The Pro Football Hall of Fame will host their induction ceremony later tonight, and one player who will earn induction is former Cowboys and 49ers guard Larry Allen. Although Allen only spent two seasons with the 49ers, he spent three years of high school in Lodi and Napa, attended community college at Butte College (Aaron Rodgers's CC) and then played two years for Sonoma State.
More importantly than all that, he was a key member of the 49ers 2006 offensive line, which helped Frank Gore set a single season franchise rushing record of 1,695 yards. That offensive line included Allen, Jonas Jennings, Eric Heitmann, Justin Smiley and Kwame Harris. While the pass protection wasn't spectacular that year, the running game was a force of nature. Although Allen is known by most as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, he joins Ken Norton Jr. as one of the few Cowboys who developed a strong fan base of 49ers fans.
Allen is the only member of this year's Hall of Fame class with a distinct 49ers connection. As the 49ers move forward, several players on this year's roster could find themselves in Hall of Fame discussion. One such player who will get plenty of HOF love from 49ers fans after he retires is Frank Gore.
The 49ers running back still has work to do if he wants to improve his Hall chances, but he has already firmly entrenched himself in the debate for best running back in 49ers history. That debate centers primarily around Gore, Joe Perry and Roger Craig. There are some other running backs on the periphery of the discussion, including Hugh McElhenny, and even Garrison Hearst due to solid careers with fewer carries. However, the primary discussion centers of Gore, Perry and Craig.
Frank Gore is entering his ninth season with the 49ers, as well as his "Age 30" season. While every running back has a different shelf life, 30 is an easy round number for people to attach to many professional athletes as a sort of danger zone marker. Although most 30-year olders are just entering the prime of life, professional football players are likely already on the back half of their career. Frank Gore has nine years under his belt, and even with fine health the rest of the way, odds are pretty good he is entering the final years of his career.
Gore enters the 2013 season with 8,839 rushing yards for his career, leaving him 1,161 yards away from the 10,000 yard mark. The last two seasons he has rushed for 1,211 and 1,214 yards, respectively. If Kendall Hunter gets back soon, the 49ers have a strong enough rushing attack that I could see Gore's numbers slipping just because there are extra mouths to feed. That being said, it provides Gore an opportunity to be a bit fresher later in the season, so I don't see 1,161 yards as an especially difficult opportunity.
What might be more interesting is the race to 10,000 with running back Adrian Peterson. The Vikings running back is ten yards ahead of Gore on the all-time list. Odds are good that Peterson gets their first, but that Vikings team could struggle on offense behind Christian Ponder. Peterson can do great things against even eight men in the box, but it could give Gore an added boost.
There is another impressive fact to consider, with regards to Gore. In NFL history, 27 running backs have reached 10,000 yards. Of those 27, 15 have rushed for 10,000+ yards with one team. Of those 15, only four have played for one team their entire career. Those four are Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Jim Brown and Tiki Barber. Technically, Steven Jackson has only played for one team, but assuming he stays healthy, he'll end that run when he takes his first snap with the Atlanta Falcons (still a little weird to consider).
If Gore is going to earn a spot in Canton, it's probably going to take two or three more years of strong work. The 10,000 yard club is impressive, but it's not necessarily Hall-worthy. Some 10,000 yard running backs include Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, Ottis Anderson, Jamal Lewis, Ricky Watters and Fred Taylor, among others. I would be surprised if any of those guys earns a spot in the Hall of Fame.
I think Gore would at least have to get up over 12,000 yards, and a Super Bowl would probably help, as ridiculous as I think that is. What do you think it would take?