Love is in the air upon Peterson’s return to Vikings
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson addresses the media at the team's headquarters on Tuesday in Eden Prairie, Minn., after he took part in a voluntary practice. Peterson missed the final 15 games of last season while addressing child abuse charges in Texas.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Adrian Peterson entered the Minnesota Vikings’ Winter Park facilities in his usual manner, going through the loading dock into the equipment room.
Peterson first encountered equipment manager Dennis Ryan, who smiled and gave the embattled running back a hug. Returning to the Vikings after a nine-month absence, Peterson was once again feeling the love from his teammates, coaches and Minnesota’s staff.
"It definitely feels good to be back in the building," Peterson said in a press conference later Tuesday. "This past year has been emotional for both parties involved. I’ve learned a lot from my mistake and I’m moving forward. I’m focused on what’s in front of me and bettering myself as a person and professionally as a player."
Peterson finally ended the long saga by simply returning to the team for its second round of organized team activities. The Vikings’ all-time leading rusher, the highest-paid running back in the NFL, resumed his career with his original team. He said he was happy to be back and is excited to move forward with Minnesota, and he offered contrition for the incident with his 4-year-old son, in which he was charged with injuring the child with a wooden switch.
Asked what motivated Peterson to move past all the contract rhetoric and uneasiness, Peterson simply said he wanted to come back.
"Ultimately, to be honest with you, I just wanted to," Peterson said. "I had a long time to really think about things and ultimately what it came down to was getting back in the building. I’ve been working out hard. Been keeping my body in shape and it came down to getting back in the building, being around my teammates, being around the coaches, getting back into the swing of things. I reached out and gave them a heads up, ‘Hey, I’ll be in town and I’ll be coming in.’"
And like that, Peterson and the team had seemingly moved beyond the nine-month ordeal. Peterson, who was limited to one game last season, participated in the team’s practice for the second round of organized team activities.
"We welcome him with open arms, unequivocally," head coach Mike Zimmer said. "He’s been such a tremendous, tremendous part of this organization. I have the utmost respect for him. always have. I’ve always supported him 100 percent and I will continue to do so as long as he’s with us. Hopefully that’s for a long, long time. I’m proud of Adrian and the fact that all of the things he had to go through last year and we’re ready to move forward with football, get him going again, get this football team going."
Zimmer was always confident the situation would be resolved and the 2012 NFL MVP running back would be back with the team, although he wasn’t exactly sure when that would be. During the first week of OTAs last week, Zimmer reiterated the team’s stance that Peterson would play for the Vikings and no one else.
The statement wasn’t a threat. It was a reassurance of how Zimmer and the team approached the situation. Peterson and Zimmer talked soon after the comments.
"I think we’ve always had very open communication and we’ve been able to express our opinion fairly openly," Zimmer said. "I really don’t want to get into all the conversations that we’ve had. The comment that I made last week was not about trying to be confrontational or anything like that. It was just because of basically what’s here."
Zimmer said he and Peterson both expressed their opinions when the two talked last week. Peterson said he missed last week’s OTAs because of a personal obligation.
The relationship between player and coach helped ease any possible tension. Peterson’s appreciation for Zimmer exists "maybe more so than he knows."
"He’s just one of those guys, one of those coaches, that you really don’t want to disappoint, because you understand, you’re able to see that he has the same passion for the game as you," Peterson said. "He’s always been straightforward with me during this process. He’s been supportive as well. So yeah, you know, considering the other coaches, as well, and coach Zimmer, that played a role."
Zimmer said no contractual concessions were given before Peterson returned. But the coach reiterated his support of Peterson many times, including when he traveled to Peterson’s home in Houston to speak with the running back.
"I love this kid; I really do," Zimmer said. "I’ve said this all along. I mean, I wouldn’t fly down to Houston to see him if he wasn’t important to me and to my program and to our coaches and to the rest of the football team."
Peterson reportedly had also hoped for a trade or release from the team, unhappy with some of the support he received from the Vikings. Peterson’s agent Ben Dogra had said it was in Peterson’s "best interests" if Peterson didn’t play for Minnesota.
Peterson was asked about wanting to play elsewhere.
"I’m going to be absolutely, 100 percent with you," Peterson said. "With everything going on in my life at that time, I really didn’t know what I wanted. I really didn’t know if I wanted to play somewhere else, if I wanted to retire, I didn’t know if I wanted to get into track and do something different. That’s where receiving advice from my parents, my advisers really played a big role."
Peterson admitted a mistake in the way he disciplined his son with a wooden switch, which caused the running back to go through his subsequent nine-month ordeal in which he had to deal with legal issues and a lengthy NFL suspension.
"It’s been emotions on both sides," Peterson said. ". . . People are entitled to think what they want, but I’m definitely not the victim and never tried to play the victim in this role. But in the end, I’m on the outside and I’m able to really sit back and see everything that was going on, whether that’s from Minnesota or the state of Texas, I was able to see everything. With that, it was tough to sit back and take all these different blows.
"With that, it was definitely emotional for me," Peterson added. "I had to stay prayed up. Had a lot of people praying for me. Had time to sit back and talk to pastors and get some different views about things. Ultimately, that allowed me to see things in a different alignment."
Back with the Vikings finally, Peterson also said he wouldn’t want to be on a different team.
"I’m happy with where I’m at here with the Minnesota Vikings," Peterson said. "I love the coaching staff. I’ve said it before, but I feel like this is the best coaching staff we’ve seen since I’ve been here. I like what they present. We have a young team, hungry team, excellent young quarterback who has a year under his belt now and we have a lot of talent. We can accomplish great things."