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Vikings Put Faith in Adrian Peterson

Nov 16, 2009 – 4:45 PM
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Thomas George

Thomas George %BloggerTitle%

Adrian PetersonEDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The strength and tenderness of Adrian Peterson is always within reach for the Minnesota Vikings. It serves as comfort. It inspires.

Like one of his stop-and-go, juke-and-twirl, stiff-arming runs, Peterson's life has been full of taxing push-and-pull. He rattles off nuggets of the three numbing events of his life -- holding his eight-year-old dying brother in his arms at age seven, coping for eight years beginning at age 12 while his father was in prison, and enduring the murder of his half-brother before the 2007 NFL combine -- with vigor. He treats those troubles as if they were an anointing.

His teammates, coaches and Vikings ownership call this running back, at age 24 and in his third NFL season, an icon, an ambassador. Humble. Ears open. That big smile.

Most Vikings know to expect anything from Adrian Peterson in their quest to be champions. Others expect everything.

Good for them that Peterson knows how to own it, sell it. His shoulders are as broad as his feet are fleet.

"I'm big in faith,'' said Peterson, who grew up in Cedar Branch Baptist Church in Palestine, Texas, and attends bible study at teammates' homes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. His faith is the strength in his life and the power in his game.

"I realize God blessed me with tremendous talent,'' Peterson said. "I have set standards to push myself beyond talent. I don't have a signature run yet. I don't have a signature game yet. The way I see it, I've got a gift that I've got to continue to shape, get the best out of it. I've got a couple of 300-yard rushing games in me.

"I can get Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing mark. And Emmitt Smith's career touchdown record, too. I'm not longing for it, but I believe it will happen. I want to win championships and do whatever needs to be done to win championships. But I believe these things will happen as part of that.''

"He is our Walter Payton. He is our Jim Brown."
- Vikings offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie on Peterson
His vision -- off the field and on it -- is robust. When he is running with a football, he said, he can see things develop, anticipate the second and third level of tacklers. He overpowers some and outruns most.

Even the rare ones who catch him during a long run, like Detroit Lions cornerback Phillip Buchanon did here on Sunday, cannot snuff him. Peterson reached the 4,000-yard-plus career rushing yards plateau in Minnesota's 27-10 victory over Detroit with 18 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns. He has 917 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns this season, helping Minnesota to an 8-1 record.

He already owns the NFL single-game rushing record (296 yards). He was the 2008 Pro Bowl game MVP as a rookie. He has scored 33 rushing touchdowns in 39 career games. He has done it with a long stride and wondrous grace.

"We are watching a guy, every day, run his way into the Hall of Fame," Vikings offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said. "He is our Walter Payton. He is our Jim Brown.''

His running backs coach, Eric Bieniemy, said: "Adrian knows who he is. He remembers who he is. As a youngster he made bold decisions on who he would become.''

Tragedy Strikes

Peterson knows that strength and tenderness were required.

"I was 7, but I remember it like yesterday," Peterson said of the death of his eight-year-old brother, Brian, who was riding his bike when he was killed by a drunk driver. "There was an incline in front of our apartment where we would ride our bikes up and down. I was playing football with the guys near it when Brian was hit. I ran to him and held his head in my arms. His head was swollen. I spoke to him but he couldn't speak. I ran to get help. There was nothing we could do. My mom cried for a full year, day and night. I would just hold her and tell her everything was going to be all right. Brian was faster than me, a better athlete than me. That motivated me to work hard for him.

"I run for both of us."

Five years later, Peterson learned that the FBI had raided his father's home and that his dad would serve eight years in prison for laundering drug money. Whenever he went to visit his father, Nelson, thick glass always separated them, he said. His dad had been first to place a football in his hands.

When he lost his father, Peterson initially lost his way.

Adrian Peterson"I definitely started hanging out in the wrong crowds," he said. "I was stealing. I got caught in school smoking a joint in the boys' bathroom with a friend in the seventh grade. We left the bathroom while a security guard was walking past. We ran. He couldn't catch us, but he saw us and knew it was us. I was forced to go to alternative school for a year.

