ST. LOUIS — So much about Adrian Peterson’s chase is invisible. This sprint for history is a product of what we don’t see — the grit, the drive, the flame that burns inside to become more than a star, more than someone contained by his time.
The possibility of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, set in 1984, is becoming more than real now. Peterson’s motivation has never left, even with a torn ACL in his left knee last December that placed a sumo-sized boulder between him and a 27-year quest for greatness. If anything, the setback served as gasoline, sparking an uncommon show of force that makes you wonder if you’re watching a thoroughbred and a jackhammer at the same time.
With his latest masterpiece complete, a season-high 212 yards with a touchdown in the Minnesota Vikings’ 36-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams, Peterson met Rams running back Steven Jackson near the 30-yard line Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome. They hugged. They exchanged words for about half a minute as a lifeless stadium cleared.
It was easy to wonder if Jackson, like us all, understood the moment’s weight. It was easy to wonder if he, like us all, understood we were spectators for three hours to one of sports’ most unique displays— a time when ambition and achievement prepare to meet.
“It’s mental — you know, my mindset, my willpower, my determination,” said Peterson, when asked by FOXSportsMidwest.com why greatness is possible for him. “It’s something that I’ve shown on the field when I play. The things that people don’t see is how hard I work during the offseason. I grind hard. When you want to be great and you have in your mind that you want to be the greatest who ever played — you can’t talk about it. You’ve got to go out and work to accomplish something like that.”
Peterson’s work has led to a fascinating duality — an inspiring spectacle for his teammates and a smoke trail of destruction for his opposition. After Sunday, he stands at a career-best 1,812 rushing yards, topping his former mark of 1,760 set in 2008. He ran for more than 210 yards for the second time this season, more than 100 for the eighth consecutive game.
His accolades are almost numbing, his stats a blur. His production has become so consistent that it appears routine.
The interesting thing about Peterson, though, is that he chooses not to shy away from where his tear could lead. As he did Sunday, he talks openly about breaking Dickerson’s record, as if it’s a linebacker to be stiff-armed on a sprint to the end zone. True, Dickerson’s mark is far from his top concern — the Vikings (8-6) kept their playoff hopes alive and all but eliminated the Rams (6-7-1) from contention — but the goal serves as more fuel for his focus.
In the process, Peterson’s coaches and teammates are left to watch and admire. Sunday, there were two moments that served as lightning strikes that burned a St. Louis defense that entered without allowing a rusher of more than 65 yards in four consecutive games. Early in the second quarter, he burst through the middle like a ball shot from a cannon for an 82-yard touchdown run, giving the Vikings a 14-7 lead; in the fourth quarter, the crowd buzzing with momentum, he cut left twice before gaining 52 yards to set up Blair Walsh’s 51-yard field goal that gave Minnesota its decisive margin of victory.
Ask around a locker room filled with grins about why these feats are possible for Peterson, and the words serve as a collective bow. Greatness, when observed from the front row, leaves many to pause and study.
Quarterback Christian Ponder, who finished 17-of-24 passing for 131 yards: “It’s unbelievable. It’s hard not to just hand it off and sit there and watch. … It’s unbelievable. At times where it’s all clustered up, and it looks like he’s going to go down — all of a sudden he just squirts out there.”
Left guard Charlie Johnson: “I think it’s his will to win. Outside of maybe one other person I’ve played with (Peyton Manning), I don’t think I’ve had anyone with his will to win. He wants to be the best. He’s not afraid to tell you guys that he wants to be the best.”
Coach Leslie Frazier: “He’s just an amazing athlete. An extremely hard worker — just everything a coach could want in a superstar. He’s a leader. He practices the way he plays. He does things that you ask him to do, and he’s great athlete on top of that. … He’s the rare superstar in so many ways.”
That’s what makes Peterson’s quest dramatic. This is, in many ways, a chase against himself. It’s against that young player from Palestine (Texas) High who dreamed of a sustained NFL career. It’s against that rising star from Oklahoma who envisioned a day when he would be one of his era’s best. It’s against that second-year unrefined talent with fumble problems who had faith that he would be mentioned in the same breath as a legend like Dickerson one day.
This is a never-ending journey. It drives him to this day.
“It would mean a lot, especially coming off the ACL and the hard work I put into it and Eric Dickerson being such a great back — someone I looked up to and (someone who) inspired me to work toward greatness,” Peterson said of the record. “To surpass him would definitely be nice. It has been there what, since ’84? One year later, that’s when I started my journey to get here. So we’ll see.”
We’ll watch, indeed. And continue to be amazed by what’s inside.