frank gore2

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The age of 30 is not an old age for your average healthy human. There are different paths for different folks, but often by the age of 30 the typical life can be vaguely described thusly: after completing your education in your early 20′s you landed the job that gives you good feelings by, say, 26, and now you have enough experience to begin an advancement upwards. In your personal life, you might be married, and you might have a young child or two.

For an NFL running back, only the last part there applies, because they aren’t asked to fit even the broadest description of a normal human life path. At the age of 30, they generally disintegrate, never to be seen again. About a decade of running into brick walls at minimum a dozen times per game accelerates the aging process, and suddenly there’s little left to give.

Unless your name is Frank Gore.

Gore has actually chugged far past 30, and according to both his birth certificate and my calendar, he’s closer to 31 (he’ll hit that in May). Yet as his 49ers now prepare to head far northwest to Seattle where road wins don’t live, here’s what Gore did during his ninth NFL season: 1,128 rushing yards (and 1,269 total yards when we add his receiving), and nine touchdowns, all despite battling through an ankle injury much of the year.

Sure, he had his dud weeks, because those happen (three games with less than 35 yards). But overall Gore averaged 70.5 rushing yards per game and 4.1 per carry, and he did that while recording his third straight season with 1,000 yards or more, and his highest touchdown total since 2009.

And he’s 30.

That really can’t be overstated and repeated enough. As Gore prepares to be a vital piece of the 49ers’ aspirations to appear in their second straight Super Bowl because passing against the Seahawks isn’t something that happens ever, he can look back at the trail of aging running backs in his wake, and the history he’s still fighting.

That good fight has been aided of course by the presence of Kendall Hunter, and over the past three years Jim Harbaugh doing sound damage control with his backfield rotation (aside: he’s the first head coach in the Super Bowl era to take his team to a conference championship in each of his first three seasons). Though Gore has remained the lead horse and surely will for the final year of his current contract in 2014, he’s had only one season with 300 or more carries, and under Harbaugh he’s averaged 17 carries per game.

But even with that less is more approach, 2,518 total career regular-season touches is nothing to shrug off, as many a running back has been led to his burial with far less. Arian Foster is the best active example after his season ended abruptly this year before it even really started. Way back in July Foster experienced calf soreness, and then as the year progressed his body deteriorated more, and eventually he was placed on the injured reserve in October due to a back problem.

Foster’s heaping helping of carries has come quick, and far quicker than Gore’s (two +300 carry seasons over just four years as a starter). Still, the gap between the two in both age and touch total is significant. Foster will turn 28 just prior to next season, and he’s been given 1,320 touches over 59 career games. That’s monumentally less work than Gore (1,198 fewer touches), and yet already at the age of 28 there’s legitimate worry about Foster’s career longevity.

That’s because Foster is normal, and Gore is the exception (in fairness, Foster being hammered deep into the earth continually by since departed Texans head coach Gary Kubiak isn’t helping his cause). Foster is the current example, but we’ve seen this woe of age and overuse so many times before. A few more historical (and still mostly recent) examples…

  • Shaun Alexander: 1,880 rushing yards during his age 28 season, 716 yards at age 30 (2,402 career touches)
  • Michael Turner: 1,340 yards during his age 29 season, 800 yards at age 30 (1,709 career touches)
  • Steven Jackson: 1,042 yards during his age 29 season, 543 yards at age 30 (2,992 career touches
  • Ahman Green:  1,059 yards during his age 29 season, 260 yards age age 30 (2,434 career touches)
  • Stephen Davis: 1,444 yards during his age 29 season, and only 818 yards over the remaining three years of his career (2,124 total career touches

Of those five who were often injured due to persistent pounding and therefore their age 30 production declined drastically, only Jackson has/had more career touches than Gore. Yes, the punishment came quicker and in blind abundance for others. But Gore’s overall beating has still been plentiful, with many haymakers and knee rattlings. Yet he’s remained consistently productive, with a career yards per attempt of 4.6, and at least 70 rushing yards per game for eight straight years.

He still has speed in the open field too despite the wear on his legs that have traveled many miles. Here’s what Gore did the last time he ran against his conference final opponent in Week 14…

That’s a 51-yard run, and Gore’s longest run last year was a 37-yarder. Just this past weekend he also had a 39-yard run in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal, and effectively seal a win over the Panthers and a title game berth. It was his third +30 yard jog this season during a year when he had three games with at least 100 yards on the ground, matching his championship game counterpart Marshawn Lynch, who’s three years younger.

With 169 total yards over two playoff games which follows a 2013 post-season with 319 yards and four touchdowns, Gore remains both ageless and wonderful.

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