Nearly 34, Colts’ Frank Gore insists ‘I’m a good football player’

Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts runs the ball in the third quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 6, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The names, so many in the 30-something age group, continued to disappear from the Indianapolis Colts roster.

Robert Mathis. D’Qwell Jackson. Joe Reitz. Mike Adams. Erik Walden. And last week, Matt Overton.

The Colts were committed to regaining their playoff swagger following consecutive 8-8 records, and that included getting younger.

Yet, the NFL anomaly is still standing. Frank Gore turns 34 Sunday. That’s borderline ancient for a professional running back. Of the 12 backs who cracked the 1,000-yard mark last season, eight were 26 or younger.

The Colts clearly looked deeper than Gore’s age in assessing his value.

“They know I’m a good football player,’’ he said Tuesday. “I play the game hard. I love it. They know when I’m around the guys, I bring the team up.

“I’m happy to be here. When training camp comes, I’ll show them I’m still a young guy. I’ll go out and be the same Frank Gore I’ve been.’’

As much as Gore shrugs off the age issue, it serves as motivation during the twilight of what qualifies as a Hall of Fame-worthy career.

There used to be whispers.

He’s lost a step, that burst. He isn’t the back he used to be. Father Time is claiming another one.

Now they’re louder, and the odds are stacked heavier against him. In 2016, Gore became the first player at least 33 years old to rush for 1,000 yards since John Riggins in 1984. If he hits that mark again in ’17, he’ll join Riggins and John Henry Johnson as the only backs to do so after turning 34.

As much as possible, Gore ignores the skeptics.

“I don’t listen to what people say outside,’’ he insisted. “I don’t let another man judge me because another man couldn’t do it. I still love the game and I’m training and I’m still having fun.

“Just because this guy didn’t do it doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it. I’m going to show them and I’m not listening to what they’ve got to say.’’

Too often, Gore said, so-called experts anoint a young running back as the next sure thing. Then, that player fades.

He draws extreme pride from his longevity and productivity. Gore is one of five players to rush for at least 1,000 yards nine times, and the other four have busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame: Emmitt Smith, Curtis Martin, Walter Payton and Barry Sanders.

Gore ranks 8th in NFL history with 13,065 yards, and is 620 yards shy of passing Eric Dickerson (13,259), Jerome Bettis (13,662) and LaDainian Tomlinson (13,684) for 5th on the all-time list. Also within reach is Martin (4th at 14,101).

“I hear it,’’ Gore said of his methodical ascension. “Edge (Edgerrin James), Fred T (Taylor) tell me to keep going. They think I can get top-4 if I just keep being me and keep training.

“As long as I’m healthy and feeling good and I’m on the field and get the opportunities, that will come.’’

Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski flashed an appreciative smile when asked about Gore’s staying power. Gore is in his 13th season and has started 92 consecutive games, the longest streak among active running backs.

“I would never bet against Frank Gore,’’ Chudzinski said. “He’s a special, special guy and for him to do what he did last season is incredible. I’ve got all the facts and the stats and everything else how rare that is.

“He’s a Hall of Famer. That’s the bottom line. There’s something special there. You never bet against those kind of guys.’’

Even so, the Colts must plan for life after Gore. He’s entering the final year of his contract and, as we’ve mentioned, is not getting any younger.

The team re-signed veteran Robert Turbin in March, selected South Florida’s Marlon Mack in the fourth round of the April draft and added additional competition in the post-draft collegiate free-agent frenzy with Louisville’s Brandon Radcliff and New Hampshire’s Dalton Crossan. Josh Ferguson, a rookie free agent addition last year, rounds out the stable.

Being surrounded by youth – Turbin, 27, is the oldest – keeps Gore’s juices flowing. He’s known Radcliff, a prep star in Miami, “since he was a little kid. I like him.’’

He also thrives amid the positional competition.

“I like to compete with young guys, just to (keep) myself honest and (know) I’m going to be ready for the season,’’ Gore said.

Gore’s major regret is one that was out of his control. His first two years with the Colts required him to work behind an ever-changing offensive line. Now, it appears to be coming together.

“They’re going to be good,’’ he said. “I just wish I could have been younger with them . . . when they really, really get good. They’ve got a bright future.’’