Adrian Peterson had a dream. Not the kind that athletes talk about in clichés while on camera. An actual fall-asleep-and-dream kind of dream.
“We played in the Super Bowl,” said the Vikings running back, almost as if it really did happen.
OK. Lie down on the couch and tell us how you did, AP.
“It went good,” he said. “We won.”
You know how dreams are. You didn’t miss kickoff, or forget how to run, or show up for the coin toss wearing cement shoes and no pants, did you?
“Nothing weird,” he said. “Just played like myself. I can’t remember how many yards I had or who we beat. It’s been a while ago. All I remember is having the overwhelming feeling of satisfaction. Like, ‘We did it.’ ”
Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was there. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner was, too. Shaun Hill wasn’t. And neither was Sam Bradford, his former Oklahoma Sooners teammate back in 2006.
Peterson spoke about his literal dream two weeks before the Vikings’ real-life Super Bowl aspirations were sucker-punched by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s season-ending knee injury in Tuesday’s practice. So we circled back to Peterson after last Thursday’s preseason finale because he had seemed so doggone certain that this year’s team would replicate his dream in his hometown of Houston in Super Bowl 51 five months from now.
Peterson never hesitated. Like the rest of the team on Thursday, Peterson’s stance was “In Shaun we Trust.” They had no other choice. Until two days later, when General Manager Rick Spielman breathed hope back into the team and its fan base by sending a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-rounder in 2018 to Philadelphia for Bradford.
Getting Bradford up to speed in a foreign offense in time to start Sunday’s season opener at Tennessee will be a tough task. He could start the season as Hill’s backup.
Hill, 36, is old and frail by NFL standards. He’s a 15-year journeyman with 16 career wins. But he has been practicing with this team in case of an emergency for a year and a half.
“I got a lot of faith in Shaun,” Peterson said before the Bradford trade. “People don’t seem to understand that it takes a team to win a championship. So my dream doesn’t change at all. I think it will happen.
“We have one of the best defenses in the league. We have playmakers out wide on offense. Our offensive line has been kind of our downfall the last couple years, but it’s a lot better.”
And then there’s a certain running back whose résumé includes seven Pro Bowls, five first-team All-Pros, three rushing titles, including last season, and a league MVP.
“There’s more pressure on me, but I don’t really feel pressure,” Peterson said. “I hear a couple guys say, ‘Well, here come eight men in the box.’ But that’s something that’s been true for me for nine years.
“When Brett Favre was here, I saw eight men in the box trying to stop me. I thought it would be a seven-man box with Brett Favre on the field. But it wasn’t. They were looking to stop me first. So it’s not something I’m not used to. Just got to get it done.”
One playoff win
Apparently, it hadn’t dawned on Peterson in some time that his career playoff record in nine seasons is 1-4.
“We beat Dallas,” Peterson said.
Yes. That came on Jan. 17, 2010. Peterson was 24. The quarterback that day, Favre, is a Hall of Famer closing in on 47.
“Just one win?” Peterson asks, seemingly searching his brain in hopes of finding another one. But there isn’t one.
Peterson ranks 17th on the NFL’s career rushing list. Only three players ahead of him didn’t play in a Super Bowl or an NFL championship game. If he’s still part of that group upon retirement, he’ll view his career as incomplete.
“When I’m training and out there grinding, that’s all I’m thinking about: the Super Bowl,” Peterson said. “So, yeah, definitely. Without a doubt my career won’t be as good without a ring.
“I need that ring to complete my journey. I haven’t won a championship in football since little league. Didn’t win one in high school. Didn’t win one at Oklahoma. I made it to one at Oklahoma and got demolished. So this is it. This is what I have left.”
Stiff-arming Father Time
Turner was asked if he’s seen any signs that Peterson is, for lack of a better word, downright ancient by NFL running back standards.
“From this camp, I have not seen anything,” Turner said. “He’s got burst. He’s got such a quick start, and we know he’s powerful in breaking tackles and running through people. He finishes runs out here. We’ve all seen him take off and run the length of the field. He doesn’t look like he’s slowing down to me.”
Only three running backs in NFL history have won rushing titles in their 30s. Peterson did it last year with 1,485 yards at age 30. Cleveland’s Marion Motley did it in 1950 at age 30. And Curtis Martin did it in 2004 at age 31.
Peterson has played an entire 16-game season four times. He did it in 2008 with a career-high 363 carries, as well as 2009 (314), 2012 (348) and last season (327).
Peterson is averaging 19.8 carries per game in his career. And yet he looks so young and fresh entering his 10th season. For comparison’s sake, let’s look at Hall of Famer Earl Campbell, another three-time rushing champion who averaged 19 carries per game in his career. He lasted only eight seasons and was a shell of his prime self by the time he reached his seventh season.
“I guess God just put something a little different in me,” Peterson said. “That’s not a knock on any of the other great backs who didn’t play as long or do what I’ve done at my age. I’m sure everybody wishes they could have been Michael Jordan. Guys work hard. I work hard. After that, all that’s left is the man above. I’ve been blessed.”
Time to carry
With 11,675 career rushing yards, Peterson needs only 638 yards to pass Fred Taylor, Thurman Thomas, Franco Harris, Marcus Allen, Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk and Jim Brown. Frank Gore, who is still active, is 365 yards ahead of Peterson in 15th place.
With 1,065 yards, Peterson can move past Tony Dorsett. With 1,585 yards, he jumps Eric Dickerson. With 1,988, he’d pass Jerome Bettis. And, oh what the heck, with 2,010 yards, he’d leapfrog No. 5 rusher LaDainian Tomlinson as well.
Peterson was shown the list of players he could jump this year and asked what was going through his mind as he did so.
“The first thought that comes to my mind? If I hadn’t missed that one season, I would be way past those guys already,” said Peterson, referring to 2014, when he missed 15 games as he dealt with child abuse charges. “But I look at this list and it’s just humbling to get into a category with guys like this, let alone when you start passing them.”
For those who question how much of a difference a running back can make in today’s NFL, here are some things Peterson helped those around him accomplish when he ran for 2,097 yards and won league MVP in 2012:
• Quarterback Christian Ponder got 10 wins as a starter. He has only 14 for his career, two fewer than Hill.
• Coach Leslie Frazier had the one-year option in his contract picked up when the team’s initial plan was to fire him. Peterson’s amazing final month turned a downtrodden 6-6 team into a 10-6 wild-card qualifier.
• The passing offense ranked 31st that year. The pass defense was 24th and the scoring defense 14th.
Yes, Peterson was four years younger. But he also had suffered a gruesome knee injury only nine months earlier.
With a better defense and a quarterback — Bradford or Hill — he trusts more than Ponder, Peterson said he’s not ready to accept that his dream is now a nightmare.
“I still have the same vision,” Peterson said. “It’s terrible what happened to Teddy. But that was just a little detour for us. We’re a resilient bunch on both sides of the ball. And we still have talent. We still have the opportunity to win a championship.”