The old Hurricane Frank Gore always trained back in Miami, back home, during NFL offseasons, and it was during the spring of 2015, working out with new Dolphins draftee Bobby McCain, when Gore first said aloud what might have always been tucked deep in his heart and mind.
“I told him I’m going to finish here, not knowing if it would come true or not,” Gore recalled Monday, face glistening with sweat following the fifth practice of Dolphins training camp. “I’m happy it did.”
Thirty-nine former Canes have played for the Dolphins in the franchise’s 53 seasons, but none of the homecomings has felt more full circle, more right, than Gore’s. Born in Miami, raised in Coconut Grove, schooled at Coral Gables High and then UM, he’ll be the first Cane-turned-Dolphin to reach Canton and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
These are tough days for The U’s ‘s tightly knit sports family. Former Canes running back Tyrone Moss died late last week at 33 reportedly because of heart-related issues. Two nights later the 16-year-old son of UM baseball pitching coach J.D. Arteaga died in an auto accident. Gore was a former teammate who knew Moss well. The pain still raw, he preferred not to discuss the loss on Monday.
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The bond within the UM athletic family is real, and will help two families deal with the grief and heal. That bond also is why, for this community, Gore’s return to Miami brings a smile with it.
It is the perfect end run for the all-time great runner — to finish where he started, at age 35, as the oldest back in the NFL, still beating odds.
It had a chance to happen when the Dolphins hired Adam Gase as coach in January 2016, and then when the Indianapolis Colts did not re-sign Gore and left him a free agent this past March.
“I’m happy it came with Gase being the head coach,” said Gore of his homecoming. Their relationship goes back 10 years, to their days with the San Francisco 49ers.
Gore is an anomaly, still productive at the one brutal position with the shortest career-span, some seven years after running backs are thought to be in chronological decline.
NFL head coaches want nothing to do with 35-year-old backs. But Gase knew better. He envisions Gore as not only a mentor for young Kenyan Drake and rookie Kalen Ballage, but as a major contributor with them. Do not be surprised if Gore ends up starting, or at least getting comparable touches to Drake, who says Gore “always has an extra gear even at his age. It’s cool seeing that face to face.”
Says Gase: “I wouldn’t doubt Frank with anything. [His age] is irrelevant. He’s a different dude. He is the last person I will ever doubt. Seeing what he’s done through his career, starting in college, has proven every person wrong that ever doubted him.”
Those included the Dolphins, who scouted Gore hard and worked him out intensely before the 2005 draft, only to select running back Ronnie Brown No. 1 . “I thought that was out the door,” he said of ever playing for the Dolphins.
Gore lasted until the Niners took him in the third round, and no wonder. If he’s 5-9 he barely is. He had two separate ACL knee injuries while at UM, one erasing an entire season.
“I’m still here,” he answered it all on Monday.
Here: Fifth all-time in NFL rushing with 14,026 yards and poised early this season to climb to fourth — trailing only Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.
But here, too: Still trying to prove himself. Of his career, “It’s a blessing, especially thinking about where I came from, coming out of college with two ACLs and all the doubters saying I wouldn’t play two or three years, then saying me getting picked in the third round was a reach. “
Finishing as a Dolphin is very personal for Gore.
“My kids get to see me every day now, and I get to see my oldest son’s high-school games. I haven’t seen him play since he was like 5 years old.” Frank Jr. is a junior at Killian. Running back, of course. For Gore home games will be truly that, “in front of my fans, family and my coaches still in Miami, Pop Warner to high school.”
It is personal in another way, too, though. He’s still the 5-9 supposed injury risk everybody doubted, even though he has played all 16 games eight times in his career — including the last seven seasons in a row.
“I want to prove I still can,” said the man who hasn’t had anything to prove for a long, long time. I want to show my fans in Miami I can still be a top guy in this league.”