November 11, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the St. Louis Rams at Candlestick Park. The 49ers and the Rams tied 24-24. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

49ers: Frank Gore's Final Stand

Frank Gore has two more years left on his contract. Does he have two more years left in the tank? With the 49er’s fortunes rising just as Frank Gore’s tenure with the team is ending, this upcoming 2013 campaign may be his last chance to shed the image of a tough, durable, talented running back who toiled away on bad teams for his career.

He will be 30 years old when he enters his ninth full season as an NFL running back. Barring injury, he will surely cross the 2,000 carry threshold next year, all numbers that typically signify the beginning of the end for players at his position.

Of course, this was the sentiment we all heard after he broke his hip against the Rams in 2010, and he bounced back from that injury to enjoy two of his better seasons. He did miss a few games in 2011, and appeared worn down late in the year. While he avoided injury in 2012, he again appeared worn down at the end of the year.

Kendall Hunter had a big impact in keeping Frank Gore fresh later into the year. Once he went down with his Achilles tendon injury, Frank Gore had to shoulder more of the load and that toll became apparent. With Hunter back in 2013, and with more experience, Gore’s workload can be reduced and perhaps his late-season effectiveness will increase. Hunter is the key to keeping Frank Gore around, and productive, to the end of his contract.

While I doubt there will be a full platoon situation, Frank’s days as a bell cow back may be over.

This is not a bad thing. By keeping his workload light during the regular season, Gore will be primed for a big postseason. Frank Gore had great games in the playoffs under Jim Harbaugh… right up until they needed him most. Then the team seemed to forget they had on the the best running backs in the league, and one who performed admirably for the team during bleak seasons.

As a fan, I wanted to see Frank Gore’s loyalty and toughness rewarded by putting the game on his sturdy shoulders and running the ball against the New York Giants, where he only had two rushes in the second half. In a sad repeat of that, Frank Gore was again ignored with victory within grasp, as the 49ers threw three straight times from the 5-yard line in this year’s Super Bowl despite pushing the Ravens defensive line around for the 4th quarter.

When he finally leaves the team, he’ll leave as one of the best running backs in franchise history and owner of the franchise record for most rushing touchdowns (51 and counting). He will certainly be one of the most beloved for playing hard through rough years, being one of the only bright spots during that span, and, when finally close to postseason success, being all but forgotten at key times.

As a fan of the rugged running back from the University of Miami, I’ll be watching this season as if it is the last time we see Frank Gore at his best and rooting for him to reverse his recent fortunes and win a Super Bowl ring.

Tags: Frank Gore Kendall Hunter San Francisco 49ers

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