INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – No one should question Frank Gore’s motivation as he heads into his 12th season, and his second as the focal point of an Indianapolis Colts’ running game that remains too unreliable.
On the grand scale, he’s still chasing every player’s dream: a championship.
“That’s number one,’’ Gore said. “When you play a team sport and you play this game, I’ve been blessed to get yards and being mentioned among top guys at my position.
“But I haven’t yet got what everybody wants when they play this game, and that’s a ring. That’s what motivates me.’’
Gore got tantalizingly close in 2012 when his San Francisco 49ers reached Super Bowl XLVII against Baltimore. He rushed for 110 yards and one touchdown, but the 49ers fell short 34-31.
As if his hunger to hoist the Lombardi Trophy wasn’t motivation enough, Gore remains royally miffed on an individual level with how last season played out.
Optimism was high when the Colts signed him off the free-agent market – a three-year, $12 million deal – but Gore endured arguably the most frustrating season of his career. He finished with 967 yards, falling short of 1,000 yards for just the second time in a decade, and averaged a career-low 3.7 yards per attempt.
“I’m not over it,’’ Gore said. “I’m not going to be over it until I do it. I’ve been blessed that they kept me to get the opportunity to do it again.’’
Immersed in the ultimate team sport, Gore nonetheless realizes the better he does, the better the team does. He failed to post at least one 100-yard game in a season for the first time in his career.
“I couldn’t believe that,’’ he said, shaking his head. “That really hurt.’’
The Colts never were able to establish their ground game. It ranked No. 29 in yards per game (89.9) and No. 31 in yards per attempt (3.6).
And incredibly, they saw a pair of active league-best streaks for futility extended. The Colts haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007 and haven’t had a running back hit the 100-yard mark since Vick Ballard at Houston in 2012, a stretch of 56 games, including the playoffs.
“I know. I hate to hear that,’’ Gore said.
He was reminded there were extenuating circumstances to his un-Gore-like season: running room behind a substandard offensive line was rare and injuries forced the Colts to turn to four different starting quarterbacks. Neither was conducive to a viable running game.
“But I still put it on me,’’ Gore said. “I felt like I had a down year. In my past, I’ve been 1,100-yards plus. You can’t go by what you didn’t have. The guys who came in tried their best to help.
“I felt like I had a down year because I didn’t reach my goals. Me, I’m just tough on myself. I didn’t get what I said I was going to get.’’
Again, Gore is motivated.
And don’t dismiss his inner drive to prove his critics wrong. Gore turns 33 on Saturday. That’s semi-ancient by running back standards.
Does he feel he has to prove himself all over again? Skeptics are quick to look past the fact he’s the NFL’s leading active rusher with 12,040 yards. That ranks No. 15 in league history, and he could vault to No. 8 with a ninth career 1,000-yard season.
“I’ve been getting that question my whole life,’’ Gore said. “As long as I train and work hard in camp, I’m going to be game-ready.
“I like when they question me.’’
Gore believes his second year with the Colts will unfold more smoothly.
“I feel like I can just be me,’’ he said. “I don’t have to show my teammates that I’m a great player. When it’s time, I can just go play football.
“Last year, especially early on, I was trying to prove to (the Colts) they got a great player. Now, coming back a second year, they know what I bring to the table.’’
And that’s an element that’s been missing for too long. Management used four of its eight draft picks on offensive linemen ostensibly to upgrade quarterback Andrew Luck’s protection, but it also should benefit Gore and the running game.
“I’ve been blessed that they kept me to get the opportunity to do it again,’’ he said. “To go after my goals again. To be the one to get the 100 yards they didn’t have in years. To get the 1,000-plus yards. To have the opportunity when it’s playoff time to get down and dirty and we’ve got to run the ball when key plays happen.
“I just want to do whatever it takes to help this team win, get back to where they were – a playoff team – and get to the Super Bowl.’’