It wasn’t quick and it certainly wasn’t painless, but the return of one of the best Minnesota Vikings of all time seems all but certain at this point.
Some have questioned our varied coverage of Peterson’s unraveling ever since he was charged in an incident involving injuries to his son. With the saga now coming to a resolution, however, I want to clarify that the way Peterson’s career was derailed over these previous months stings each of us here at VT, and we all wish things had happened very differently.
With all signs now pointing towards a return (including agent Ben Dogra’s sudden change in tone), we all hope that Peterson is able to make things right within his family, and are interested to see just how well he will be able to pick up where things left off.
On April 28th, 2007 the Minnesota Vikings didn’t exactly please their entire fan base by selecting Adrian Peterson with the seventh overall Draft selection. They try to revise history these days, but many viewed Peterson as an injury-prone running back unworthy of such a valuable draft position due to the presence of Chester Taylor on the Vikings roster, who was coming off of his first year in Minnesota on a four-year deal. Taylor ran for 1,216 yards in 2006 on top of an impressive 42 receptions.
“Obviously I was aware of Peterson in college, but I don’t think I realized how unique of a talent he was,” remembers Vikings Territory contributor Brent LaBathe. “This is somewhat obvious seeing I was banging the table calling for the Vikings to draft Brady Quinn over Peterson.”
“I disagreed with the draft pick in 2007,” admits Vikings Territory podcast producer Andy Carlson.
Despite the presence of Taylor, however, the Vikings decided to take the strong upright running back. Taylor finished out his four years under contract with the Vikings, but it didn’t take long for the young Peterson to become a star and plant Taylor firmly in the number two spot on the depth chart.
“He proved me wrong,” says Carlson. “Paul Allen screaming ‘He’s Loose!’ will always be a happy memory for me.”
Leading up to his rookie season, Peterson was nursing a broken collar bone; on July 29th, 2007 he signed his rookie deal worth $40.5 million over six years.
Peterson immediately caught the attention of Vikings fans by publicly establishing goals for himself that we’ve now grown accustomed to hearing about. He wanted to rush for 1,300 yards as a rookie and win Offensive Rookie of the Year. Oh, and he also wanted to become the best player in the NFL and eventually the best running back of all time.
I can remember watching the regular season opener in 2007 against Atlanta and Peterson immediately made an impact by rushing for 103 yards on 19 carries in the 24-3 victory, with Taylor sidelined with a hip injury. It was Peterson’s 60-yard scamper on a short Tarvaris Jackson swing pass, however, that got me out of my chair and really got me excited about our newest addition.
He won Rookie of the Month awards for both September and October, and everybody not living in a cave knew his name, and knew all about his famous handshake, by the midway point of the regular season. The comparisons to all the greatest running backs were coming from the mouths of media personalities at an unprecedented rate.
Peterson really turned heads with an October performance against the Chicago Bears that proved to any doubters that Peterson was destined for the record books. He capped a three-touchdown day with 224 yards on only 20 carries, a feat unmatched by any Viking in the history of the franchise. His upright running style was no longer a detractor, but praised due to Peterson’s willingness to take on tacklers head-on and punish them for attempting to bring him down. The word “violent” was suddenly the only way to describe that Sooner lining up behind Tony Richardson.
“After that heroic performance,” remembers Vikings Territory contributor Carl Knowles, “Deion Sanders said this about the Vikings great young star: ‘He has the vision of Marshall Faulk, the power of Earl Campbell, and the speed of an Eric Dickerson. Let’s pray he has the endurance of an Emmitt Smith.'”
In November, in front of a hyped-up home crowd, Peterson took things to a level that nobody has since been able to match, including himself. Peterson ran wild against the San Diego Chargers as he eclipsed the single-game rushing record previously held by Jamal Lewis. On that day, Peterson ran the ball 30 times on his way to 296 yards and three amazing touchdowns.
Peterson had crossed the 1,000-yard mark after only eight games played in the NFL and one of his jerseys, the one he wore against San Diego that day, was already in Canton.
He finished the season behind only Ladainian Tomlinson in rushing yards with 1,341. That yardage combined with his 12 touchdowns meant Peterson had accomplished his goal of winning the Offensive Rookie of the Year award and he also landed himself a Pro Bowl spot as a mere rookie.
“He proved to be who he said he was that year,” says Knowles. “Adrian Peterson came into the league with a determination and work ethic second to none.”
