Every Wednesday before each Sunday game, the NFL requires the head coach and a selected player to answer questions from the media of the opposing team via a conference call. The sessions usually last about 10 minutes each. In our case, Seahawks PR canvasses beat writers at the beginning of each week to field requests for opposing players we'd like to talk to.
Most weeks, the insight is about what you can get off the back of a cereal box. The participants usually sound like they'd rather be sticking sharp objects in their eyes, answering with minimal effort to merely check the box that they'd done their requirement for the week while not wanting to reveal anything of interest to the opposing market.
And most weeks, the default is the starting quarterback who tends to be the spokesperson for the team. But this time of year, getting a quarterback isn't as usual. The league has had a policy that a highly sought player -- Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, etc. -- can begin declining to speak to opposing teams' media members after four such conference calls in a season, to keep them for doing 16 of them. And we in Seattle just had Colin Kaepernick on our call two weeks ago before the Seahawks played the 49ers in the Bay Are; he was mostly awful (though Kaepernick did have one useful quote when I asked if him he expected Jim Harbaugh back as his coach next year: "Yes." Why? "Because of his resume.")
This week some Seattle media asked for Michael Crabtree. Others asked for Justin Smith. I requested Frank Gore.
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The Bay Area media has it as a foregone conclusion the 10-year-veteran running back is playing his final games as a 49er. So my sense from afar is he's become a non-entity not only in San Francisco's offense but in its team vibe. But I remember six to 10 years ago while covering the Seahawks and the Raiders that Gore was a colorful, sometimes irreverent and funny quote who had a sense of perspective. I thought he has the experience with San Francisco to give a good, big-picture view of where the 49ers are right now compared to where they've been recently -- to NFC title games and the Super Bowl.
We got all that and more from him yesterday on our conference call.
Gore started by feigning indignation at having to talk to writers that cover Seattle. "The Seahawks, hell no? (Blank) the Seahawks!" we could hear Gore playfully bellowing from the background as a 49ers PR staffer was on the line introducing him.
His best answer came when asked what specifically the Seahawks defense did to hold the 49ers to 164 yards and three points in that Thanksgiving game. Gore had 10 carries for 28 yards and Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner had 10 tackles that night in Santa Clara.
"I didn’t really touch the ball, really," he said.
That 49ers PR guy must have been thrilled to hear what Gore said next.
"They’re a great team, man. They’re a great defense. They play fast. They’re a good team. I can’t take anything away from them. We know what type of game we’re going to be playing against.
"Number 54, Bobby, he’s f*****g fast as ***, man!"
It took us all a minute to stop laughing.
"They play great together, they do. I respect that. I respect their team a lot," Gore eventually continued. "They play great together. We’re going to do whatever it takes to get a win and still have a shot at the playoffs."
Asked what's wrong with the 49ers offense that managed just 13 points in last weekend's loss to the Raiders are the mere field goal against Seattle, Gore said, "What do y'all think?"
"I don't think they give you the ball enough," I replied, because I don't; I think the 49ers' lack of commitment recently to a running game with Gore that has often given Seattle problems has made Kaepernick's task far more difficult this season than it should be.
Gore liked that.
"I’m going to go with what you all said. I'm going to ride with the Seahawks' media today," Gore said, laughing.
"You know it’s a different type of game. We have been behind and things just haven’t been right for us. It’s just been a different year for us this year. As a guy who’s been here for 10 years, I’m blessed and I’m just trying to finish it out right. Hopefully we get out there and give them boys a good game. We’re trying to get the win and move on but I’m just having fun man. I’m not happy about the situation where we’re at but I’m still blessed.
"It’s tough, man. The last three years, NFC championship the first year, Super Bowl, NFC championship, and now this year they’re making it difficult for us. We’ve had ups and downs. The games we should have won we didn’t take control of."
I was also impressed with Gore's perspective on the possibility of this being the end of his road in San Francisco. Gore, who will turn 32 in May, has rushed for 10,742 yards and 62 touchdowns -- all for the 49ers since they drafted him in the third round in 2005 out of Miami. He has 775 yards rushing this season while carrying the ball on average just under 15 times per game. That's on pace for his fewest carries in a season since 2010.
"I still love the game. I still feel like I can still be me and me being here next year, I don’t know," Gore said. "Like I said before and told everybody, I would love to be here. But if they want to move on with the young guys I'd say yes. They've done me great here.
"And I’d take my talents somewhere else."
Far, far better than the standard player-conference call fare.