EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The numbers — a league-leading 1,898 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns, 6.0 yards per carry, 39 catches, a league-leading 2,113 yards from scrimmage — speak for themselves and would stand up any in any season.
But for Adrian Peterson, 2012 hasn’t been just any year. The man who defied logic and doctors’ best projections in his return from major knee surgery has had one of the most remarkable seasons in NFL history.
Just over eight months from Dec. 30 surgery to repair tears to the anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee, Peterson returned to the field for the Minnesota Vikings’ first game of 2012.
Every step of the way, Peterson has defied timelines and exceeded expectations, amazing even the strongest of skeptics. Now Peterson has led Minnesota to the verge of the NFC playoffs following a 3-13 season, while putting himself in the running for the MVP and Comeback Player of the Year awards.
With 102 yards against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Peterson would become just the seventh player in NFL history to run for 2,000 yards. He’s 208 yards away — and ran for 210 against Green Bay earlier this year — from breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record.
Yes, Peterson’s accomplishments stand alone, but become more astonishing with the backdrop of his return from the type of knee surgery that has ruined the careers of many players.
Peterson sat down with FOXSportsNorth.com for a one-on-one interview Friday — two days before the regular-season finale against Green Bay and a chance at history — to discuss his rehab, season and what drives perhaps the most driven player in the NFL.
FSN: As you were going through rehab, how motivated were you to prove doubters wrong and prove to them you could return as strong as you were before the injury?
PETERSON: I was motivated to do that, to prove people wrong. That wasn’t my main motivation. My main motivation was greatness, because in my heart I want to be the best to have ever played. So, coming back from this injury, I had to fight through that to do that.
That definitely was something I was focused on too, doubters and non-believers that don’t know you, don’t know anything about you. The only thing they know about is, ‘Oh, it’s an ACL injury.’ And just how other backs normally recover and come back from it. Don’t know anything about you as a person, how you can overcome adversity. So with that, you know, that definitely put something in me to prove those people wrong.
FSN: Was there a turning point or biggest breakthrough for you during the rehab?
PETERSON: My biggest breakthrough? Having the surgery (smiles). Having the surgery and starting the process. I knew it. This might sound crazy; you never know what’s going to happen. I knew that I was going to be back and be better than I was because I knew it was just matter of time as far as I was able to get to work. I knew nobody was going to outwork me. So that was my biggest breakthrough. That’s why I was so anxious to get the surgery out of the way.
FSN: Has there ever been a part of this process where you’ve amazed yourself? What would it take to amaze you?
PETERSON: 4,000 yards. 3,000 yards. Somewhere in there, 3,000 yards.
FSN: If you were to reach Dickerson’s record, where would you rank that on your list of accomplishments in your career? You’ve got the single-game record, most of the Vikings’ records, where would this rank?
PETERSON: It would rank right there at the top, so far. I want to get some Super Bowls, a couple Super Bowls in hand, and that would definitely trump anything I accomplish. But yeah, that record right there, considering the ones I have, it would definitely be at the top.
FSN: When you look at the rest of your career, what are your main goals?
PETERSON: Super Bowls is obvious. For long-term goals, breaking Emmitt Smith’s mark, that would be something, the career rushing record. I really don’t know, touchdowns, all those types of records. I’m more like the big records that mean something like the rushing record, breaking my single-game rushing record. I definitely want to do that. Outside of that, nothing really sticks out.
FSN: You’ve said winning championships is the most important thing to you. Do you see those coming here in Minnesota?
PETERSON: Yeah, I see them coming. We’ve got a good group of guys here, good coaches, Leslie Frazier. And Rick Spielman, he did a good job bringing some young guys in that have really contributed the first year, got some guys that play some ball. We had other guys come in, and the young guys just getting better and improving. I see we can get it done.
FSN: Do you envision staying in Minnesota the rest of your career?
PETERSON: Yeah. I do envision that. But I know how the system is. I’m the type of person, I always envision what I want. But I never want to be that person that’s caught off guard or caught by surprise because I’ve seen Peyton. Just look at Peyton Manning, there’s so many guys out there that you say, ‘Wow, they let this guy go.’ LaDainian Tomlinson, there’s so many guys. It’s a business. I know that. I don’t know. We’ll see. But I see myself here.
FSN: Running backs have notoriously short careers, and 30 is kind of that magic number (“So they say,” Peterson adds). How long do you see yourself keeping up this level of production?
PETERSON: I feel like I’m ready to play until I’m ready to end it, pretty much. It all comes back to how you’re taking care of your body. How you’re pushing yourself to make sure that you’re in shape, your body physically ready to do what you want it to do. It’s a mindset thing. So, we’ll see.
FSN: You said early on after the injury there was a short period where it was really tough for you. When was that and how long did that feeling last?
PETERSON: It was the beginning stages of it, when I was really stationary. I really couldn’t do much. I couldn’t even go to the restroom without being in excruciating pain. I really fought with that mentally; just the struggles of not being able to walk and put a lot of pressure on it, or bend my knee, or ride a stationary bike.
Even the little exercises I was doing then, it was like sometimes it flashed in my mind, ‘Oh, this is pointless.’ But the positive flash came back and override that one, ‘Hey, this is helping you get stronger. This is helping you get to where you want to be.’ So it’s that battle. You’ve got so many ways. I’m not making it seem like my mind was all the way, 100 percent, no doubt at all. It’s a battle. It’s all about which, the negative or positive, which one is going to win. I choose to go positive the majority of the time.
FSN: With how positive and motivated you are, how tough is it to get through that moment of doubt?
PETERSON: It’s tough. It can be tough at times. It can be challenging. But once you get through it, ultimately, you see that good always wins.
FSN: So where does your motivation and work ethic come from?
PETERSON: It was just something that was instilled in me. But that motivation is something that I got from God. He blessed me with the will and determination, just the vision to be able to do the things that I do.
It goes back to when I was young. I lost my brother at a young age, and seeing that happen and just seeing how God brought me through that, because I prayed to him and asked him to help me ‘look at this in the right way and use it as motivation.’ During that time, it was tough for me at a young age and he helped me through that.
So, it was bam, early on, I knew God was able to help me through this and be there for my mom, and be strong. So, outside of dealing with death, nothing can compare to that. That’s why I look at things and it’s really not nothing to accomplish or get over things.