For me, Peterson’s performance in that Pro Bowl was the greatest indicator of what type of special competitor we were dealing with. Leading up to the worthless game, plenty of comments were being made around the league about how the running back doesn’t have a second gear, even when practicing for a meaningless scrimmage in Hawaii.
Peterson ran without abandon during that Pro Bowl on his way to 129 yards and a Pro Bowl MVP award.
The following year, Peterson again came to field with lofty goals and an energized home crowd behind him. He had some injuries slow him up, and fumbling issues became a minor complaint about the young superstar, but he led the NFL with a very impressive 1,760 rushing yards.
“My dad passed away in 2008,” remembers Carlson. “During the last year of his life, we always had fun debating who was the best Vikings running back of all-time. He said Chuck Forman. I said that number 28 kid was gonna be pretty good.”
The 2009 Minnesota Vikings, featuring the resurrection of Brett Favre, gave Peterson his first opportunity to play alongside a premier passing attack at the NFL level. The results were incredibly fun.
“My favorite Peterson run is the 80 yarder versus Cleveland in Week One of 2009,” LaBathe says of the season opener. “It really kicked off a fun and magical season for the team.”
Favre and Peterson led the Vikings to an exciting 8-1 start and were quickly becoming Super Bowl favorites that seemed destined for great things. A near-impossible touchdown from Greg Lewis and a missed field goal from the Baltimore Ravens provided magical moments to a Minnesota fan base that was desperate for another amazing team to rally behind.
“One Adrian Peterson play sticks out in my mind,” recalls Vikings Territory contributor Austin Belisle. “Not because it was a touchdown, but because it was the epitome of everything that makes Peterson such a transcendent talent.”
It was a 2009 pass play against the Pittsburgh Steelers when Peterson turned up the field and met defensive back William Gay in the open field.
“Peterson didn’t just ‘truck’ Gay, he humiliated him,” says Belisle. “Stepping over his body like a basketball player posterizing a hapless defender. He shrugged Gay off like a gnat, proceeding to race down the sideline and barrel through more defenders on his way to a big gain.”
It was plays like this one that continued to find the “most violent” label pasted to Peterson’s on-field persona on a weekly basis.
It was in December 2009 that Peterson’s first blemish became public knowledge in the form of a speeding ticket for doing 109 MPH in a 55 MPH zone. This was fairly early on in my writing career and I can remember how defensive I got when people expressed outrage for my suggestion that the Vikings bench him as punishment.
“Whatever it takes to get him to truly learn his lesson,” I wrote at the time, “Then that’s what I am willing to see him given as a punishment.”
Peterson ran for 1,383 yards in 2009 while also catching a career-high 57 passes from Favre. His 18 touchdowns certainly allowed almost everyone watching to overlook what kind of problem his seven fumbles could eventually present.
After crushing the Cowboys in the playoffs, the Vikings went into New Orleans to play in what will go down in Vikings history as one of the more heartbreaking games of all time. The loss in the NFC Championship was caused by a number of things, but Peterson’s two fumbles were very symbolic of how the universe seemed to be conspiring on behalf of the Saints on that particular evening.
In 2010, a season where quite literally everything went wrong for the Minnesota Vikings, Peterson showed his determination by fixing his fumbling issues in impressive fashion. In all of 2010, Peterson fumbled the ball only once, and he again represented the Vikings in the Pro Bowl.
The only real worrisome thing about Peterson during 2010 was another speeding ticket, for doing 53 in a 35 near Winter Park, which resulted in his missing a team meeting.
With the NFL and the Player’s Union locking horns over a new collective bargaining agreement, Peterson created a stir across the nation when he made comments about the NFL benefiting from what he called “modern-day slavery.” Despite the full context of the conversation, Peterson was criticized by an uncountable number of Americans that were still reeling from a recession that left many unemployed and impoverished and didn’t care to hear about the plight of an athlete being paid very well to play a game.
It was in September of 2011 that Peterson became the highest-paid running back in NFL history. The Vikings rewarded their superstar with a seven-year contract worth up to $96 million. That salary commitment, combined with his on-field dominance, is what made it all the more disheartening to Vikings fans when Peterson had his knee destroyed in a meaningless late-season game against the Washington Redskins.
“Of course, we all knew there was no way Peterson would sit out,” recalls Vikings Territory co-Founder Brett Anderson who wanted the Vikings to bench their superstar to avoid unnecessary injury. “Deep down, we love that about him. The relentless drive he has to be one of the greats.”
“I think it was a pivotal moment in the legacy Adrian Peterson will eventually leave behind here in Minnesota,” continued Anderson. “It showed us Peterson was vulnerable – a man we thought was unbreakable.”
