One has to wonder if Jim Harbaugh was almost challenged by yesterday’s press conference where offensive coordinator Greg Roman described the ways in which Frank Gore is “unique.” Like he heard Roman talk about how there’s no running back he’s ever seen who runs like Gore and thought, “Ha! Betcha I can think of someone!”
One of Harbaugh’s many press conference habits is to discourage making comparisons, because in Harbaugh’s mind doing so diminishes both parties. Harbaugh didn’t exactly compare Gore to the man named Sweetness, but he came awfully close.
“So, Frank is one of the best there is. I commented to him, I thought that run that he had in Green Bay along the sideline where he didn’t go out of bounds reminded me, and I know I’ve seen this clip somewhere some time, of a Walter Payton clip on the sideline at Green Bay. I think probably pretty darn close to the same end zone, same sideline, not going out. And I remember Walter getting hit as he was in the end zone kind of like Frank did. It was eerie how close those, how similar those two runs were in mind’s eye, anyway. Maybe somebody could pull the clip. But, I remember watching it. Reminded me a lot of that Walter Payton run.”
Payton had a lot of clips like that.
“He did. That’s true, that’s true. There weren’t a lot of times Walter Payton ever went out of bounds. Frank Gore is a similar type of back.”
That’s a pretty high compliment, isn’t it, given who Payton and who he was in this league.
“Yeah. Yeah, well I guess you’re right. Yeah, it is.”
I tried doing a quick video search for Walter Payton touchdowns at Lambeau Field, but came up empty. However, I was able to determine that Payton ran for seven touchdowns in Lambeau over his career: two in 1977 and one each in ’75, ’81, ’85, ’86 and ’87. If anyone from NFL Films reads this and has that kind of access, I’m sure there are plenty of Bears and 49ers fans who’d love to see the clip Harbaugh was talking about.
Harbaugh ended the press conference with another batch of compliments for Gore when asked how Kendall Hunter’s improvement as a player has perhaps affected Gore (emphasis mine):
“There’s no question. There’s no question that Frank has made Kendall better. Frank will be a great coach someday, I really believe that. And we’ve talked about that. Frank, he’s still got a lot of years to play. But, I really think Frank Gore would be an outstanding coach, if he chooses to be a coach. But, his impact on Kendall has been enormous. And I think they are great for each other, too. Because Kendall brings, there’s that kind of a spirit and a youth and just a desire to get better all the time. And a great work ethic that I think is refreshing for a guy like Frank who’s played as many years as he has. I know it does that for me personally, that kind of attitude from Kendall. It’s refreshing. It gives life-giving energy. And I don’t think I’d be exaggerating by saying that I think Frank has benefited from that as well.”
There’s no way Roman will stick around forever, and there’s a chance Tom Rathman would be considered as a potential replacement. While it might not happen for several years if Gore keeps on rushing like he did in Week 1, it wouldn’t be out of the realm to see Gore as a future running backs coach on Harbaugh’s staff.