Frank Gore and Matt Forte are leading a renaissance year for ‘old’ NFL running backs



The scary thing is, the end could come after any carry

Running backs lose effectiveness quickly compared to other positions, and at a younger age, so they’re often fighting for a new contract right up until a door is closed on their faces. Priest Holmes averaged a career best 111.5 yards per game at 31, rushing for 4.6 yards per carry. Two years later, he retired midseason after re injuring his neck and averaging 3.0 yards per carry. The San Diego Chargers gave up on LaDainian Tomlinson, so he went to the New York Jets where he looked resurgent his first season and washed up the next before leaving football. More recently, Justin Forsett, who rushed for 1,266 yards at 5.4 yards per carry at 29, was released by the Baltimore Ravens at 31 after four games to be re signed as a depth chart filler for a desperate Detroit Lions team.

Older running backs don’t have the same leeway to be as mediocre as young running backs. There is a distinct trend line that says things will be getting worse, but also a collective bargaining agreement that made rookies much cheaper than they used to be and veterans more expensive. Ostensibly, older players are better taken care of, but they are also more likely to be lopped off the payroll.

The players we’re watching perform among the best in the NFL need to be great, because the moment they aren’t they will be on the chopping block. If they are injured, they may not find a team willing to abide their recovery time. Yet they need to run harder, play with more abandon, to overcome their tiring legs. To stay on the field, they need to risk everything.

It’s no surprise that we empathize with running backs

Running plays develop slowly. The effort is plain. On a handoff, you see the back look for the hole, accelerate, and hope for the best. More often their effort is futile. Running backs fail a lot. Somehow, it’s important that they do, because it helps keep defenses honest and every once in a while the back breaks free if not on one play, then perhaps the next, or the next, but sometimes never.

That naked grind is familiar and human, more so than, say, a wide receiver whose failures aren’t seen as often because the ball is thrown their way maybe eight times a game. Running backs suffer sometimes without success on the horizon, sometimes for the sole purpose of staving off the end.

Last weekend, Gore rushed for 75 yards to pass Jim Brown on the list of all time leading rushers, and now has Tony Dorsett within his sights this season. Gore didn’t have an eye catching performance, which is fitting for a player who wasn’t always all that eye catching. Brown rushed for 12,312 yards in 118 games, and Gore needed 148 to pass him.

But Gore isn’t trying to wow anyone. After the game, the Indianapolis Star wrote one of those pieces you always see about veterans and the respect they command. Quarterback Andrew Luck called Gore, “A beautiful teammate.” Linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said Gore is “probably the most passionate guy I’ve authentic jerseys for cheap
ever played with.” The point of the article wasn’t what he does as a player, but the fact that he’s doing anything at all.

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