ORLANDO, Fla. — In the video montage played to honor Frank Gore as the 2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award recipient at Saturday night’s annual NFL Honors ceremony, future Pro Football Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis gushed about Gore’s on-field demeanor.
Then, on his way up to the stage to receive the award and say a few words, the first person to embrace Frank Gore was none other than Pro Football Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin.
It’s certainly not surprising, given all three players’ ties to the University of Miami, the mere mention of which got the biggest grin from Gore in his acceptance speech on Saturday night.
“I give a shoutout to the University of Miami — the University of Miami,” Gore said with a huge smile. “Coral Gables Senior High, West Grove Optimist, for teaching me the game of football. Thank you all. God bless.”
The Miami connection, of course, didn’t get the only shoutout in Gore’s speech. It was literally all God, family and football.
“First, I would like to say thank you — thank you to the man up above for blessing me to play this game I love,” he said. “I also would like to say thank you — thank you to all of the players, man, who voted for me to receive the Art Rooney Award. I also would like to say thank you to my family, for being 100 percent behind me. I also want to give a shoutout to both organizations, San Francisco 49ers, Indianapolis Colts, for giving me the opportunity to play in this league.”
The Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award is the only one annually voted by the players each season, and “is presented each year to an NFL player who best demonstrates the qualities of on-field sportsmanship, including fair play, respect for the game and opponents, and integrity in competition.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Gore is just the latest in a recent line of future Hall of Famers to win the award, joining Charles Woodson (2015) and Larry Fitzgerald (2014).
Woodson, who presented the award, certainly knows plenty about the type of player Gore is on the field, and the man he is off of it.
“Winning is good, but you want the respect of your fellow players, too. Last year I was humbled to receive the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, because it is the only award this evening that is decided by the players themselves,” Woodson said while introducing Gore on Saturday. “This year’s recipient is someone I played against. He is a combination of power and speed. He can run around you, or he can run through you, but he’s also the first guy to offer you a hand to get you back on your feet. No wonder the players selected Frank Gore as the 2016 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award recipient.”
The aforementioned video montage featured interviews with Lewis, Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett and cornerback Richard Sherman, as well as Gore’s former teammate in San Francisco, Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, who put into perspective why the veteran running back is so deserving of this award specifically.
• “If you know Frank, there’s no better guy that can be up for a sportsmanship award. … Kindest man I’ve ever played against in football.” — Ray Lewis
• “When I think about Frank Gore, I think about Hall of Fame. I think about a guy who can do everything. … I’m so happy that he’s getting this award — the things that he’s been through, the things that he’s done for the organization and just the type of the man that he’s been for the NFL.” — Michael Bennett
• “Such a special person, such a special energy. Loves football, loves his teammates. Loves competing. … It’s rare to have guys so committed. You know, and here’s a guy who took losses so hard after games, and he wasn’t afraid to shed tears because it meant so much to him. … You know, there’s certain teammates that I think that 34 years from now that you’ll never forget. And they’re rare, those types, and Frank’s one of those for me.” — Alex Smith
• “There aren’t a lot of guys like him left. You know, he’s an old-school back, he’s been doing it for a long time. … He’s a quiet, humble guy that goes out there and puts it on tape, works hard.” — Richard Sherman
As for Irvin himself, you might remember his visit to training camp this past summer with the NFL Network, where he was asked about Gore and his longevity in the NFL.
“I’ve said to Frank himself personally, man, I remember watching Frank in high school. I’ve been watching Frank since high school. I went to his high school game. That’s when I met him — high school game. I thought I saw the greatest running back that I have ever seen at the high school level. And what he’s accomplished in his NFL career is incredible. It’s just absolutely incredible. And I think about it, I say, Frank, you know, I joked with him one day, I said, ‘Frank, can you imagine if you had never had any injuries what you had been? I mean you had a great career…
“…Oh my god — they’re (the numbers are) already up there. They’re already up there,” Irvin continued. “And I think, more importantly than all of it, is anybody you ever talk to will tell you he’s a great teammate. Just a great teammate. Hard-workin’ dude.”
Yep. Sounds about right.
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