They started at a leisurely pace. Up and down a steep hill they ran, two alpha males who love to compete and hate to lose, even in an offseason rehab assignment.
Before long, a routine jog turned into an all-out race between Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin, the guy Peterson affectionately nicknamed “Mighty Mouse” during their four seasons together.
It was May 2012 and both players were recovering from injuries — Peterson a torn ACL in his left knee and Harvin minor shoulder surgery. They returned to Winter Park to continue their rehab as the team gathered for offseason workouts.
As coaches and players rehearsed drills and plays, the two superstars ran sprints up a hill that abuts the practice field. The sight of two of the NFL’s most explosive talents straining to beat the other to the top of that hill — while technically still injured — caused more gawking than a rush-hour fender-bender.
Anything seemed possible that day, knowing the Vikings featured a dynamic duo that could stress opposing defenses. Peterson admits he assumed he’d have his tag-team partner for years of dominance.
“You could’ve told me when we drafted him that he would be playing for Seattle right now, and I would’ve looked at you crazy,” Peterson said this past week. “But things happen.”
Or, in Harvin’s case, many things happened, though exact details still are difficult to discern. Ultimately, the Vikings arrived at a determination that Harvin’s negatives outweighed his positives and so they traded a supremely talented player in the prime of his career to Seattle for a package of draft picks.
In a touch of irony, Harvin is expected to make his Seahawks debut Sunday against the Vikings after missing the first 10 games following hip surgery. That moment will provide perfect symmetry because Harvin’s Vikings tenure essentially ended on that same field last year in a 30-20 loss to the Seahawks.
That game revealed the yin and yang of Harvin. He competed hard while battling hamstring and ankle injuries, but cameras also captured him screaming at Coach Leslie Frazier during a sideline tantrum.
That was Harvin in a nutshell: Remarkably talented and competitive, incredibly volatile and unpredictable.
“Like a lot of real good players, he’s very competitive [and] wants to be the best every time he walks on the field,” Frazier said. “I enjoyed working with him. There were many days we sat down and talked about a lot of things. Didn’t always see eye-to-eye on those things. But I liked his competitive nature, liked what he gave our football team.”
So why didn’t it work out for Harvin in Minnesota?
“Lot of reasons,” Frazier said. “Lot of details in that story.”
Pushing to the max
Start with this detail: To this day, Peterson still considers Harvin the best football player he’s ever played with, an admission that probably stings those who still believe the relationship didn’t have to end in divorce.
“He’s so versatile, man,” Peterson said. “To be that size [5-11, 184 pounds] and to be that strong and fast, quick ...”
Harvin became a Pro Bowl kickoff returner and one of the unique offensive players in the NFL. He played every receiver position and lined up at running back. He ran reverses and turned bubble screens into a gridiron version of bumper cars.
His fearless style of play made him a fan favorite and earned him immense respect inside his locker room. Even when Petulant Percy appeared, his teammates maintained their admiration because they knew Harvin never would give less than maximum effort on game day.
Harvin’s inner tachometer is always pushing redline, a characteristic that Peterson loves because he plays the same way.
“There’s not too many guys that play with that mind-set to win: Brett Favre, Drew Brees, guys like that,” Peterson said. “Ray Lewis, he had that type of mind-set. [Harvin] is just an explosive player.”
If the description could end there, the conversation would lead to a different conclusion. But life with
Harvin was frequently turbulent in ways that ultimately eroded the trust factor.
His incidents were well-documented over the years. He hurled a weight at former coach Brad Childress during an argument. He reportedly engaged in a heated argument with Frazier last season. He asked for a trade last offseason and then pretended it didn’t happen 24 hours later. And he essentially disappeared as his teammates fought for a playoff berth the final month last season.
“I don’t really know the depth of the situation,” Peterson said. “Obviously, we wanted him here, and he felt some other type of way. So he’s somewhere where he’s happy and he’s able to play the game he loves. This is a business and it happens.”
Some theorized that Harvin’s frustration stemmed from his lack of faith in quarterback Christian Ponder. That speculation gained steam during Harvin’s introductory news conference in Seattle when he praised former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre and expressed eagerness to play with Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson but made no mention of Ponder.
Harvin attempted to squash those rumors during an appearance on Jim Rome’s national radio show, saying, “Me and Christian had a great time together. I respect him a whole heck of a lot.”
Asked about their relationship this week, Ponder referenced Harvin’s comments and said, “I don’t think there’s really much of a story there.”
Harvin’s nonstop drama, combined with a style of play that invites physical punishment, left the organization in a difficult spot as his contract neared its expiration. The Vikings either had to swallow hard and give him a massive new deal, or unload one of the game’s most dynamic playmakers.
In March, Frazier lamented that someday he will write a book to explain “all the layers” of that complicated relationship. Frazier, who sent Harvin a text after the trade, said this week that Harvin “left on good terms.”
Both sides attempted to downplay the personal significance of this first meeting.
“I’ve still got a lot of friends over there,” Harvin told Seattle reporters on Friday. “I text them and talk to them a lot. But this is solely about the Seattle Seahawks, me being able to be out there and play again and get ready for this playoff run. It has nothing to do with the Vikings.”
Seattle coach Pete Carroll said the organization investigated Harvin’s issues before deciding to give up its 2013 first-round pick (No. 25 overall, which the Vikings used to select cornerback Xavier Rhodes), a seventh-round pick in ’13 and a third-round pick in 2014.
The team also signed Harvin to a reported six-year contract worth $67 million contract ($25.5 million guaranteed).
“We talked about everything in an investigative manner just to try and get his take on what’s happened,” Carroll said. “We inquired wherever we could with the players that knew what was going on [and] former coaches. We did all of our homework in great depth.”
The Seahawks encountered their first speed bump when Harvin showed up at training camp with a hip injury that required surgery. But the delayed start hasn’t hindered the Seahawks (9-1 in his absence) or diminished the organization’s excitement over Harvin’s potential impact.
“He’s extraordinarily competitive,” Carroll said. “We couldn’t ask for an attribute that we champion more here in our program. He fits right in here.”
Will that last? It seems unlikely given Harvin’s track record. But the Vikings certainly know what to expect when Harvin steps on the field.
“He’s always fired up to play,” Frazier said.