MANKATO, Minn. (AP) The ”AP! AP!” and ”MVP! MVP!” chants started as soon as Adrian Peterson was spotted driving into the parking lot.
The purple-clad crowd of autograph-seeking Vikings fans gathered at the annual reporting day saved the loudest cheers for a 30-year-old running back who played in only one game last season, formally welcoming the once-marooned Peterson back to Minnesota State University as players moved into their dorm rooms for training camp on a sunny Saturday.
”It’s comforting. It’s definitely a good feeling to know that the people do have your back,” Peterson said, a little more than three months after the NFL reinstated him following the suspension he served for his involvement in a child abuse case. ”But I’m sure it will take a while for this to get erased out of my memory.”
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Peterson was bothered enough by the public backlash against him last fall and what he felt was a lack of support from the non-football side of the organization that he first balked at resuming his stellar career in Minnesota.
The Vikings weren’t about to just let him go, though, and the patience, perspective and persistence of general manager Rick Spielman and head coach Mike Zimmer, as well as veteran players such as linebacker Chad Greenway, helped soften Peterson’s stance.
Ultimately, of course, the situation came down to cash. The Vikings pledged to rework Peterson’s contract to give him the guaranteed money, meaning security for injury that his agent, Ben Dogra, was pushing for.
”I was hoping he had a restructure like me. It turned out a little different,” Greenway, who took a pay cut to come back for a 10th season, said jokingly.
The redone deal was reached earlier this week, ensuring Peterson will make $13 million this year no matter what.
”It really wasn’t a question. I think it was more so about just kind of working out things so both parties would feel comfortable and be happy and move forward,” Peterson said. ”We were able to come to common ground.”
The Vikings had the leverage in the negotiation, except for their desire for team harmony and expression of trust in a player many other organizations might have let erode during the tumultuous ordeal that stretched from mid-September until early June, when Peterson finally arrived for some of the offseason practices.
”We’ve been through a lot. He’s been through a lot. But to have him back, to have him just focused on football and us just focused on football, we’re looking forward to seeing him run around out there,” Spielman said.
”I think resiliency would be a good way to describe getting through everything, knowing in the end what is right.”
Peterson wore a white T-shirt, charcoal-colored jeans, sneakers and a broad smile as he walked up to the building.
”My body feels great. Mentally I’m stronger than I’ve been ever before. I’ve just got a different mindset when it comes to just life in general and football, too,” Peterson said. ”With that, I know it’s going to make me a better player.”
The Vikings are counting on Peterson being fresh from the long layoff, so while he probably won’t play in any exhibition games per past practice, he’s on track to take a full share of the repetitions with the first team offense throughout camp.
”I’ll probably have to hold him back more so than push him,” Zimmer said.
The same could be said for the external expectations of this team, now that Peterson has returned to the fold. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is coming off a decent finish to his rookie year and the impact of Zimmer’s strategic and teaching abilities on the defense was significant.
”It’s nice to have people say nice things about you,” Zimmer said, ”but at the end of the day if you don’t go out there and work, which we have to do during practice, if we don’t go out there and work the way that we have to in the games and be on point with everything that we need to do, then they’ll be saying the exact opposite very quickly.
”So I think they’ll understand those things, and it’s part of sports.”
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