'Ageless' Frank Gore didn't return to Miami for retirement tour

Frank Gore suffered two ACL tears at the University of Miami, yet is entering his 14th NFL season in what will likely be a Hall of Fame career. David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

DAVIE, Fla. -- In the late spring of 2015, Frank Gore predicted this moment, even when it seemed unlikely. Gore, drenched in sweat at the end of a workout at the Miami-area Bommarito training facility, deadpanned to cornerback Bobby McCain and said: "I'm going to finish my career down here with the Dolphins."

McCain, then a recently drafted Dolphins rookie, laughed it off as wishful thinking.

Gore had just signed a three-year contract with the Indianapolis Colts that was expected by many to be the final deal of his career after 10 seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Lamar Miller was the Dolphins' established big dog after rushing for 1,099 yards and eight touchdowns in 2014.

But Gore, a kid who grew up on the rough side of the Coconut Grove neighborhood in Miami and ended up attending the University of Miami, knew he would play for his hometown NFL team.

"He didn't tell me he wanted to retire here. He told me he planned to play here. He planned to make a real impact here," McCain said. "He wanted to play in front of his 'hood. I didn't believe him. I do now."

Gore returns home, after signing a one-year contract with the Dolphins in March, to put an exclamation mark on a likely Hall of Fame career. One thing is certain from Gore and those around him: This won't just be a ceremonial retirement tour. He believes he still has plenty to prove.

Even though the official decision hasn't been made by coach Adam Gase, Gore expects to make his Dolphins debut Saturday night against the Baltimore Ravens. Gase said Gore has been driving him crazy about playing.

"It's my first time in Dolphins uniform at home. It's different than Indy. It's different than San Francisco. I'm more nervous and excited than I can remember being as a pro," Gore said. "I always wanted to come home. It means everything to me, my family, my fans. If you know sports in Dade County, you know me."

Gore has been one of the Dolphins' most pleasant surprises this summer. Many thought that Gore, 35 and entering his 14th NFL season, would simply fill a mentor role for lead back Kenyan Drake.

Instead, Gore has showed he still has high-quality fuel left in the tank during practices. The Dolphins plan to split the load between Drake and Gore. Even if Drake takes the larger portion, as expected, Gore will get his fair share.

"I don't even know how old Frank is. He runs like he's 25. I'm excited to play with Frank, I've been a fan of his for a long time, how he plays the game, how hard he plays," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "The [most fun] part for me has been seeing him get through these little tiny cracks."

More than a mentor

Don't expect a player-coach role for Gore. It should be more of a 1-2 tandem with Drake. Gore has amassed 200-plus carries and 850-plus rushing yards in 12 consecutive seasons. He's eclipsed 1,000 rushing yards in nine of those seasons.

Gore believes he can do it again in Miami this season, even if others think he's too old.

"I been hearing that since I was 27. I want to be different than other guys that turned the age that I am," Gore said. "People say I can't do it. I want to be the one that shows them that just because the other backs couldn't do it doesn't mean I can't do it."

Gase added: "He's always trying to prove, probably to himself more than anybody, that, 'I'm going to have another great season.' ... He's always in the moment. It's hard to find guys like that."

Dolphins running backs coach and run-game coordinator Eric Studesville called Gore "one of a kind" while raving about having his detail-oriented, focused, hard-working style in the room. He's become an example for the team's young backs like Drake.

"It's been very beneficial for me," Drake, 24, said. "Every time I come in, I think I'm here early and he's always in here before me, early in the morning, getting extra work in. He has a full slate going, like he's already did two or three practices."

Consistent maturity is the next step for Drake as he aims to become a three-down lead back. Gore, who has helped Drake in that journey, sees potential greatness in him.

"Drake is a great kid. I want him to have success. He works hard. He loves the game. He listens. He's real humble. His skill set is crazy. He can do everything," Gore said. "As long as he stays healthy, works hard and keeps being humble, he will have success and be special. The only thing he got that I don't have is the long speed. I wish I had that."

Climbing the list

A career of consistency has put Gore among the legends. Gore (14,026 yards) should pass Curtis Martin (14,101) for fourth on the all-time rushing list in September.

All of that seemed like a pipe dream when he entered the NFL. He had to overcome two torn ACLs while at the U. Some scouts thought he was damaged goods.

"They said I wouldn't make it to a second contract and I'm still here," Gore said. "Now I'm being mentioned with some of the greatest guys to ever play in this league. I've always strived to prove people wrong."

Gore's career length is the next thing he's proving folks wrong on. Gase called him "ageless" as he seems to defy logic as a back just as close to 40 as 30.

He's not treating 2018 like a feel-good, hometown retirement tour. If all goes well, Gore could see himself playing in 2019 and possibly beyond.

"I'm not going to be done until the man up above says so. It's not me, it's him," said Gore, who is the NFL's oldest running back. "As long as I'm healthy enough to be out there and train and my body feels good, I'm going to do it.

"I want to be remembered as a guy who played the game of football right."