"I learned something about making bad decisions. One big lesson learned. How quickly things can change from worse to even worse. No sports. Bam! I had to get my mind right. Thank you, Jesus. Things definitely could have been another way for me"'

Like one of his spectacular runs, he planted his foot and turned toward daylight.

His father would witness firsthand his son's final two University of Oklahoma games. He attends most of Peterson's games now.

And his father was there for support when Peterson faced another defining, deflating moment in his life. The night before he was to work out at the '07 NFL Combine in Indianapolis, his half-brother, Chris Paris, 19, was murdered in Houston.

"We were very close," Peterson said. "He used to tell me to make sure I represent Palestine. It was a Saturday night at the combine. I woke up. I was sweating. Something terrible had happened; I could feel it. I grabbed my phone. No missed calls. I lay down, wide awake. I looked at my phone again. I had the feeling something was wrong. I was able to get to sleep and got the call that morning. I went to the funeral and there was Chris laying there in the casket. I didn't cry. I had cried enough."

Peterson said he has not had a "vision" like it before or since.

Yet he still has a knack for anticipating the best -- and the worst.

When he talks about these things, he wears a smile that masks the pain. It is his strength and his tenderness that sees him through. A spin, a stiff-arm, a spiritual, power move and run to a new level. A rejuvenated vision -- he said that is what he has created that lasts.

"Things shape you," he said.

The Centerpiece

The Vikings have extended their community service reach and continue to seek a new stadium. Vikings ownership says that Peterson has been a pivotal part of it all.

After all, it was the Vikings who did not let Peterson's collegiate injury concerns -- shoulder, ankle and collarbone injuries -- sway them from making him the seventh pick in the 2007 draft. None of the players selected before him, from quarterback JaMarcus Russell at No. 1 by the Oakland Raiders to safety LaRon Landry at No. 6 by the Washington Redskins, have come close to Peterson's production and star power. Particular pity is warranted for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: They selected defensive end Gaines Adams at No. 4 in that draft and recently traded him to the Chicago Bears.

"We made an early, firm decision there with Adrian,'' Vikings owner/president Mark Wilf said. "I can't speak for the other six teams that selected before us, but we are pleased with our pick at No. 7.

"As great a talent as he is, his commitment and drive to win make that a rare and special combination. He embraces us as a franchise. He gives kids and charities his time. What he gives to the game and the league is bigger than the Vikings. He has come through great adversity with great resolve."

Peterson runs at home against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. After that, he and the Vikings still have two games left against Chicago -- Peterson's favorite defense to confront because of their tradition, he said -- as well as difficult showdowns with Cincinnati's rising defense and a matchup with the Giants.

Peterson knows what is ahead. He also knows how to peek around the corner while remaining planted.

Vikings receiver Sidney Rice is Peterson's roommate during road games. He said the team has accepted Peterson's mindset of never giving up as its own. Quarterback Brett Favre calls Peterson a "stud," a back who gains yardage even when it is not there. The Vikings want Peterson to run with more patience, but Peterson is often at his best running as fast as he can every time he can. Slow down or speed up?

Vikings coach Brad Childress offered: "He loves doing what he is doing. He is going a million miles all of the time. Great competitor. He's a good piece of the puzzle -- many hands make light work. You are always trying to build weapons, get tools. But on offense there is only one ball. It's a team sport. He is a very useful, important part."

Adrian Peterson has another vision: It includes becoming the best football player who ever lived.

So, is he a piece of the puzzle or the puzzle? In five of the Vikings' nine games, Peterson has carried the ball 19 or fewer times. Yet Peterson has still shown his rare strength.

He always wants the ball.

The way he sees it, every time he touches it is a chance to show you something you have never seen.

"My first two years here were all about the run game," Peterson said. "This year we have new tools, from Favre to Percy Harvin and so many others. There are different roles now. A different style of run game. Now the offense is more balanced. My ultimate goal is winning the Super Bowl. Would I love to lead the league in rushing? Yes. But I've done that and we lost in the playoffs. I was second in the league in rushing my first year and we didn't make the playoffs. My thing is let's win Super Bowls whatever way it can be done.

"I've been playing this game since I was knee-high. Everything I've been through at this point was about pruning me to be the best. I see that clearly now."
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