Monday night will mark 53 weeks since Adrian Peterson last saw the field as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
He has missed time before, but it was always the result of an injury. He has never been in a situation where he has been forced to watch his teammates play so many games without being able to do anything about it.
As the Vikings join the San Francisco 49ers to become the last teams to open the 2015 regular season, the late-night spotlight is going to be shining directly on Peterson as he makes his return to the NFL against the San Francisco 49ers.
In previous instances of coming back from missed time, Peterson had been something of a media darling – loved and respected for his skill level and God-given ability. This time around, it figures to be a lot different.
Peterson remains a lightning rod of controversy over the discipline he imposed upon his son that got him in hot water with both the legal system, the NFL’s unofficial punishment court and the court of public opinion. Much like polarizing sports figures like Michael Vick, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds, Peterson may have to turn off his selective hearing because you can bet fans are going to let him have it because he has become akin to a TMZ paparazzi target.
He has become a pariah in the minds of a segment of the population, despite his discipline apparently in keeping with the community norms of Palestine, Texas.
He has met the legal obligations of his plea agreement, being cut loose early from his plea deal requirements by the Texas court system.
He has met the more oppressive standards placed upon him by the NFL, which revised its domestic violence policy as a direct result of the bang-bang visual evidence of the violence inflicted by Peterson and Baltimore running back Ray Rice, who received a two-game suspension that was the norm for a domestic violence offense. The NFL re-wrote the rules on the fly to punish players.
Most people who are brought up on charges similar to that of Peterson can go back to the normal work lives 99.whatever percent of the rest of us enjoy. People have made value judgments on Peterson one way or the either, but, as a public figure, it will always come up in some form – just as Vick is synonymous with dog fighting and A-Rod and Bonds are intrinsically linked to the steroid era of baseball. It’s Peterson’s cross to bear.
However, after a 53-week hiatus, No. 28 is back. It may be behind a makeshift offensive line, but the only way a football player regains the love and respect of fans is to show them just how good he is at what he does and how much everyone missed when a year of his career was taken away from him.
If history has taught us anything, if you can find a way to motivate Adrian Peterson, he will silence his critics.
To understand the gravity of the lofty cloud Peterson has been placed upon, when he was a rookie in 2007, the unquestioned king of the running backs was LaDainian Tomlinson. Five weeks into his rookie season, Peterson had rushed 96 times and he was already a sports “talker” as to whether he was better than Tomlinson.
Why? In those 96 carries in five games, he had rushed for 607 yards and had scored four touchdowns.
Keep in mind that Tomlinson was entering his seventh season. In his first six years, he had averaged (repeat averaged!) 1,529 yards rushing and 18½ touchdowns a season. He had never had a season in which he caught 50 or fewer passes, including 100 receptions in 2003.
Tomlinson was coming off arguably the greatest statistical season ever. Not only did he rush 348 times for 1,815 yards and a NFL-record 28 rushing touchdowns, he caught 60 passes for 475 yards and three more TDs. His bust was already being forged for Canton.
Yet, five games into his seventh season and coming off his best year ever, L.T. was facing a challenge from A.P.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 4, 2007, Peterson and Tomlinson met head to head for the first time – like two champion boxers on a collision course.
Tomlinson scored a touchdown, but he didn’t have a good day – rushing 16 times for 40 yards, catching six passes for 37 yards and never gaining more than 11 yards on any of his 22 touches.
Peterson ran 30 times and set a single-game NFL record with 296 yards rushing and three touchdowns. Eight games into his NFL career, Peterson was almost universally acknowledged as the greatest running back in the game.
He held that throne until Christmas Eve 2011. His knee got shredded and Peterson was written off as having his best years in the rearview mirror.
He attacked his rehab and set a new standard for others, telling them an ACL/MCL/PCL injury requires eight months of rehabilitation, not 12 to 18.
The result? 2,097 rushing yards.
Tonight the third act of the Adrian Peterson NFL saga begins.
The first act took place from 2007 to Christmas Eve 2011.
The second act started Sept. 9, 2012. On that day, Peterson began the process of silencing his critics. Not only did he make good on his training camp pledge to play opening day, he ran 17 times for 84 yards and scored two TDs.
Not too shabby.
He went on to come as close as anyone had in breaking the single-season record for rushing yards set in 1984 that has yet to be eclipsed.
The second act of Peterson’s drama ended Sept. 7, 2014. That was the last game he played before the legal saga that played out bubbled to the surface.
Act I was one of the best ever. Act II set the standard for his peers with similar injuries, a story of recovery and redemption.
At about 9:30 Minnesota time tonight, the lights are going to flicker on and off and the theatre crowd is being warned that the show is about to begin.
Will Act III be a rousing finish to what football fans have come to expect from Peterson? If anyone can do it, it’s him. He’s a once-in-a-generation talent who has not only re-written his franchise’s record books, but is climbing the charts every game on the all-time NFL list.
Act III starts tonight. Get your popcorn ready.