By JUSTIN RAINS
A little over a year ago, Palestine alum and Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson experienced a life-changing event.
During a game on Christmas Eve against Washington, Peterson was hit and, in the process, tore both the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his left knee.
It was an injury that many wondered if he would ever come back from. Certainly, the experts said, it’d be 2013 before Peterson ever saw the field again. Someone forgot, however, to tell Peterson.
The 2004 graduate of Palestine High School started Week 1 for the Vikings, and from there began what would become a historic season for a running back.
"I'm not surprised by what I'm doing because I'm always shooting for the moon and reaching for the stars," he told ESPN.com last week. "Even when I got hurt, I had the mindset that I'd be back this season."
When the season ended Sunday, Peterson found himself behind only one person — Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson — on the list of most yards rushing in a single season.
He finished the year with 2,097 yards rushing on a career-high 348 careers. But, he doesn’t feel worn down by it at all.
“No, (I’m) not sore at all outside of what I’ve been battling for the past six weeks,” he said during his weekly press conference this week. “My body, my knee, my shoulders; everything feels good.”
While the records and honors — Peterson is one of the favorites for the league’s Most Valuable Player award — are nice, the most important thing for Peterson is that his success has led to team success. With the win over Green Bay in the final week, the Vikings clinched a playoff spot.
They’ll open the playoffs in Green Bay today at 7 p.m. The game can be seen on NBC.
"I told myself to come into this game focused on one thing, and that's winning," Peterson said after Sunday’s win.
But, with the winning kept coming the accolades. Earlier this season, Peterson passed Robert Smith as the all-time leading rusher in Vikings’ history.
Then, with his 199-yard performance Sunday, he became the second player ever with seven games of at least 150 rushing yards. The other? Fellow East Texan and Pro Football Hall of Famer Earl Campbell.
Peterson did all this — the accolades, the team success, all of it — without much of a passing attack to help balance out Minnesota’s offense.
Minnesota’s second-year quarterback Christian Ponder struggled at times in 2012, and for a stretch of nine games that ended with the season finale, the Palestine and Oklahoma University-product had actually ran for more yards then Ponder had thrown for.
But, as team leaders are expected to do, Peterson never let his quarterback get down. Instead, he took Ponder and every other Viking on his back during the team’s final four games.
Heading into that final stretch, Minnesota was 6-6 and on the outside of the playoff picture looking in. The Vikings had lost four-of-five after starting the season 5-2, and things looked bleak.
That includes taking Ponder aside and talking with him after the team’s 23-14 loss to Green Bay on Dec. 2. In that game, Peterson ran for 210 yards, but Ponder threw two interceptions in the second half that even Peterson admits now cost the Vikings the game.
“To be real, it was pretty obvious that the two interceptions cost us the game and it definitely showed on his face,” Peterson said. “I just did what I felt like I needed to do to help him get over that because this is a guy that we’re rolling with and we need him to continue to improve each week.
“I felt like he got back on track, he got his mind right and didn’t dwell on it too long. Obviously he was able to refocus, get back on track and start doing his job better.”
The Minnesota coaching staff has also seen how Peterson’s success has helped the offense as a whole.
“The fact that the offense runs through Adrian allows our whole team to know our identity,” Minnesota offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said in a press conference this week. “We know where our strengths lie and we play to those strengths.
“Everyone has a role, which doesn’t mean that it’s any less important than Adrian’s, but we’re looking to do our jobs as well to compliment Adrian’s strengths.”
In his team’s two games against Green Bay this season, Peterson has averaged 204.5 yards per game, a feat he’ll look to replicate tonight.
But, it won’t be easy. The Packers have said they don’t want Peterson beating them again, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that doesn’t happen.
So, what does he have to do to replicate his past success?
“We’re definitely going to establish the run and that starts up front,” he said this week. “With the guys out wide contributing as well and just being balanced. I feel like if we continue to be balanced like last week, then you can’t really crowd the box and if you do we’re going to go over your head and vice versa.”
With the type of season that he’s had and the records that he’s already made runs at, it’s easy to wonder if he’s got the single-game playoff rushing record in mind. That record, also held by Dickerson, is 248 yards.
But, Peterson insists he isn’t focused on that.
“Once you get in the playoffs nothing else matters but winning. I’m not worried about any records or anything. If they never would have said anything about the record that I had the opportunity to get I probably wouldn’t have worried about it.”
One thing that he is worried about is what he can do to help his team win, not just on offense.
According to Vikings Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer, Peterson has lobbied to help on kick returns as well.
“He always asks. He’s a football player,” Priefer said. “Gunner, field goal block, returner, the guy is awesome. I always say yes and then I ask the head coach and he says no...I’m just kidding. I know what the answer is going to be, I don’t even have to ask.”
Peterson said he’ll do whatever he has to do to help the Vikings win.
“For the past two years. I’ve been trying to get on field goal block, to come off the edge, it’s going to take one block for them to be like, ‘Okay you know what, we’ll take the chance and let you get it done,’” he said “Kickoff return, I wouldn’t mind getting back there. I’m in it to win.”
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com