There’s more. Gore and Smith are the only running backs to start 200 games in NFL history. Gore is the only player in NFL history to have produced 1,200-plus scrimmage yards in 12 consecutive seasons, and he ranks fourth in career yards from scrimmage. He also has scored five or more touchdowns in 11 consecutive seasons, which is tied with five other players, all retired, for the best mark in history. Perhaps most surprisingly, Gore has become more durable with age, missing a mere two games since 2011.
Some feel that is enough to warrant entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame once Gore decides to hang up his cleats, but his case for enshrinement in Canton, Ohio, isn’t crystal clear.
The first few questions of the Keltner List, a series of admittedly subjective questions formulated by sabermetrician Bill James used to help assess whether a player deserves to be elected to his sport’s hall of fame, should be enough to cast doubt on Gore’s case, which relies heavily on longevity rather than star power.
Was Gore ever regarded as the best player in the NFL? Did anybody, while Gore was active, ever suggest that he was the best player in the NFL? No and no. He was never the rushing champion, he never won the MVP award, and he never even earned first-team all-pro honors.
Was Gore the best player at his position? No. Since Gore entered the league in 2005, running backs Shaun Alexander (2005), LaDainian Tomlinson (2006) and Adrian Peterson (2012) were named the league MVP, and 24 other running backs were named to first-team all-pro teams. After Gore’s best season, in 2006, he was named just a second-team all-pro, behind Tomlinson and Larry Johnson. The most prominent award Gore won during his professional career was the 2016 Art Rooney Award for sportsmanship for being the player who “best demonstrates the qualities of outstanding sportsmanship on the playing field, including fair play, respect for opponents and integrity in competition.”
Was Gore the best player on his team? Only once, during that 2006 season, when he was still with the San Francisco 49ers. That year Gore touched the ball 373 times for 2,180 total yards and nine touchdowns, earning him an Approximate Value score of 16, a team (and career) high. (Approximate value is a method, created by Doug Drinen, of putting a single numerical value on any player’s season, at any position, from any year.)
From 2007 to 2014, the best player on the 49ers, per Approximate Value, was linebacker Patrick Willis, linebacker NaVorro Bowman or quarterback Colin Kaepernick. During Gore’s three years with the Indianapolis Colts, the best player on the team was quarterback Andrew Luck, cornerback Vontae Davis or defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. During Gore’s one-year stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2018, offensive lineman Jesse Davis was the best player on the squad. Approximate Value isn’t available yet for 2019, but the game charters at Pro Football Focus rank nine players on the Bills’ defense above Gore, in addition to wide receiver John Brown.
What of Gore’s standing among NFL running backs? When you look at the 30 running backs with 10,000 or more rushing yards, Gore doesn’t even stand out among the nonmembers of the Hall of Fame. The 14 Hall of Famers in this group averaged an Approximate Value score of 12.5 per 16 games. The 15 nonmembers, not including Gore, averaged an Approximate Value score of 10.5 per 16 games. Gore has produced an Approximate Value score of just 9.1 per 16 games. Among Hall of Famers with at least 10,000 rushing yards, only Jerome Bettis has a lower Approximate Value score per 16 games than Gore. Bettis at least was a two-time all-pro, unlike Gore.
Gore did rush the ball 19 times for 110 yards and a touchdown in Super Bowl XLVII. But he and the 49ers ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens, 34-31.
By all accounts, Gore is a tremendous athlete, teammate and humanitarian, and it is easy to root for players like that and want them to get the highest accolades available. His longevity is remarkable. But Gore’s career, especially when looked at in terms of peak performance, just doesn’t measure up to Hall of Fame standards.