Nick Wagoner, ESPN Staff Writer 350d

Initially 'bitter' about departure, Frank Gore still a 49ers fan

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- When running back Frank Gore reluctantly left the San Francisco 49ers for the Indianapolis Colts after 10 seasons by the Bay, he now admits he initially was upset with the organization that he'd called home for a decade.

"I was kind of bitter," Gore said. "But that's the business of the league. They had a young guy and Trent Baalke had drafted him and they wanted to play him. So they wanted to go in a new direction. What can I do?

"I just knew when I left, I left on good terms. I played great ball for the York family, for my fans out there... I was bitter at first, but now I'm happy to be a Colt. This organization has been great to me, I got a chance to go somewhere else and show another organization what type of football player I am."

The 49ers and Gore parted ways after the 2014 season when the Niners only offered him a one-year deal and were poised to hand the job over to rookie Carlos Hyde.

Gore has found a new home in Indianapolis but is still revered in the Bay Area for his toughness and loyalty to the team that selected him in the third round of the 2005 draft despite his history of knee injuries.

Speaking to Bay Area reporters for about 15 minutes Wednesday in advance of this weekend's Niners-Colts matchup, Gore made it clear that the love that still exists for him here remains mutual. During the course of the interview, Gore talked at length about his thoughts on the current Niners team and the direction it is headed under coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.

Gore repeatedly offered compliments for an emerging young San Francisco defensive line, noted that safety Jaquiski Tartt is always around the ball and that he likes the offensive scheme Shanahan has installed.

He wasn't done there. After a slight lull in the discussion, Gore turned the conversation on the reporters, asking, "So what do ya'll think about the 49ers, man?" Before getting a response, Gore dived right back into his detailed assessment of what he's seen from his former team.

"I think they're going in the right direction," Gore said. "They really play tough... I think they're going to be all right. I think [CEO] Jed [York] did a great job of picking the guys he picked to run the team. The NFC West, it goes in circles... Once they get all that situated, they are going to be back where we were, making a run at the NFC West."

Of course, Gore still believes he individually has plenty of football left and finds himself on the edge of history. Already the leading rusher in 49ers history, Gore is closing in on some hallowed ground among the game's all-time greats. With 5 yards against the Niners, Gore -- who enters the week with 13,256 career rushing yards -- will pass Eric Dickerson as the seventh-leading rushing in league history. And he has a legitimate shot to pass LaDainian Tomlinson for No. 5 on the list, needing just 429 yards to get there.

Despite all of that production in what is very likely a Hall of Fame career, Gore's name is still often left out of conversations among the game's all-time great running backs.

"I don't know Frank personally, I don't think I've ever talked to him before, but Frank has been one of my favorites in the league since he came out of school," Shanahan said. "I remember being a quality control in Tampa and I think my first year was when he came out and always studying guys and I remember being in love with him then and watching him throughout his career. I know everyone knows how good he is, but I still think he's one of the most underrated backs of our generation. I have nothing but respect for Frank."

At 34 and in his 13th season in the league, Gore said he still works out like he always did in the offseason, sprinkling in a boxing regimen and keeping up with younger players in the offseason workout circuit.

So far this season, Gore's production is down a bit, as he's averaged 3.13 yards on 61 rushing attempts. Still, he's playing behind a struggling offensive line and doesn't yet have quarterback Andrew Luck back from injury.

If nothing else, Gore remains one of Colts coach Chuck Pagano's most trusted locker-room leaders.

"What a great, great pro, been a great pro for a long, long time and a top competitor in this league," Pagano said. "He's just one of those guys that, I think a bunch of people told him for a long time that he can't and that he won't and he's just been out to prove everybody wrong, all the experts, all the pundits, his entire life. He just continues to produce and he's a warrior and he's one of our top dudes. Just a great, great player and a better person and a great teammate."

All of those descriptions applied to Gore when he was in San Francisco, which is a big reason why, even today, it'd be hard to find someone who'd say a bad word about him.

And if they did? Well, it probably wouldn't bother Gore much. Once he moved past the initial disappointment of leaving the only team he'd ever known, he went right back to cheering for its success.

"I want to see them do great," Gore said. "I [had] been there 10 years. It's what I bleed."

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