It was November 5 2007, and the Minnesota Vikings were set to play the San Diego Chargers. I didn’t watch the game, as my mother was running the New York City Marathon that day. Little did I know, she had some competition as the most impressive runner that day.
I sat down in the restaurant after the Marathon to celebrate my mom, and the TV showing Vikes highlights caught my eye. I watched as they mentioned two NFL records that were broken. The first was a 109-yard return by Antonio Cromartie. The second? Adrian Peterson, who in his eighth NFL game, broke the single game record for rushing yards with 296 on a mere 30 carries. It was one of the first signs that he was something special. He would go on to show us at least 296 more.
The second he was drafted, Peterson invigorated life to a dismal Vikings roster. The 2007 first round pick was one of value—Chester Taylor was coming off a solid season, but his talent was dwarfed by Peterson. He joined a team that was spearheaded by Tavaris Jackson, and maybe two other names that the common NFL fan would recognize (Wide receiver Sidney Rice and aging fullback Tony Richardson). To put it lightly, without Peterson, this offense was like watching paint dry.
Rewind to 2004, which was Petersons freshman year at Oklahoma. I was in fourth grade so my college football knowledge was questionable, but I remember #28 in crimson and cream was doing something right. He finished second in the Heisman that year and was well on his was to being a top draft pick. His remarkable college career ended in disappointment when he broke his collarbone junior year. An injury that forced teams to take busts, such as Jamarcus Russell and Levi Brown ahead of him in the NFL Draft. The Vikings reaped the benefits.
Fast-forward to 2008, Peterson ran for 1760 yards and 10 TDs. Each time he touched the ball, you thought he could take it to the house. In 2009, it was his time to play on a contender. Brett Favre signed with the Vikes, who went 12-4 and made it to the NFC Championship Game. In the regular season, Peterson had 18 TDs. In the Championship game, he had 3 TDs, but two fumbles. A third was charged to Favre, but upon further review, Peterson was more at fault. The one charged to Favre was a turnover and was in the Red Zone. As well as Peterson played, his fumble issues in that game (and throughout his career) were overlooked. If he holds onto that ball, Favre’s interception in the closing seconds of the 4th quarter never happens.
As his career progressed, Peterson was constantly breathtaking. He made football exciting for me. The more I watched him, the more I knew the player that I will tell my kids about. His combination of power and finesse is something that will never be duplicated. 1,000 yards and 10+ TDs were a lock every full season he played. However, whenever he seemed to do something great, it was never great enough. Granted he never had much help. He was the offense. When he tore his ACL in 2011, the Vikings went 3-13. They were horrible without him. He came back the next year, ran for over 2,000 yards and brought Christian Ponder. CHRISTIAN PONDER! To the playoffs. I can’t emphasize enough. He was that special.
In Week 17 of that season, Peterson ran for over 200 yards against the Packers and set up the field goal (Blair Walsh made this one) that sent the Vikes to the playoffs. On his last run, he was carried off the field by Vikings’ safety Jamarca Sanford. It was all Peterson. Peterson, the rushing king at the peak of his career, carried off by his own teammates.
The Vikes went on to lose their first playoff game with Joe Webb at the helm (Webb has to be the only player to start a playoff game at QB and on Special Teams, right?!). Regardless, Peterson was the king. He was Vikings royalty. He could do no wrong. But like some tend to do, this King fell from grace.
We all know what happened in 2014. Peterson was arrested and suspended for the entire season for disciplining his son with a switch. I don’t stand on a moral high horse, and I, like football fans tend to do, can forgive those players that help my team win. It’s why the talented players always get a second chance, and the ones that aren’t (Ray Rice) don’t. The Vikings drafted Teddy Bridgewater that year. And just like that, for the first time since Peterson was drafted, the Vikings had a new face of the franchise (Not going to get into his knee issue).
After the off the field issues, Peterson had a different aura around him. He was welcomed back, but something wasn’t right. It was no longer his team. It was Teddy’s. In 2015, Peterson played for the most talented team the Vikings had in years. The Vikes were on the cusp of being the next great team—a common dark horse by NFL pundits.
But 1,485 and 12 touchdowns later, Blair Walsh missed the field goal. Just like Favre threw the interception. Rewind that game a little bit and you’ll see Peterson pump life into the Seahawks with a 4th quarter fumble at his own 20. Sound familiar? Without that, Walsh’s kick isn’t necessary.
I feel like I’m bashing the guy, but if you look at his career there were only a handful of moments to become a champion. 2009 is obvious and 2015 is the most recent. The Vikes were full of hunger, but here he is, robbed by a knee injury—something out of his control. His last snap—a carry against the Packers that went for 4 yards—was far different from the King that was carried off by his own teammates in 2012.
I sit here writing, conflicted about how I should feel. I remember that this is arguably the best player in my franchise’s history and it’s not how his Vikings career should end. He’s the stud that broke the rushing record, scored 80 yard touchdowns to kick off the season, and brought victories to a team that was ordinary. I also remember the bad. The fumbles in the Championship game, the fumbles in the Seahawks game, the off the field issues, and his current inefficiency to start the season (Although I believe he was going to get back on track). I feel different because this team is different. This is a team that doesn’t need him. It’s not the team that went 3-13 when he got hurt. It’s the team that stayed strong and proceeded to beat the Packers without their star running back.
Peterson’s a guy that deserved to have his last game on his own terms—but isn’t it perfect that instead of his starting safety, the athletic trainer carried him off the field. The only thing missing from his resume was a ring. In his biggest games, he had gaffes. They were just forgotten by the fact that he’s not a QB, and for him, there were larger mistakes in the game that potentially should have never had to be made.
Sometimes you only get one or two shots for glory and just when you think you’re going to get it—it’s snatched from you. It’s quick, just like an NFL fans memory, just like the current memory of Vikings fans. But since he didn’t get the moment in his Canton-bound career, we should thank him. Not just Vikings fans, but all NFL fans, for being the exception to the pass-happy league. For being the best running back our generation may ever see. It should be thanks to a living legend because he deserves the appreciation.