Kyle Shanahan and Frank Gore started their NFL careers within a year of each other.
Shanahan joined the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as an offensive quality control coach in 2004, while the 49ers drafted Gore in the third round out of the University of Miami in 2005. Now, over 15 years later, Gore's New York Jets will play Shanahan's 49ers on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Gore, a 16-year veteran, made the Pro Bowl five times in 10 seasons with the 49ers. He ranks third all-time in career rushing yards (15,371), just above Barry Sanders (15,629) and behind Walter Payton (16,726) and Emmitt Smith (18,355). Gore also has scored 97 total touchdowns, rushing for 79 and catching another 18.
Needless to say, Shanahan is a huge fan.
“I love Frank Gore,” Shanahan said Wednesday. “I think he is one of the best running backs to ever play. I think he is one of the more underrated running backs to ever play. His longevity and his numbers finally have given him a little more attention that is past due."
Gore remains beloved by the 49ers' fan base. After the 2014 season, then general-manager Trent Baalke chose to keep Carlos Hyde as the lead back. Gore signed with the Indianapolis Colts that offseason, but he told the Indianapolis Star in October 2015 that his first choice was to stay and compete for the starting role.
On Sunday, the 37-year-old Gore will start against the team that drafted him. He replaces Le’Veon Bell, who suffered a strained hamstring in the Jets’ Week 1 loss to the Buffalo Bills and has been placed on injured reserve.
Gore played alongside future NFL running backs Willis McGahee and Clinton Portis at Miami. With multiple knee injuries during his college career, Gore was considered a riskier prospect than McGahee and Portis were when they were drafted in 2002 and 2003, respectively. He has since long outlasted both of his college teammates in the pros.
Gore is far and away the 49ers' all-time leading rusher with 11,073 yards. Joe Perry (8,689) and Roger Craig (7,064) are next on the list, and Gore passed both players before he turned 30.
“He runs so hard,” Shanahan said. “The guys that run that hard very rarely can play to his age which just shows how dedicated he is, how much of a football player he is. He’s a special dude.”
Shanahan will be one of the only people on the field Sunday who has been in the NFL longer than Gore. Kicker Robbie Gould is the only current 49er who has played as long as the running back.
Gore nonetheless has the respect of a much younger player who will be face-to-face with him on Sunday. Linebacker Fred Warner was in grade school when Gore made his NFL debut.
“It’ll be an honor to go against him this week,” Warner said. “He’s still got it. He’s going to get downhill, be a tough physical runner.”