SANTA CLARA (AP) — After 10 seasons and a franchise rushing record, Frank Gore acknowledges he had some hard feelings when the San Francisco 49ers showed little interest in bringing him back following the 2014 season to go with Carlos Hyde instead.
That probably could be expected from someone who had about as big an impact as any player in the turnaround in San Francisco that led to three straight trips to the NFC title game and who had rushed for 1,106 yards at age 31.
“My first year I was kind of bitter,” Gore said Wednesday on a conference call with Bay Area media members. “It’s the business of the league. They had a young guy. Trent Baalke had drafted him and that’s who he wanted to play. They wanted to go a new direction. What can I do? I just know when I left, I left on good terms. I played great ball for the York family.”
More than two years after he got only a one-year offer from San Francisco and signed a three-year deal instead with Indianapolis, Gore will play his original team for the first time when the 49ers (0-4) visit the Colts (1-3) on Sunday and his feelings have softened.
Gore asked media members how the Niners were doing, praised the direction the team was headed in under the new regime led by coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch and had good things to say about many of the players, including the defensive line, safeties Jaquiski Tartt and Eric Reid and Hyde.
“I want to see them do great,” Gore said. “I’ve been there 10 years. That’s what I bleed.”
It will be a very different 49ers team that Gore will face Sunday with only nine players remaining who were in San Francisco in Gore’s final season in 2014.
Gore is looking forward to reuniting with some of those players, especially linebacker NaVorro Bowman, whom he never matched up with much in practice because coach Jim Harbaugh didn’t want his best players hurting each other.
“He knew what we had over there,” Gore said. “He knew what we could do. He kind of kept us away. I know what Bo brings to the table. I’m happy that he’s healthy and still playing football and I’m looking forward to competing against him on Sunday.”
Bowman is one of four players remaining from the team that went to the Super Bowl following the 2012 season, along with Joe Staley, Garrett Celek and Daniel Kilgore.
Gore said he thought that Niners team would be back for Super Bowl trips following that 34-31 loss to Baltimore but San Francisco lost in the NFC title game at Seattle the following year and hasn’t had a winning record since. Gore and Harbaugh left after the 2014 season and San Francisco is just 7-29 the past three years.
Gore ran for 110 yards in that Super Bowl but didn’t get the ball once after San Francisco had first-and-goal from the 5 with the Niners trailing 34-29 in the closing minutes.
“I would have done whatever I would have had to do to get a touchdown,” he said. “Coach called a different play. I’m going to go with what coach called. We had a bunch of guys who could make plays. He called what he called but it didn’t work.”
That season was the peak of Gore’s 10-year tenure in San Francisco. He arrived in 2005 as an unheralded third-round pick after two major knee injuries had limited his production in college at Miami. He led the team in rushing as a rookie with 608 yards and then quickly developed into a star in his second season.
Gore set a 49ers franchise record with 1,695 yards rushing in 2006 and followed that with three more 1,000-yard seasons as he became one of the few stars on teams that failed to post winning records in each of his first six seasons.
That all began to change when Harbaugh was hired as coach in 2011. Gore topped 1,000 yards rushing in each of Harbaugh’s four seasons in San Francisco, helping the team make it to the NFC title game each year from 2011-13, including the Super Bowl trip following the 2012 season.
“He made our guys look great,” Kilgore said. “Some of those holes I don’t think you could have slipped a dollar bill through. He tip-toes through those holes and he’s a patient back but when he gets through he’ll hit the hole.”
Gore is still producing for Indianapolis at age 34. He ran for 1,992 yards his first two seasons with the Colts and now at age 34 he needs just 4 yards to pass Eric Dickerson for seventh place all-time. Gore needs 429 yards to move into the top five all-time in a career that could put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“He’s a beast. Definitely a beast,” Hyde said. “He’s been doing this for a long time and playing at a high level for a long time. I’m just trying to have a career like him.”