Rick Spielman was making one of his frequent national media appearances this week and covered the departure of Adrian Peterson with this quote to radio host Jim Rome:
“Adrian has been here since I’ve been here. He’s maybe one of the all-time great running backs to ever play. He will always be a Minnesota Viking, no matter where he ends up or how he finishes.
“I think he will be a future Hall of Famer that will go in as a Minnesota Viking …”
A couple of points: the “to ever play” is redundant when you already have used “all-time great,” Rick, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame — unlike baseball — does not have players choose a team that they are representing.
No doubt, Peterson’s link to the NFL always will be the Vikings, since he’s now 32 and considered so far removed from his best days that the only job he could find for 2017 was as the backup to Mark Ingram in New Orleans.
There are few Purple loyalists who would argue with Spielman on Peterson’s greatness as a Viking. For all the embarrassment of 2014 and also the unforgettable fumbles, there’s a strong chance the 18-to-35 demographic would rate Peterson second only to Randy Moss on its list of greatest Vikings.
Spielman’s comments were being played on a local AM sports station during a commute this week. Traffic being what it is in this bustling metropolis, there was plenty of time to digest this and come up with a big thought:
There is little difference in Peterson’s decade as a running back with the Vikings, and Joe Mauer’s decade as a catcher with the Twins, yet the popular perception has been Peterson as the warrior doing fierce battles against the ravages of carrying the ball in the NFL, while Mauer was conceding too easily to the rigors of catching.
Peterson was 22 when he broke in with the Vikings on Sept. 9, 2007, at the Metrodome, during a 24-3 victory over Atlanta. He had 19 carries for 103 yards, and he also took a pass from Tarvaris Jackson for 60 yards and a touchdown. It turned out to be the second-longest reception of his career.
Mauer was 21 when he broke in with the Twins on April 5, 2004, at the Metrodome, during a 7-4 victory over Cleveland. He was 2-for-3 with two walks, a precursor of what became his notorious patience as a hitter.
Peterson missed 2½ games late in his rookie season after spraining a knee ligament. Mauer wasn’t that lucky as a rookie. In the season’s second game, he was sliding to a catch a pop-up near the screen, cleats stuck in the turf, the meniscus was torn in his left knee and required a surgical repair. He was limited to 35 games as a rookie.
Peterson ripped the major ligaments in his left knee Dec. 24, 2011, and underwent reconstruction surgery. He came back the next season to rush for 2,097 yards, the second-highest total in NFL history.
This became his legend as a player — the crazed workout regiment that allowed Adrian to come back from a serious knee injury to have a spectacular season.
Is it any more amazing than a catcher needing a knee fixed in his second game as a rookie, and then being the best the position had to offer in the big leagues over the next six seasons?
Carrying the ball an average of 290 times per season from 2007 to 2013 was hard duty. No more difficult than starting an average of 111 games as a catcher from 2005 through 2010, to go with other appearances and designated hitter duty.
Leading the NFL three times in rushing is terrific. No more terrific than becoming the first catcher to win an American League batting title in 2006, and then doing it twice more in the next three seasons.
Rushing for 2,097 yards in 2012 was mind-boggling. No more mind-boggling than batting .365 and leading the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage in 2009 … the highest average ever for a catcher, and the first catcher to lead a league in the three percentage categories.
Peterson played in 73 percent of the Vikings games during his decade (2007-16) as the running back. Mauer played in 71 percent of the Twins games during his decade as the catcher (2004-13).
Adrian would have pleased us more if he was a better receiver and interested in pass protection. Joe would have been more appreciated if he had hit with power (as he did in 2009).
You can’t always get what you want.
Peterson is gone and Mauer is in his fourth season at first base, and when you compare the decade of hard duty at running back and catcher, you find the same level of greatness.