imagine what it will be like when Frank hits the big 10,000.
Scenario #1: Frank does it in week 17.
The game is on the road. There will likely be immediate playoff implications and that will be the overriding narrative for the viewing audience. 5th or 6th seed? Can the young Cards sneak in the playoffs? Who might have the unenviable task of heading to Seattle in the divisional round? There will be a nice graphic prepared for the time he breaks 10,000. Fox’s announcing crew will prepare some cursory talking points about overcoming injury, and persevering through the dark years when the Niners’ were not a good team. It will probably fall to either Troy Aikman or Moose Johnston to deliver those talking points between plays or before/after a commercial break, while Joe Buck or Kenny Albert breakout their special monotone (as opposed to their normal monotone) to lend some gravitas to the achievement. It will be mentioned several times on the broadcast and it will make SportsCenter, but in the minds of non-49er fans, Frank’s great moment will be lost amongst the competing narratives of playoff seedings, and highlights from the rest of the league, forgotten soon after it happens. If it waits until next year, it goes pretty much the same way - 1 talking point among several for the game, and 1 among many for the league as a whole.
Scenario #2: Frank does it this Monday night in the last game at historic Candlestick Park.
It will be the only game of the night, and ESPN will be contractually obligated to let Chris Berman talk as much as he wants about the historic greatness of the 49er franchise and it’s many stars. Those stars, including several Hall of Famers will be on hand to see the achievement in person. When the moment comes, we’ll get more than a graphic and an 15 second outro on the way to commercial break: The game will stop. 10,000 YARDS will flash repeatedly on the Jumbotron. A national television audience (including most people who cover the NFL and therefore vote for the Hall of Fame) will be forced to watch as 70,000 adoring Niner Fans give Frank a standing ovation while Jon Gruden attempts to use every superlative in the dictionary in one run-on sentence describing the greatness of Frank Gore.
The camera will cut from Ronnie Lott, to Jerry Rice to Steve Young to Dwight Clark to Eddie D and on and on. All will be on their feet applauding the man who has carried their legacy for 10,000 career yards. Frank will be the post-game guest and Berman, Young and Dilfer will devote 10 minutes to going through the career long greatness of Frank Gore and how special and fitting it is to hit one last historic milestone in the last game of a historic venue that has seen so much greatness before him. There will be an NFL Films documentary about Candlestick, and Frank’s achievement will be the dramatic ending. It will make the Sportscenter top 10 not just of Monday, but top 10 of the year. It will be a truly great moment befitting a truly great player, and one that will be top of mind when voters finally see a HOF ballot with Frank’s name on it.
It’s probably not likely that scenario 2 comes to pass. He needs 144 yards. But think how great it would be, for us as fans, for Frank himself, and for his chances to be remembered forever in the Hall of Fame.
Feed Frank on Monday night.