Even with his father in jail and an entire town swooning before his athletic potential, teenager Adrian Peterson knew not to stray, not when dealing with a mother who bestowed tough love at high velocities.
"It was intimidating,'' Peterson said, chuckling. "If I got into trouble, you couldn't hide from her, you couldn't run from her, because she could chase you down.''
Peterson's father played college basketball, but it was Bonita Jackson, the Vikings star's mother, whose bloodlines manifest themselves on NFL Sundays.
When she was a senior at Palestine Westwood in East Texas, Westwood took second in the state meet. Well, really, Jackson took second in the state meet all by herself, winning four gold medals in a state filled with dominant sprinters. She ran the 100 meters in 11.3 seconds, competed for the U.S. Junior Olympic team in Korea, and ran for the University of Houston.
On Tuesday, Jackson and Peterson took part in a charity event sponsored by Chunky Soup to benefit Second Harvest Heartland at the Vikings' facility. They sat on a huge soup spoon and took questions. Luckily for the team, this week's injury report does not read: "Adrian Peterson ... doubtful ... utensil mishap.''
Jackson visits her son often, and cheered from the stands Sunday as he rushed for 192 yards and the winning touchdown against Green Bay. "I was his biggest cheerleader when he scored,'' Jackson said.
Peterson said it should be the other way around. His father, Nelson, went to jail when Peterson was 12 for laundering drug money. Jackson had already dealt with a far more torturous tragedy, losing her son, Brian, who was killed by a drunk driver.
Adrian was 7 at the time; Brian was 8. "They were so competitive toward each other,'' Jackson said. "They would always run against each other, and with his dad and his uncles, and you could see greatness in him even as a little kid.
"Losing my son was the most hurtful thing I could ever go through, but with God, and understanding that everything happens for a reason, that has gotten me to where I am now.''
Jackson doesn't complain. She never married Nelson. She raised Adrian with her husband, Frankie Jackson, determined to guide Adrian between life's white lines. "I had help,'' she said. "My husband was there through the whole process. His dad was gone, but I had a great husband and a great support system.''
She'd take Adrian to the track and give him pointers: "Stay focused. Look at the finish line. Don't look back, because if you take just an instant, you could look back and be in last place.''
They'd race, and Peterson couldn't beat her until he reached the seventh grade. (Although his Mom doesn't remember losing to him until he reached high school.)
"It was kind of embarrassing,'' Peterson said. "But, yeah, up until that time, Mom was smoking me. She could leave me in the dust.
"She's definitely where I got my speed from.''
The Vikings don't run many pitch plays to the outside, so Peterson doesn't often get to display the benefits of his mother's advice that applies to football.
Every once in a while, though, Peterson will head toward the sideline and swerve like a slalom skier schussing down a mountainside. "If you catch a highlight, you'll see me really bending, bending myself around the corner,'' he said, leaning sideways to demonstrate. "I get that from my mom. That's how she taught me to run the 200, where you hug that corner real tight.''
Sunday night, after the biggest run of his life, Peterson got another kind of real, tight hug. His mother's still there for him, still dispensing advice, only now Bonita Jackson doesn't need to chase him down. Now, after every home game, he heads straight for her.
Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m.-noon on AM-1500 KSTP.