EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Last week, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster made surprise purchases for his offensive linemen: brand new Segways to travel around the team’s complex just like Foster does with his own motorized two-wheeler.
Foster had reason to buy gifts for his linemen, namely more than 1,300 yards rushing and a league-leading 14 rushing touchdowns. Imagine what the guy chasing the NFL’s single-season rushing record could do for his underrated and unheralded linemen.
Something with four wheels? Maybe a Cadillac Escalade?
“You guys can all discuss that; not too focused on that right now,” Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan said.
Rightly so. With the offensive line opening holes for Adrian Peterson and Peterson doing the rest, Minnesota (9-6) has an opportunity to earn a playoff berth with a win Sunday against the Green Bay Packers (11-4). The side story is Peterson’s pursuit of Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 rushing yards and the chance to become just the seventh player in league history to reach 2,000 yards rushing in a single season. Peterson, with a league-leading 1,898 yards, is 102 yards away from joining the exclusive 2,000-yard club and 208 away from breaking Dickerson’s record.
Peterson, justifiably, has received plenty of attention in his run for the record coming off major knee surgery a year ago. His offensive line, led by Sullivan in the middle, flanked by guards Charlie Johnson and Brandon Fusco with Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt on the outside at tackle, has received very little of the fanfare during Peterson’s chase.
Sullivan isn’t worried about the lack of attention — or the lack of gifts, yet, from Peterson.
“All I’m hoping for is a good performance from him and our entire offense, and the entire team,” Sullivan said. “The playoff berth is all we really care about at this point. We don’t care about presents.”
The offensive line, which has had the same five starters all season, does care about the record. They want to see Peterson earn that mark.
“Yeah, we care,” Sullivan said. “I’m not going to say we don’t care. We care about the record. We do.”
Offensive linemen aren’t usually adorned with well-known awards. They’re the cogs that makes the offensive machine go, doing the dirty work along the line, more often getting their name called for penalties than for dominating play.
Their rewards might be trips to the Pro Bowl, based more often than not on reputation than their play. More often than not, however, the offensive lineman aren’t recognized, at least publicly.
“As an offensive line, we know we don’t get recognition, but if he gets that 2,000-plus people will be talking about us as one of the greatest of all time or something like that,” said second-year player Fusco, who operates at right guard in a rotation with Geoff Schwartz. “That would be cool. We know we don’t get much recognition, but it’s part of the position. We just go out there and do our job and block for the best.”
Peterson knows he wouldn’t be the best without them, even calling them the best line he’s played behind.
“These guys, you compare them to the different guys who have been here, (such as) Steve Hutchinson, and you might say those guys are better doing this or doing that,” Peterson said last week. “But together, these guys work good as an offensive unit and each week they’ve just gelled more and got more comfortable with one another.” Coach Leslie Frazier said the offensive line received a game ball two weeks ago after helping Peterson rush for 212 yards, his second 200-plus-yard game in three weeks.
“We take pride in it,” Sullivan said. “The only reason we’re allowing ourselves to think about it and talk about it is because ultimately it helps us win. We take pride in those numbers. Obviously they’re Adrian’s statistics, but as blockers we feel like we have a hand in that.”
In an interview with Yahoo Sports radio last week, Dickerson relayed a recent phone call he received from Jackie Slater, the Hall of Fame left tackle for the Rams who helped Dickerson to his record-setting 1984 season. Dickerson said Slater wanted to hold on to the record as well. Holding a hallowed record is a reflection of the entire team, especially the offensive line.
So, Sullivan, Fusco, Johnson, Kalil, Loadholt and Schwartz can take pride in getting Peterson to 2,000 yards or to the record. Their list of NFL accomplishments eventually might include Pro Bowls or All-Pro honors. But they can earn plenty of credit for helping Peterson reach his goals.
“You’re a part of history,” Johnson said. “Ten, 15 years from now when people look back and see Adrian Peterson with however many, 2,000 or whatever it is, you know you’re a part of that. You know you’re one of five guys, or you’re one of 10 guys, who helped him get to that.”
And if Minnesota can get Peterson to 2,000 — or 2,106 possibly — with a playoff spot sewn up as well, the linemen know they will receive their recognition. Maybe even from Peterson.
“I think we’ll get recognition by him when he buys us some 2,000-yard-rushing gifts,” rookie tackle Kalil joked. “So, we’ll get some nice Rolexes or something like that, we’ll see. . . . He’ll get us something. He’ll take care of us. Especially if he gets that record, I might get a car.”