When I was 12 years old, I was lucky enough to attend the Minnesota Vikings’ 2007 regular season opener. I was obviously amped to be at the Metrodome watching my favorite football team, but a large cloud of pessimism hung ominously over my fandom.
The Vikings had just finished their sixth straight season with less than 10 wins, including a 6-10 record the year before. Minnesota’s offense finished the 2006 season ranked 26th in the NFL and, unfortunately, Tarvaris Jackson was the slated starting quarterback.
There wasn’t much hope for improvement in 2007.
But there was a shiny new toy in the Vikings backfield, and that was enough to stir up some excitement.
Early in that season opener against the Atlanta Falcons, Chester Taylor went down with an oblique injury, opening the door for Adrian Peterson to take the spotlight. The rookie certainly didn’t look like a rookie, finishing his first career game with 103 rushing yards on 19 carries to lead the Vikings’ rushing attack and claim his place in Minnesota lore.
He didn’t just dominate the Falcons on the ground, though. Peterson’s biggest contribution on the day came with about eight minutes left on the clock. Minnesota led 10-3 and needed to put the game away to start the season 1-0.
Jackson took the snap from his own 40-yard line and floated a rather weak swing pass slightly behind Peterson in the right flats. After juggling the ball momentarily, Peterson hauled in the pass, sprinted around the defense like he’d been shot out of a cannon, and finished down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown. Ball game.
That moment provided fans a brief preview of what cheering for Peterson would be like in the coming years. Simply put, whenever Peterson touched the football, there was a chance he’d put six points on the scoreboard.
Peterson added several exclamation points to his sensational rookie season. In a Week 6 win at Soldier Field against the Chicago Bears, he gained 224 rushing yards and scored three touchdowns on just 20 carries. Three weeks later, the 2007 Offensive Rookie of the Year broke the NFL single-game rushing record by churning for 296 yards on 30 carries against the San Diego Chargers. His accomplishment still stands as the greatest single-game performance of all time.
The Vikings ultimately fell just shy of a playoff berth in 2007, which wasn’t so bad for an offense that relied solely on its rookie running back to move the football.
The following season was different. Peterson single-handedly carried the Vikings to an NFC North title behind a whopping 1,760 rushing yards (by far the most in the NFL), which he gained by finishing 10 out of 16 games with over 100 rushing yards.
And of course, we all know about his historic 2012 MVP season; an outlier among outliers when it comes to professional athletes recovering from torn ACL injuries. The man/cyborg/superhuman had ACL surgery on Dec. 31, 2011, and less than 12 months later, capped off arguably the most impressive performance in NFL history by rushing for 2,097 yards — eight short of the all-time single-season record.
Peterson practically willed the Vikings to the playoffs on his own over the final four games of the season by rushing for 651 yards and five touchdowns. Think back for a moment; his production during the final drive of the season finale sealed Minnesota’s first playoff berth since 2009.
Think about that scenario. Minnesota had the ball at midfield in a tie ball game with less than two minutes on the clock. A playoff spot was on the line. Any offense would’ve come out slinging it, but what do you think the Vikings had in mind? Yep, you got it. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave dialed up four consecutive I-Formation run plays for his team’s best player — Adrian Peterson.
It’s even more absurd that Musgrave’s plan worked, all while the Packers knew it was coming. Those four carries went for seven, four, zero and 26 yards, respectively, to set up Blair Walsh’s game-winner.
That memory is a microcosm of what Minnesota’s offensive philosophy was for nine consecutive seasons (with 2009 and 2014 being exceptions). When teams played the Vikings, they expected a heavy dose of No. 28. And most of the time, they couldn’t do anything about it — he’d often go for 150 rushing yards against stacked boxes and dialed-in defenses.
The cliche phrase, “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him,” truly applied to Peterson. Defenders couldn’t arm tackle him. They couldn’t even tackle him one-on-one. The most effective strategy in slowing down Peterson was hoping one guy could hold on long enough for the rest of the defense to help out.
An argument can be made for Peterson as the best pure rusher to ever play football. In his prime, Peterson had everything in his arsenal: Barry Sanders’ quickness, Earl Campbell’s power, Emmitt Smith’s vision and Walter Payton’s game breaking ability. He either juked defenders out of their shoes…
…or ran right over them.
Peterson wore purple on Sundays for 10 years and finished with 11,477 rushing yards and 97 touchdowns in that time. His career yards-per-carry average of 4.9 still ranks among the best in NFL history. He earned three rushing titles, four All-Pro honors, seven Pro Bowl berths, and one MVP award.
But beyond the stats, the contributions Peterson made to the Vikings franchise for nearly a decade cannot be quantified. What kind of team would the Vikings have produced the last decade without him? Brett Favre probably wouldn’t have come to Minnesota in 2009. And aside from 2009, all three of Minnesota’s playoff berths over the last 10 years can largely be attributed to Peterson’s many gifts and contributions.
Any grudges you hold against Peterson for his off-field behavior and actions are certainly understandable. But from a football standpoint, Peterson is a legend and a future Hall of Famer. His talent kept the Vikings from joining the NFL’s bottom-dwellars when that was often the likely outcome.
I know in my case, I was excited for that 2007 season opener because of “All Day.” And he certainly kept me excited for the next several years.
For that, I say one last thing:
Thank You, Adrian Peterson.