Peterson was placed on injured reserve on December 26th, and his ACL and MCL were going to need surgery to repair. Not only did this news convince the world that Peterson’s 2012 season would be in question, but some were wondering if the running back would ever be able to find his way back to the field at all.
On top of doubts about his knee and his rehabilitation, Peterson’s character came into question when he was arrested during an incident at a bar involving Houston Police. Peterson was essentially cleared of all wrongdoing much later on, but I can clearly recall sitting with Vikings Territory reader “Fran the Man,” at his wilderness lodge, when he relayed the news to me.
I had just told him that very morning, “Hey, at least no news means no arrests, right?”
“Adam, you are not going to believe this headline…” he told me right before breaking it to me.
I can honestly say we didn’t jump to any conclusions, but we were certainly not happy to be hearing such news about our beloved running back.
If anyone tells you they expected Peterson to come back in 2012 and cross the 2,000 yard mark, well, they are lying to you. Peterson amazed audiences across the nation by bouncing back from the devastating injury in Week One, which was just the opening act in his chase for Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record.
“It was the greatest season by any single player I’ve ever had the pleasure to witness,” says Anderson.
Peterson came up nine yards shy of the season record, ending up with 2,097 rushing yards, and he was voted in as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player despite not playing the quarterback position.
“I was ecstatic that the Vikings found a way to make the playoffs, but I can’t help but think they should have continued to pound the football until Peterson picked up the record,” admits LaBathe. “I think Peterson’s reaction to finding out he was nine yards short was a great example of what kind of teammate he is. He didn’t sulk, he didn’t demand to be put back in the game – he was happy his team made the playoffs and that he was a part of that.”
In 2013, Peterson started things off with a “bang” as the first play of the season was a 78 yard touchdown run. In October Peterson gained the love and support, and some harsh criticism for his personal choices, when one of his sons was beat to death in South Dakota by the mother’s boyfriend. Peterson’s ever-optimistic outlook towards life and his religion, mixed with the brash and cynical personalities in the NFL media, led to some of the more saddening and awkward conversations Vikings fans have ever been a part of.
Peterson expressed his displeasure when Head Coach Leslie Frazier, a personal friend and mentor to Peterson, was fired by the Vikings organization following the 2013 season. Mike Zimmer was hired, however, and seemed to quickly win over the respect of Peterson and the other Vikings veterans. Zimmer and Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner had big plans for Peterson in 2014 with an increased emphasis on the passing game.
Our own Featured Columnist, Lindsey Young, recalls being a part of Peterson unveiling his Wheaties box cover (one of which I still have displayed on top of my refrigerator) on Paul Allen’s KFAN show and was struck by his demeanor.
“Peterson was extremely humble, fun, and great with the people in the audience after the show,” Young says as she thinks back. “I’ve also witnessed Peterson at training camp, interacting with and signing autographs for kids — he seems like a guy with genuinely good intentions.”
In Week One, Peterson and the Vikings caught fire against the dominant defense of the St. Louis Rams. The result was a 34-6 victory that ushered in an era of extreme optimism among Vikings fans.
That optimism didn’t die outright in the following weeks, but it certainly took a huge hit.
On September 12, 2014, Peterson was indicted on the felony charges that would essentially end his 2014 season, stain his once-clean public persona, and nearly created a tumultuous path out of town for the superstar running back that called Minnesota home for eight NFL seasons.
In those eight season, Peterson put together a Hall of Fame career consisting of 10,190 rushing yards (5.0 career average), 1,715 receiving yards, and 91 combined touchdowns. He was an inspiration to many and one of the greatest Minnesota Vikings to ever play the game.
He now has a chance to add to the numbers and it appears that he’ll still be wearing a horn on his helmet while doing so. He has a chance to start to repair his damaged reputation. He has the chance to move forward and become a better man off the field. He has a chance to add to the legacy he has worked so hard to build within the NFL and within the Vikings organization.
“All I can say is watching Adrian Peterson play has brought me seasons of great joy and excitement,” notes Knowles. “Like Deion Sanders, I too pray that ‘All Day’ will endure in the NFL for a long time.”
“I hope that he’s able to learn from mistakes,” adds Young. “I hope he can continue to have not only a successful career, but a successful family life.”
I’m not an apologist for what he did to tarnish his legacy in Minnesota, but I am also happy to have watched him play here for as long as he did, and one day look forward to seeing him enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
As a Minnesota Viking.