If you're a football fan -- and yes, I love the sport almost as much as free beer -- you've got to love 49ers running back Frank Gore. He's a little man, by NFL standards, with a heart that's bigger than Michael Phelps' appetite for gold medals, five-egg omelettes, french toast and grits.
Gore is one of my favorite athletes in the Bay Area, where I've been writing about sports for nearly 30 years. It's fitting that he's the subject of my first post on my new blog centering on Bay Area sports, pro and college. I caught up with Gore after a recent training camp practice for an interview.
First, some background: Last season Gore broke his right hand on the second day of training camp. That was just the beginning of what turned out to be a season from hell. He lost his mother, Liz, to kidney disease just days before the 49ers' second game of the season. It was a devastating blow to Gore. He was extremely close to his mother, who had been on dialysis since Frank's junior year in high school. Gore also battled a nagging, painful ankle injury throughout much of the season.
Gore never quit. Never gave up. Never pointed fingers. Even though the 49ers fell out of playoff contention before the leaves turned color, Gore took each loss as the season played out as if it were a playoff defeat. Gore kept playing through the pain -- physical and psychological. He rushed for 1,102 yards and caught 53 passes for 436 yards for the NFL's worst offense. See why I admire him?
This year Gore is healthy -- he lost 10 pounds -- at peace with the loss of his mother and happy over the prospect of playing in new 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Martz's offense.
Here's some of what Gore had to say earlier this week as he prepared for Saturday night's home exhibition opener against the Green Bay Packers:
Q: How much fun are you having this year compared to last year at this time?
A: “It’s very fun. Last year was very tough on the field and also off the field. I’m a stronger man, especially by accepting and dealing with the passing of my mom. I’m in good spirits. I’m practicing. I’m learning the offense. The offensive side is very fun. They have me doing a whole lot of stuff. I’m just happy to be out there with my guys, my family. I’m just happy.”
Q: In this offense, with all the talk about Marshall Faulk – we all saw what he did - that must make you excited to say you might have a similar role.
A: “I’m going to try my best. Every opportunity the coaches give me I’m going to try my best and try to do the right thing. I can’t say I’ll be another Marshall Faulk, but I know I’m going to be a great back when I’m out there.”
Q: Are you starting to click with this offense?
A: “Yeah. It’s fun. I’m learning it. The better you learn it, the more fun you have. When coach Martz first came in he told me the more I understand what he’s trying to do, the more I’ll like it. I see it. I see it. It’s going to be fun this year.”
Q: How much time do you need in these exhibition games? Last year you got zero because of the injury. This year you’ve got a new offense.
A: “I feel the more I practice and the more I get my reps down, I’m good with it. I’d be happy to get in against another defense, another team. As long as I’m practicing and getting my reps, I feel good.”
Q: Do you want to get at least a quarter, get a little work?
A: “Right, right.”
Q: How was it last year without playing in the exhibition season?
A: “It was tough man, it was very tough.”
Q: The offense got off to a slow start and never got into the groove it had the year before. Did you feel that about you, too, missing training camp and then hurting your ankle?
A: “It was a tough year, man, a very tough year.”
Q: How did you deal with the season, your mom passing, and all the losing?
A: “I just kept working and left it in the hands of God. That’s all I did.”
Q: How do you feel now?
A: “I feel good. I feel great. I feel like I’m in great shape. I’m just ready to go out and play.”
Q: What kind of year do you expect? A: “I feel good, man. I feel real good. I feel that if everybody stays healthy and we just keep working, we can have a successful year.”