NEW ORLEANS - Adrian Peterson brought his whole family to New Orleans to see him win the NFL MVP Award on Saturday night. At least, he brought all he could.
He carried his 18-month-old son, Adrian Jr., who was dressed in a gray three-piece suit. "My little warrior," Peterson called him. He walked with his father and mother. He insisted on remembering a brother.
Brian Peterson died when he was 9, hit by a drunk driver in front of Adrian, who was two years younger. After Peterson became the first Vikings player since Fran Tarkenton in 1975 to win the MVP award, he stood outside the Mahalia Jackson Theater, firmly grasping a trophy and memory. Brian, Adrian said, remains his inspiration whether he's pushing through rehabilitation during a Houston summer, or standing on stage predicting that his first MVP Trophy will not be his last.
"It's always on my mind," Peterson said. "It's constant motivation to just keep fighting. There are times it gets tough. That was a tough situation for me at a young age. I feel like me being able to overcome that made me stronger.
"I feel like dealing with, what, an injury? That's nothing to get through. What compares to losing someone you love, in this life that we live? Not going bankrupt. Not anything. Nothing compares to that. If I'm in a tough situation, I'm always looking at things in that light."
The lights were bright Saturday. Hours after former Vikings receiver Cris Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame, Peterson strolled down the red carpet at the NFL Awards Ceremony, in what would become a televised duel between him and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
After major knee surgery, Peterson rushed for 2,109 yards, nine off the NFL record, while taking the Vikings to the playoffs. After multiple neck surgeries, Manning led the Broncos to the best record in the AFC at 13-3.
Peterson won the Offensive Player of the Year Award. Manning won the Comeback Player of the Year Award. The tiebreaker for major awards would also be most coveted.
Peterson finished with 30 1/2 MVP votes, Manning with 19 1/2. Peterson's ability to dominate defenses massed at the line of scrimmage to stop him made the difference.
"He's a very driven guy, as you know," said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who finished third in the Coach of the Year voting, as he stopped on the red carpet before the show. "Adrian felt slighted in not getting the Heisman. He still talks about that. So to be able to get the MVP would be special for him and our organization, and me, personally.
"We all believe he deserves it. He'll be the first to tell you that, too."
A year ago, perhaps only Peterson could have envisioned him recovering from major knee surgery in time to start Game 1, much less in time to become the NFL MVP. A year from now, he plans to win another but refuse to pick it up on time.
"I'm trying to get two or three like Peyton," Peterson said, nodding to Manning, who has won a record four MVP trophies. "Trying to get to your level. But I won't be there to accept it because I'll be winning, with my coach, the most important award, the team award, the Super Bowl."
He looked into the crowd at his large entourage and thanked his father for "putting the ball in my hands." He thanked his mother, a former track star, for his speed. Then he remembered Brian. "Losing my brother ... seeing him get hit by a car right in front of me, that was the toughest," he said.
Peterson left the stage and accepted congratulations from the Who's Who of NFL history gathered in the building. He organized his party and visited a media tent to take a few questions.
Then he stepped outside, exhaled, and admitted that a man known for maniacal preparation didn't write down a single word of his speeches.
"It was an amazing experience," he said. "I'm kind of speechless. I didn't know what to say. I didn't practice a speech. I just thought, if I win, I'll just get through it."
He looked down at the gold trophy, which looked small in his hand. "That's something I can always say: The year I got the MVP, Cris Carter was elected to the Hall of Fame," Peterson said. "What are the odds of that happening?
"That's pretty special. Yeah, that's pretty cool."