Minnesotans have watched Hall of Famers play for the Twins and Vikings, and a future Hall of Famer play for the Timberwolves. At a few brief moments in time, they could claim to be watching the best player in the world. Never could they be so sure as they are today.

Adrian Peterson is the best football player in the world.

He may not be the most important, not in a sport ruled by quarterbacks.

He may be surpassed at any time, in the Darwinian league in which he plays.

If the measures of a complete football player are strength, speed, quickness, toughness, agility, resilience, competitiveness and production, Peterson is at the moment unmatched.

He's becoming the player of the year when he should have been thrilled with being considered the comeback player of the year.

"I can still get stronger," he said. "I'm still not there, man."

We can agree to disagree. He might be the most dominant athlete in modern Minnesota sports history.

When basketball was in its infancy, George Mikan might have been the best in the game. Kevin Garnett could have argued, for a year or two, that he was the world's best all-around basketball player. Kirby Puckett might have risen to the top of baseball's ranks for a few months. Johan Santana and Frank Viola were the best once-every-five-days employees in baseball during their primes.

Nobody in Minnesota history has ever done what Peterson is doing: Dominating the most brutal and popular sport in the country less than a year after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.

Sunday, his team took a 17-10 lead into the fourth quarter as his team tried to fend off a Lions rally that would have left the Vikings with a three-game losing streak.

In the fourth quarter, Peterson carried 11 times for 120 yards and a touchdown, plus a two-point conversion. For the game, he rushed 27 times for 171 yards. For the season, he has rushed 195 times for 1,128 yards and seven touchdowns, and a per-carry average of 5.8, the highest rate of his career. He's caught 29 passes for 155 yards, already the third-highest reception total of his career.

He set a team record for most yards rushing in the first 10 games of a season, and most rushing yards in a game against Detroit, and most rushing yards in three consecutive games (476). He leads the NFL in rushing yards and fan gasps. To twist an old line, he's saying goodbye to defenders when they thought it was time for them to say hello.

His teammates rave, of course.

Kevin Williams said Peterson has come back from his injury more patient, more willing to wait for blocks and slither up the middle for hidden yardage. "I think he's matured in that way," Williams said.

Christian Ponder knows Peterson is headed for a long run when he sees Peterson's body lean, like a downhill skier fighting through a turn. "I can tell after the first 10 yards or so and I can see his body angle down, and he takes off," Ponder said.

Peterson said he's even hearing praise from his most grudging critics -- opposing defenders. "They just tell me that, 'You're great, just some of the things you're doing,'" Peterson said. "I guess it shocked me. You're out there, you're playing against guys and they come up and say different things like that to you."

Peterson said he was "humbled." His coach doesn't doubt that.

"The thing that sticks out to me about Adrian when you talk about superstars is his humility," Leslie Frazier said. "He may be the most humble superstar I've ever been around, and I've been around some great ones."

Ponder played well on Sunday, but it was Peterson who closed like Mariano Rivera. The Vikings led 24-17 when they took the ball on their 25 with 9:13 remaining. Peterson burst left for 19. On the next play, he burst right, and Ponder saw Peterson's body lean left like a stock car, and he sprinted 61 yards for the touchdown that allowed the Vikings to exhale.

"I'm definitely going to be working out during the bye week," Peterson said. "It's not a week off for me. I'm going to come back stronger and better."

Of course he is.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com