Former San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore entered the 2016 season ranked No. 15 on the all-time rushing leaderboard with 12,040 yards. He has rushed for 749 yards this season, and that has moved him up to No. 8, having passed Tony Dorsett this past week. He trails Eric Dickerson by 470 yards, and if he returns next year as most probably expect, he will likely pass him and maybe Jerome Bettis and LaDanian Tomlinson to enter the top five all time.
Naturally, Gore’s rise up the ranks has had people discussing his Hall of Fame candidacy. He has the pure counting stats. If he retired today, the only running back ahead of him not in the Hall is LaDanian Tomlinson. LDT is in his first year as a nominee, and is all but assured of being voted in Super Bowl weekend. The nearest running backs behind Gore not in the Hall are Edgerrin James (No. 12), Adrian Peterson (No. 16), and Fred Taylor (No. 17). James is a semifinalist for the third straight year of eligibility. Peterson is still active. Taylor did not advance past the initial nominee stage this season.
There is going to be quite a bit of debate surrounding Frank Gore’s HOF candidacy. While he has the volume, arguments are already being made about quality. HOF voter Rick Gosselin wrote a column recently in which he raised the quality vs. quantity argument.
Gosselin acknowledged Gore has the numbers, saying, “Statistically, he’s already there.” However, after listing off the names Gore has passed on the all-time list, he asked, “can statistics alone make a player a Hall of Famer?”
He then went through and listed off some of the following reasons that might give him pause:
- No Super Bowl ring
- No 2,000 yard season
- No rushing title
- No MVP award
- Not enough Pro Bowls
- No all-decade selection
- No first-team All Pro
Gosselin acknowledged Gore belongs in the discussion, but with each of those knocks against Gore, Gosselin pointed to other running backs who belonged in the discussion
Yes, Frank Gore deserves to be in the discussion. But so do John David Crow, Larry Brown, Chuck Foreman, Roger Craig, Ricky Watters, Priest Holmes, Edgerrin James and Terrell Davis. Not all are going to get in. Not all will even be discussed.
Gosselin knows football, but his column reads like someone who hasn’t actually watched Gore play football. I get that he cannot watch every game of every player, but if you watch a few Gore games, you see the fact that he is one of the greats at pass blocking. If you watch a few Gore games, you’ll see him squeezing through the smallest of holes. Those are two things that simply do not show up in the statistics, but need to be recognized.
And of course, we can talk about the quality of the teams Gore played on. He did have some great run blocking lines. His franchise record 1,695 yards in 2006 came behind an impressive line. From 2011 to 2014, he averaged 1,164 yards per season behind some quality run blocking lines on mostly really good teams. We can’t ignore the quality around him in some of those instances.
But in between all that, he played with some awful offenses. In 2009, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry, the second best performance of his career. That season saw the 49ers start a perfectly middle of the road Alex Smith for 10 games, and a “fine as a backup” Shaun Hill for six games. In 2007, he rushed for 1,102 yards with Trent Dilfer, Alex Smith, Shaun Hill, and Chris Weinke all getting starts. In 2008, he rushed for 1,036 yards with Shaun Hill and J.T. O’Sullivan starting games.
It’d be great to consider the hypotheticals of, what would Gore’s numbers be if you swapped him with Emmitt Smith. But since we can’t do that, we can recognize the level of talent that was around him for extended times, and the eight-man boxes he was facing on a regular basis. And furthermore, we’re talking about a guy who had major surgery on both knees before he had even set foot in the NFL. It is a major part of why he deserves recognition as one of the NFL’s all-time greats.
The Hall of Fame voters do not get to see every player they are voting on with any regularity. Instead, when you get to the finalists, each player has a voter who offers up their case to the voters. Last year, Jim Trotter made the case for Eddie DeBartolo, which Jennifer Chan detailed here. Columnist Nancy Gay has been involved in the process in the past, and there is sometimes rotation of people into the voting process.
Gore will first be eligible five years after his retirement. I don’t anticipate him retiring this year, so we are talking at least six years from now. When he is first nominated, I think most of us would be shocked if he did not make it to the finalist stage. He would then be presented to the voters Super Bowl weekend as they cut down to the final class. There will be debate about his skills and numbers, and that is where the person making his case will put forth the most forceful arguments they can.
I can see why voters who have not seen much of Gore might decide that the numbers alone are not enough. His whole body of work beyond numbers are what add to his case, and it will be up to the media member presenting Gore’s case to help voters grasp the full breadth of how great a running back Frank Gore was.