Tuesday, July 30, 2013
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Frank Gore got mad at the television last week at the 49ers’ team hotel. Replays of Super Bowl XLVII appeared, and Gore’s anger returned over a lost Lombardi Trophy.
The next day, after his first practice of training camp, Gore adamantly staked his claim for 2013.
“I respect all my guys here. I’m glad they push me,” Gore began. “But I’m being real: I train like I still want to be ‘The Man.’ I really do.
“I’m not ready to pass the baton yet.”
Overshadowed amid the emergence of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Gore isn’t about to minimize his impact on another Super Bowl run.
Nor is he giving up the copyright to run behind an elite offensive line.
“That’s what makes him great,” right tackle Anthony Davis said. “If you look at him on the field, he looks like a rookie. Coaches have to pull him out of drills. He’s trying to impress himself.”
Eight years after Gore arrived as a third-round gamble with surgically repaired knees, his passion for football burns like an eternal flame inside his 5-foot-9 caldron.
His constant search for validation could stop easily at the 49ers’ record book, where he holds all major rushing records: 8,839 yards, 1,911 carries and 51 touchdowns.
But Gore knows how 30-year-old tailbacks are viewed, and he just hit that so-called age barrier May 14.
“People like to say what happens at 30,” Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk said. “He’ll find out. It has nothing to do with skills. It’s the nature of the position.
“A boxer can take only so many punches, a tire has only so much tread. It’s about being prepared for it.”
Outside of conditioning in the 49ers offseason program — an undisclosed injury kept him out of team drills — Gore also worked out in his native South Florida with personal trainers, including Pete Bommarito and Terek Maddox.
Bommarito confirmed that Gore was “obviously distraught” about the 49ers’ Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens. “He’s the type of guy where losing destroys him,” said Bommarito, who has trained Gore since he came out of the University of Miami in 2005.
By training with nearly 15 other backs at Bommarito Performance Systems, Gore said he got to “compare myself to what they’re doing, see if I’m as quick or quicker.”
What was the verdict?
“I’m doing a great job,” Gore said with a laugh.
“It’s his neurotic attention to every single drill we do,” Bommarito added. “He approaches everything like it’s the last play of the Super Bowl.”
Oh yes, the Super Bowl. Gore wasn’t thrilled to see it Wednesday night on NFL Network.
“You look at it and you get angry, especially when you feel like you were the better team,” Gore said. “As long as we keep that bitter taste in our mouth and keep working, hopefully we get back and win it this time.”
Gore nearly won it for the 49ers last time, only to see the Ravens escape with a 34-31 win.
His 33-yard run out of the pistol formation put the 49ers at the Ravens’ 7-yard line with 2:31 remaining.
It was his final carry of the season.
The only man between him and a Super Bowl-winning, legacy-defining touchdown was linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who ran Gore out of bounds.
Gore (19 carries, 110 yards, one touchdown) initially thought he could have cut back to score. But upon watching replays later, he’s convinced Ellerbe took a perfect angle. Four plays — and three incompletions — later, the 49ers got no closer than the 5-yard line.
“Yeah, I wish I could have scored it,” Gore said. “But it’s not just that. There are some plays on the goal line, like the last play. I wish I would have read the defense better, then stepped back inside (to block) and help Kap get a better throw.”
Hurried up the middle, Kaepernick threw incomplete to Michael Crabtree on fourth down, sealing the 49ers’ first Super Bowl loss in six trips.
Blocking is what’s separated Gore from most tailbacks. Last season, he smothered Bears linebacker Lance Briggs on a goal-line, blitz pickup. But the block — the play — most admired by running backs coach Tom Rathman came two weeks later, when Gore threw a cut block that sprung Kaepernick for a 50-yard run in St. Louis.
As Gore returns for a ninth season, it’s worth noting Rathman played in nine (1986-93 49ers, 1994 Raiders) before his body told him to retire. (Gore’s contract runs through 2014.)
“He’s still got some youth left in him,” Rathman said of Gore. “Look at him when he runs. He still has the same moves as he’s always had. He’s a tremendous football player with great passion and desire to be one of the best.”
Faulk, who played until he was 32, is also proud of Gore’s mindset. But Faulk expects Gore’s workload to diminish, in part from the offense’s use of read-option plays.
“It took him time to adjust to that (last season),” Faulk said. “Frank is like me — old school, where you line up and want to know if you’re getting the ball.”
Gore’s main understudies, Kendall Hunter and LaMichael James, provided relief last season while Gore raced for 1,214 yards and eight touchdowns, the second-highest marks of his career.
The proverbial baton, however, remains firmly in Gore’s grasp. Hunter is coming off an Achilles tear. James is learning the pro game after debuting just last December. And Marcus Lattimore, this year’s third-round draft gamble, might not play until next season because of surgically repaired knees.
“Everyone wants (Gore) to be the man,” receiver Kyle Williams said. “No one is going to take that from him.”
Eight years ago, Gore reported to camp as Kevan Barlow’s understudy, a scenario that came to Gore’s mind last season when Kaepernick waited behind Alex Smith.
“Even though Alex was the man, he wanted to play,” Gore said of Kaepernick. “He reminded me of my rookie year. It’s never wrong to think you’re better than the guy. He always wanted to play.
“I remember telling him the week of the (Oct. 7) Buffalo game: ‘Just keep working. You’ll get your shot.’ It eventually happened, and he took advantage of it.”
So has Gore.