Arguably no one took greater interest in Frank Gore's decision to return for a 16th NFL season than Darren Sproles, a fellow running back who entered the league with him in 2005, when both were mid-round draft picks.
"I'm telling you this, the way Frank is still going right now makes me want to go again!" Sproles texted to NFL.com. "We're both the Class of 2005 and we both wanted to outlast the backs from our class that went before us."
Sproles made it clear he has no plans to lace up his cleats again, saying he was just joking, but Gore refused to put it past him.
"He's like me -- a competitor," the league's No. 3 all-time rusher said, chuckling. "That's how we were both able to last so long. I hope he doesn't come out of retirement, but he's a baller. I respect him a lot. If he does come back, I'm going to have to go another year (beyond 2020)."
Gore let out a long laugh. The truth is that he doesn't think that far ahead. For him, everything is year to year. He will never play solely for a paycheck, because he loves and respects the game too much for that. His approach is to carry on as long as he can have an impact on the field as well as in the locker room.
"You will never be that young guy again, but when I looked at myself on film last year in Buffalo, you couldn't tell my age," said Gore, who will turn 37 this month. "I'm talking about when I was playing a lot in the first half of the season -- like when I played against New England the first time, when I was playing against Cincinnati, when I was playing against the Jets and Giants. Before the bye week (Week 6), I was pushing for 1,000 yards."
He averaged nearly 67 yards on 15 carries through the first five weeks of his first and only season with the Bills before giving way to rookie Devin Singletary. He had offers to join the Jets or Raiders this offseason and went with New York in part because of his good relationship with coach Adam Gase, whom he played under in Miami in 2018.
"I got an opportunity to get back with a good friend and a guy I respect, and I'm happy that he wanted me to be on his team," he said. "And I'm happy to be around a guy who has done some great things in this league in Le'Veon Bell. That can motivate me. And I can help out the young kid that they just drafted, La'Mical Perine."
Gore appears to be the perfect complement for Bell, in that he is a three-down back who can be trusted with ball security and pass protection when Bell needs a break. But Gore also remains a capable ball-carrier, and as such he could make a run to surpass Marcus Allen's league record for most rushing yards by a back at age 37. Allen gained 505 in his final season with the Chiefs, in 1997; Gore has never gained fewer than than the 599 he had last season.
Interestingly, Gore attributes part of his success to Allen. He met the Hall of Famer in 2009 in North Carolina, where they were guests at a football camp conducted by longtime NFL assistant coach Jimmy Raye Sr. Gore, who was entering his fifth season, loves to pick the brains of the greats who preceded him, and Allen's words remain with him to this day.
"One thing he told me was, 'Don't worry about your age. Don't let nobody define what you want to do in this league,' " Gore said. "He told me they were trying to get him out of the league for a long time, but he said he was going to play until 37, and that's what he did. I always kept that in my head."
It would be foolish to bet against Gore, considering he has beaten the odds his entire career. Many doubted that he would see a second contract after having ACL surgery on both his left and right knees in college, then undergoing surgery on both shoulders after his rookie season. But the doubters did not realize the resilience and drive of the man.
He quickly developed a to-do list as a rookie and has systematically checked off each box. For instance, after failing to win Offensive Rookie of the Year, he said he would never allow another classmate to outrush him in a season or over their careers. Then, in Year 2, he crushed everyone by running for 1,695 yards. His 15,347 career yards are 9,330 more than the next closest member of his class, Cedric Benson, who, along with fellow first-round picks Ronnie Brown and Cadillac Williams and second-rounders J.J. Arrington and Eric Shelton, was drafted ahead of Gore.
CBS Sports reported that Gore's 6,508 yards rushing since turning 30 are more than any other back in that category, adding that four of the top five backs in rushing yards after turning 30 are in the Hall of Fame. Gore isn't thinking about the Hall of Fame just yet. First up: going into the record books as the last back standing from the 2005 NFL Draft.
"I'm happy for Frank," Sproles said. "The way he prepares each and every year, and the way he has been the most durable is just amazing."
"Me going through all the injuries, and then when I get to the league just hearing all the negative stuff, I set my goals and said I'll never let a man judge me," Gore said. "The only man I'll let judge me is that man up above. But I was determined to be the best in my class."
Follow Jim Trotter on Twitter @JimTrotter_NFL.