Peterson compared to NFL's greatest

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 12, 2011 - 7:51 AM

Sunday's performance evoked the names of Jim Brown and Walter Payton.

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Vikings' running back Adrian Peterson

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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Paul Wiggin went up to Adrian Peterson on Monday morning, shook his hand, congratulated him on Sunday's performance and compared him to the man he still considers the greatest running back in NFL history.

"I was a rookie with Jim Brown in Cleveland in 1957, so I played every game Jim played in," said Wiggin, a Vikings personnel consultant. "And I've seen every game that Adrian has played for the Vikings. Adrian is the closest I've seen to having the same running style Jim had. They're very much alike in intensity. Great is an overused word, but Sunday was a great game by Adrian."

Then there's Vikings coach Leslie Frazier. He also shook Peterson's hand, congratulated him and compared him to the man he still considers the greatest running back in NFL history.

"[Sunday] was one of those times when Adrian reminded me so much of Walter [Payton]," said Frazier, who was a teammate of the late Chicago Bears great. "Just how violent Walter could be in his running style and how defensive backs hated to tackle him. Adrian's the closest thing to Walter that I've ever seen."

Not a bad two days for the man they call "All Day." Sunday, he bruises the Arizona Cardinals with 122 punishing yards and three touchdowns in a 34-10 win. Monday, two former NFL players compare him to two of the best players in the 92-year history of the league.

"It means a lot to me to hear that," Peterson said. "That's why I play the game. To be great."

Peterson grew up in Palestine, Texas, rooting mainly for Emmitt Smith and the Cowboys dynasty of the 1990s. He also admired the Broncos' Terrell Davis and, like most of us, was mesmerized by the unique style of Detroit's Barry Sanders. And even though Peterson is an Oklahoma Sooner through and through, he still admits he looked up to former Longhorns running back Ricky Williams, who played at Texas with Peterson's uncle, Chris Smith, a tight end.

As for Brown, well, he retired 20 years before Peterson was born on March 21, 1985.

"From what I've heard and what I've looked up on him, I know Jim was just a hard-nosed back who basically ran through guys," Peterson said. "Punishing. Liked to deliver the blow, not take it. So, yeah, you can say we're kind of similar."

Peterson smiles when mentioning his favorite run as an NFL player. It came during the 2009 season opener in Cleveland with Brown watching from the Browns' sideline. Peterson juked a safety at the line of scrimmage, broke to the sideline and stopped when cornerback Eric Wright caught up with him. With one arm, Peterson hurled Wright out of bounds, stiff-armed another player and outran two more for a 64-yard touchdown. It'll be Peterson's signature play if he makes it to Canton, Ohio, and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

"That was a typical Jim Brown play," Wiggin said. "If someone showed me that play and I didn't see a number and I didn't know where in history that it took place, I would have said, 'That's Jim Brown.'"

Peterson is too young to have experienced live the sheer force of an Earl Campbell, the gliding speed of an O.J. Simpson or the combination grace, grit and incomprehensible power that somehow fit into Payton's 200-pound body. But a young, internet-savvy man of 26 knows how to study the great ones that came before him.

"I'll go on YouTube and watch guys," Peterson said. "I like to sit back and watch how some of the great ones approached the game. Even though there's all different styles, they all approached the game the same way. That's how I want to approach the game."

Peterson already is 66th on the NFL's career rushing list with 6,280 yards. He's 12,075 yards behind the leader Smith (18,355).

"Do I think about the Hall of Fame?" Peterson asked. "Yeah. God willing, I play long enough to be selected."

Asked who he thinks is the greatest running back in NFL history, Peterson flashes that $100 million smile and says, "Me."

Then he pauses.

"Nah," he said. "Right now, I'd have to say Walter. Then I got to go Barry Sanders a close second.

"Me? I have a long way to go. But I'll be in the running."

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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