Vikings GM Rick Spielman and coach Mike Zimmer met with running back Adrian Peterson on Wednesday, which could turn out to be the defining moment in the stay or go Peterson saga.
Moral reasons for the Vikings to get rid of Adrian Peterson exist, just as moral reasons exist to keep Peterson (if you believe in forgiveness).
Football reasons to get rid of Peterson exist (he’s about to turn 30, which sounds young but for an NFL running back is the equivalent of an AARP card), just as football reasons to keep Peterson exist (the last time he defied odds and expectations, he nearly set the NFL rushing record).
The mission here is not to sway you — and certainly not to tell Peterson or the Vikings what to do. Rather, the mission here is to remind you what football life was like before Peterson joined the Vikings in 2007.
There was a taste of it last year, but it didn’t feel permanent. At least for the seven years from 2007 to ’13, we have been spoiled by as close to a sure thing at running back as there is.
In the nearly three decades that preceded Peterson — between Chuck Foreman’s final workhorse season of 1978 and AP getting drafted — it was so often a tangled running back mess with the Vikings.
The 1980s brought, among others, Ted Brown, Darrin Nelson, Alfred Anderson and D.J. Dozier. All had their moments, but none could stop the Vikings from trading for Herschel Walker in 1989 — maybe because Nelson led an 11-5 playoff team in 1988 with a paltry 380 rushing yards, one of seven players to crack triple-digits.
Robert Smith provide some stability in the middle of that era, but even in his most productive, durable stretch (1997-2000, all 1,000 yard rushing seasons) he missed seven games.
When Smith abruptly retired at the end of that run, it launched another era of committees. Five different running backs led the Vikings in rushing in the five years from 2002-06: Michael Bennett, Moe Williams, Onterrio Smith, Mewelde Moore and Chester Taylor.
That’s a lot like what 2014 felt like, with Matt Asiata (570 yards) edging Jerick McKinnon (538) for the second-lowest leading rushing total for the Vikings in the past 20 seasons.
The Vikings have won that way. They have had their hearts broken with nondescript running backs and elite running backs.
Whether it’s over with Peterson or it continues, just know that what the Vikings had for seven years with Peterson was rare for any franchise, and certainly for this one.