Vikings vs. San Diego: The back story

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 3, 2007 - 2:40 PM

LaDainian Tomlinson is the NFL's best running back. Adrian Peterson might be the next great one. Only time will tell.

SAN DIEGO — Walter Payton and his Chicago Bears were doing their Super Bowl Shuffle in 1985 as a little boy in Waco, Texas, was taking mental notes and telling family members that he, too, would grow up to be a star running back in the National Football League.

"Walter Payton ... man, he was the greatest," said LaDainian Tomlinson, the little boy who became simply "LT," the best all-purpose back in the league today. "As early as 5, 6 years old, I've been studying running backs, watching the history of the league. I think you have to. I think if you're going to try to do something great, you need to study the great guys who have come before you."

Like most great running backs, Tomlinson understands the circle of life at that position, and how it has taken us from players such as Bronko Nagurski and Red Grange to Marion Motley. From Jim Brown and Gale Sayers to O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Payton. From Barry Sanders and Emmitt Smith to "LT," and, who knows, maybe one day "AD," the Vikings' Adrian "All Day" Peterson. After all, Peterson leads the NFL in rushing with 740 yards and is on pace for 1,691, which would be the most by a rookie since Eric Dickerson reached 1,808 24 years ago.

Tomlinson vs. Peterson will be the featured attraction today at the Metrodome when LT's San Diego Chargers (4-3) try to extend their winning streak to four games against a Vikings team that wants to avoid dropping to 2-6 for only the fifth time in franchise history.

Tomlinson is the 28-year-old reigning league MVP and defending rushing champion. Still very much in his prime in his seventh season, the 5-10, 221-pounder broke 13 NFL records last season alone, stands just 207 yards from 10,000 and is tied with Brown for fourth place in career rushing touchdowns (106), four behind Payton for third place. Meanwhile, Peterson, 22, is playing his first professional game in November after sweeping the NFL offensive rookie of the month award for September and October.

"Adrian has a lot of the skills and characteristics, the qualities it takes to be one of the best runners in this league," said Tomlinson, who's fourth in rushing with 617 yards and six touchdowns. "He's still so young, though. We all get so caught up in wanting to compare him to this guy or that guy. That's not really fair to him or those other guys."

But ...

"Having said that, Adrian does have a little Eric Dickerson in him because of the explosion he has to get through the holes," Tomlinson said. "And he's kind of upright, which is why all of us say he's like Eric Dickerson."

And ...

"He also has a little bit of shiftiness like a Gale Sayers," Tomlinson added. "And I'd say Marcus Allen, too. Marcus would move and weave in and out of traffic a lot. I see Adrian do that, too."

As much as we guard against comparing today's young running backs -- even ones who have played only seven games -- to the greats of yesteryear, it's irresistible. Peterson has heard a myriad of comparisons already -- mostly to Dickerson -- but seemed awestruck when told what Tomlinson had said about him.

"Oh, man," Peterson said. "Coming from LT, wow. That's a great, great compliment because you look at LT, and he's been one of the great backs for a long time now."

Texas roots

Tomlinson said he will probably make a point to talk to Peterson before or after today's game.

"If for no other reason, we're both from Texas," said Tomlinson, smiling. "The Texas guys have to stick together, right?"

Peterson, who is from Palestine, has a chance to join an elite fraternity of native Texans. With 660 more yards, he will join Dickerson (Sealy), Campbell (Tyler) and Tomlinson (born in Rosebud) as the only players born in Texas to rush for 1,200 yards in their rookie season.

"Being from Texas, you naturally followed and studied guys like Emmitt Smith, Eddie George, LT, Earl Campbell," Peterson said. "But I was like LT. I could also sit for hours and watch Walter Payton and a guy like Barry Sanders. I sat and studied them. Playing the position, it's fascinating to me to see what they were able to do."

So who does Adrian Peterson remind himself of?

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Cleveland - LP: T. Bauer 1 FINAL
Minnesota - WP: A. Swarzak 3
Cincinnati - LP: M. Leake 1 FINAL
Milwaukee - WP: K. Lohse 5
Kansas City - WP: W. Davis 2 FINAL
Chicago WSox - LP: Z. Putnam 1
Washington - LP: S. Strasburg 4 FINAL
Colorado - WP: J. De La Rosa 6
NY Mets - WP: B. Colon 3 FINAL
Seattle - LP: T. Walker 2
Detroit - WP: A. Sanchez 11 FINAL
Arizona - LP: T. Cahill 5
Los Angeles - LP: D. Haren 1 FINAL
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Philadelphia - LP: J. Papelbon 1
Texas - LP: Y. Darvish 1 FINAL
NY Yankees - WP: D. Phelps 2
Boston - LP: C. Buchholz 4 FINAL
Toronto - WP: R. Dickey 6
Miami - LP: N. Eovaldi 1 FINAL
Atlanta - WP: E. Santana 6
Tampa Bay - WP: A. Cobb 3 FINAL
St. Louis - LP: L. Lynn 0
San Diego - WP: I. Kennedy 8 FINAL
Chicago Cubs - LP: T. Wada 3
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