Next up for Colts’ Frank Gore: Jim Brown

Frank Gore. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Frank Gore. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Encouragement came early for Frank Gore and radiated from notable sources.

Jim Brown saw something special in San Francisco’s young running back. Asked by then-49ers coach Mike Singletary to address his team in 2005, one of the greatest players in NFL history singled out an eager rookie.

“I know he respects me,’’ Gore said. “I was a young guy and he told the team he liked my style, liked my game. He just told me to keep going and I’ll be there one day.’’

Later that season, Gore’s 49ers shared the field with Marshall Faulk and the St. Louis Rams.

“We’re playing the Rams and I’m like, ‘Man, this is Marshall Faulk,’’’ he said, flashing a smile. “I made a play and after the game he came up to me and was like, ‘Man, keep working.’’’

San Diego’s LaDainian Tomlinson also chimed after watching a youthful Gore attack the Chargers defense during a preseason game.

“My rookie year, man, I’m happy to meet those guys,’’ Gore said. “Now I’m blessed to (have) my name mentioned with those guys.’’

Last weekend in London, Gore powered past Marcus Allen, Edgerrin James and Faulk and became the NFL’s 10th-leading rusher. Allen and Faulk have bronze busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. James, the Indianapolis Colts’ career rushing leader, was one of 15 modern-day finalists in January.

With 20 yards Sunday against the Chicago Bears, Gore (12,293 yards) moves past Brown (12,312), one of the greatest players in NFL history.

No one is arguing Gore merits a place on Brown’s pedestal. Brown’s Hall of Fame resume includes leading the NFL in rushing in eight of his nine seasons and being selected first-team All-Pro eight times.

Brown piled up his 12,312 yards on 2,359 attempts (5.2 per carry). Gore has needed 2,766 handoffs (4.4) to get within spitting range of Brown.

Let’s not debate Brown vs. Gore. Let’s simply appreciate Gore’s longevity (12 seasons; 168 games; 80 consecutive starts, which is the longest streak among active running backs) and productivity.

“It’s crazy, man,’’ Gore said. “It’s a blessing, especially with what I’ve been through in my life and my career, coming out of college, the injuries and everybody said I was injury-prone.’’

Twice, Gore suffered traumatic knee injuries, the first after he averaged 9.2 yards on 62 carries as a freshman. Twice, he persevered.

The 49ers looked past the injuries and saw Gore’s potential. They selected him in the third-round of the ’05 draft with the 65th overall pick.

Gore recalled outsiders criticizing the 49ers for reaching for a broken running back.

“‘He won’t be here probably two, three years,’’’ Gore said, thinking back to the naysayers. “God’s been over me, man. I’ve been having successful years playing with great guys.

“I’m blessed.’’

However, at no point did Gore envision himself rubbing shoulders with the likes of Brown, Faulk, James, Allen. He’s within reach of leap-frogging Tony Dorsett (12,739) for the No. 8 spot all-time.

“I just take it one day at a time,’’ Gore said. “You can’t look ahead in this game ‘cause anything can happen. I’ve been there. I’ve been in college when I had an all-world freshman year at the University of Miami when some guys can’t even get on the field as a freshman. Then the second year I tear my knee up. I come back and I tear my knee up again.

“I never look ahead. I just take it one day at a time, one week at a time.’’

Gore, 33, has been one of the few bright spots in a season that’s teetering on the brink. With 253 yards in four games, he’s on pace to become the Colts’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007. He’s also on pace to become the first running back at age 33 to rush for at least 1,000 yards since John Riggins in 1984.

Gore’s totals could be – should be – fatter. In the first half of games, he’s rushed 37 times for 173 yards, a 4.7 average. The Colts’ proclivity for falling behind has limited his second-half opportunities.

“What a career he’s had and is still having,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “When you think of Jim Brown, you obviously think of one of the best, if not the very best, to ever play that position in our sport.

“It’s a testament to Frank, his work ethic, his passion for this game, his athletic ability, his durability, his availability, his reliability.

“You check off all the boxes on the guy.’’

Just as Frank Gore is checking off the boxes on the NFL’s career rushing chart: Marcus Allen, Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk . . . Jim Brown.

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