Anything written about Adrian Peterson’s astonishing season should probably begin with “Once upon a time,” as it seems more rooted in fable than fact.
Today, Peterson, the Minnesota Vikings running back, will face the Houston Texans in his quest to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards set in 1984. He needs 294 yards, or an average 147 yards a game over the next two games to do it.
With 1,313 yards rushing in his past eight games alone – a bruising average of 164.1 per game – Peterson is operating on a level where even superlatives often fall short.
Last year at this time, a different story was unfolding. On Christmas Eve, in a game against the Washington Redskins, Peterson, a man known to friends and foes as “All Day,” lay crumpled on the FedEx Field turf, clutching his left knee.
“I felt three pops and I knew it was my ACL; I remember saying to myself, ‘Why me?’ ” Peterson said by telephone this week, repeating that self-reflective phrase several times for emphasis.
The preliminary diagnosis that night, torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments, became the lump of coal in Minnesota’s Christmas stocking. But Peterson refused to attend his own pity party.
“Within that first 15-20 minutes after that happened, I just really got my mind focused,” he said, “and I told myself: Hey, this is what it is. My ACL is torn, my MCL is torn, but I’m going back stronger and better than I was before.”
Dr. James Andrews, a renowned orthopedic surgeon, performed Peterson’s surgery in December. Even before Peterson began his grueling rehabilitation, medical and football experts agreed that he might be able to suit up for the 2012 season opener against Jacksonville, but many predicted it would take an entire season – and subsequent offseason – for Peterson to regain his full power and lateral quickness.
Peterson, a four-time All-Pro, had a different timetable. “I had it in my mind, from the moment I got out of surgery, that I was going to be back there, that I was going to be good and be healthy,” he said.
Peterson, 27, was more than good to his word.
Fifteen weeks into the season, he’s poised to draw closer to Dickerson’s rushing record.
Dickerson – who played for the Los Angeles Rams (1983-87), Indianapolis Colts (1987-91), Los Angeles Raiders (1992) and Atlanta Falcons (1993) – was recently quoted as saying that he greatly admired Peterson, but still hoped that his record would not be broken.
Peterson said of Dickerson, his boyhood running back idol: “I still love Eric Dickerson, and I understand where he’s coming from. I’m sure he’s been holding onto that accomplishment for 28 years, so it’s kind of hard to let go of that.”
He added, “In my mind, he’s got to get ready to let go of it.”
Peterson’s comeback has not just defied all expectations but has shown that a player is capable of returning from torn knee ligaments and playing better than he did before the injury.
His statistics this season, in nearly every category, are career bests. He has 1,812 yards (and 11 touchdowns) and is the NFL’s leader in yards from scrimmage with 2,023, more than 350 yards ahead of the next highest player.
“And the scary part is every week he gets better,” the Vikings running backs coach James Saxon said.