Running back Frank Gore entered the 2005 NFL Draft with enough question marks to be considered a "reach" when the 49ers selected him with the first pick in the third round.
Physically, Gore had already sustained two ACL tears during his college career at Miami. And NFL doctors had a difficult time signing off on another part of his anatomy, too.
“I took a chance,” former 49ers personnel chief Scot McCloughan said on The 49ers Insider Podcast. “And the majority of the time when you take that chance, you get burned on it because of the medical.
“It’s not just the knees. It was his shoulders, too. I had to almost talk the doctors into passing him. I was like, ‘Come on, guys, work with me here.’ Because I liked him so much as a football player.”
Gore enters Sunday’s game against his former team just three yards behind Eric Dickerson for No. 7 on the NFL’s all-time rushing yardage list.
“I’ve been blessed,” Gore said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area reporters.
“When you look back at my career, coming from college, when I got drafted there how many people, even with me getting picked in third round, were calling it a reach? And now I’m still playing and having a little success at this age. I feel real blessed. I’m still working my behind off and still loving it.”
And how is this for durability? Gore, 34, has started 96 consecutive games – the longest active streak among NFL running backs. Next on the list is Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, who has 25 consecutive starts.
“He’s still rolling,” McCloughan said.
After 10 seasons with the 49ers, Gore’s time came to an end after his 1,106-yard season in 2014. With Jim Harbaugh no longer with the organization, general manager Trent Baalke offered Gore a one-year contract in 2015 as the organization prepared for Carlos Hyde to take over as the featured running back.
Gore admits he was bitter for a year after signing a three-year deal with Indianapolis. But, now, with the passage of time, Gore said he understands the 49ers' rationale.
“They had a young guy,” Gore said. “Trent Baalke drafted him, and that’s who he wanted to play. They wanted to go in a new direction. What could I do?
“I just know when I left I left on good terms. I played great ball for the York family and my fans out there. I left everything on the field.”
Gore is now earning plenty of admirers in Indianapolis, just as he did for a decade with the 49ers.
“I think a bunch of people told him for a long, long time that he can’t and he won’t, and he’s been out to prove everybody wrong,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said.
“He’s one of our top dudes. Just a great, great player, a better person and a great teammate.”
Gore leads the Colts with 191 yards and two touchdowns on 61 carries through four games this season. Although he is averaging just 3.1 yards per rushing attempt, his average is still best among Indianapolis’ running backs.
From the first time McCloughan saw Gore as a true freshman at Miami, he knew there was something special. Although Gore was behind Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee on the depth chart, McCloughan observed Gore’s toughness, strong lower body and ability to keep his pads low.
McCloughan looked past a low Wonderlic score. He knew a learning disability meant that Gore would not test well. But he also knew no written test could properly convey that Gore was a football savant.
“His intelligence, his instincts for the game are lights out,” McCloughan said. “I’ve been around a lot of really good football players. With him, it’s amazing how he picks stuff up so quickly.
“I was like, ‘He’s smarter than Alex (Smith),’ and Alex had a big-time test score. And Alex, of course, is very intelligent, but he (Gore) knew the game, big-time. It was awesome.”
McCloughan had only briefly met Gore at the NFL Scouting Combine, but at that point Gore was off the 49ers’ draft board due to a non-passing medical grade.
The night before the 2005 draft, McCloughan said he was at then-coach Mike Nolan’s house. He received a call from an agent who told him Gore wished to speak with him.
“I can barely understand him, he’s talking so fast,” McCloughan said. “He’s nervous.”
Gore told McCloughan that he’s heard from other teams that he could be a first- or second-round draft pick.
“I said, ‘I’ll be honest with you, Frank,” McCloughan said. “I’m always honest with all the players and coaches. I said, ‘If you’re there – we had the first pick in the third round – I’m going to take you. I can’t take you prior to that because of the medical issues.’ He said, ‘I’m not going to last that long.’ And I said, ‘Well, I don’t know. If you do, I’ll take you.’
“Since that day, we’ve been best friends. He said, ‘I respect you and I trust you.’ You get Frank’s trust, -- a lot of players – you get their trust, you got them. You got them, and they’ll do everything for you, and I’ll do everything for them.”
All-time NFL leading rushers
1, Emmitt Smith 18,355 (1990-2004)
2, Walter Payton 16,726 (1975-1987)
3, Barry Sanders 15,269 (1989-1998)
4, Curtis Martin 14,101 (1995-2005)
5, LaDainian Tomlinson 13,684 (2001-2011)
6, Jerome Bettis 13,662 (1993-2005)
7, Eric Dickerson 13,259 (1983-1993)
8, Frank Gore 13,256 (2005-current)
9, Tony Dorsett 12,739 (1977-1988)
10, Jim Brown 12,312 (1957-1965)