As if Week 1 of the 2017 regular season wasn’t going to be interesting enough with the year opening at home on Monday Night Football, the NFL presents the return of Adrian Peterson.
Peterson found a landing spot in New Orleans with a two-year, $7 million deal, and with that the Peterson era with the Minnesota Vikings is beginning its next chapter – as if they needed a reason to party hard on Bourbon Street.
Peterson is going to play his first game in a new uniform against his former team in his former home. It brings into clear and present focus the mythology surrounding Minnesotans – is Minnesota Nice truly “a thing” or just a hollow sales pitch with no basis in fact?
That cliché mantra will be put to the test in the era of social media troll-dom. Like it or not, in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, there’s more trolling done off-water than on it.
How will Minnesota acknowledge Peterson? If it was up to me, I would introduce Peterson as the lone representative of the Saints – preceded by a 5-minute video of A.D.’s Greatest Hits (and Defensive Misses). If those who are paying for the right to let their voice be heard at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sept. 11 – gone, but not forgotten – want to send out of a chorus of boos, that’s their right.
If they want to acknowledge a decade in the history of the franchise that, on the field and off, he was the organizational faceplate, they can applaud.
What will the reaction be? That’s a “Get your popcorn ready” moment.
For those who were on the unfrozen tundra of Lambeau Field when Brett Favre made his return to Wisconsin after being displaced in New York by Mark Sanchez and eventually landing with the Vikings, the fan reaction was beyond brutal.
The lasting memory for one Minnesota-based on-sideline observer was a professionally-constructed crowd sign. Up to that point, many rarely noticed the crowd signs or banners – “Divest” changed all that, but this was a simpler time before climbing/dangling equipment could somehow make its way through what passes for a labyrinth of security undetected.
Packers fans weren’t as stealthy. In fact, they were relatively frontal, but, at the same time, largely humorous.
The message board outside a Green Bay hotel boasted, “Welcome back, Ryan Longwell.”
A sign behind the Vikings bench said, “Welcome back to Lambeau Field, Brent.”
You knew things wouldn’t stay humorous when you saw a cropduster-style plane circling Lambeau proclaiming in a 1920s style of communication “Retire 4 Good.”
But, it was the crafted stadium sign – laminated and whatnot – that set the tone for the night.
Some thought was put into this sign by a patron of the end zone lower level seat. It had religious iconography involved and said, “Judas betrayed one. You betrayed us all.”
Shockingly, it was sobering – coming from someone who likely wasn’t sober.
What followed was a hailstorm of booing that was actually embarrassing. Every time Favre took the field, the boos got louder and never let up, which was ironic because Favre’s exodus from Green Bay wasn’t his fault or his idea.
Favre didn’t leave the Packers. He was traded – exiled to the AFC and to a team (the Jets) monumentally unlikely to meet Green Bay in the Super Bowl and three years away from potentially facing the Packers in the regular season.
It wasn’t going to happen.
Favre made it happen and the result was an open wound to a fan base that suddenly hated their franchise faceplate for having the audacity to want to keep playing – even if that meant playing for a hated rival.
The initial comparison between Favre returning to Lambeau and Peterson coming back to Minnesota is that Peterson lived through the chorus of boos that Favre experienced in Green Bay, because, at the time, he was a third-year player with his best football in front of him bearing witness to the visceral hatred Packers fans showed Favre because he wasn’t wearing green and gold.
Peterson and Favre were also no strangers to the game that sparked a dislike of the Saints that remains to this day. Peterson endured Bountygate as close as anyone aside from Favre.
The Saints are despised by Vikings fans (and players who went through that game) not because of the opposing players, but because of their coaches.
Under the contract language, Peterson will be the second-highest paid running back on the Saints roster – behind Mark Ingram, who is coming off a career-best season. Peterson can hit some incentives to increase his payday, but it’s not going to be the kind of money A.P. has been compensated for a season since 2009 – the first year he and Favre were teammates.
To those who live and die with their football team of choice, the allegiance remains the same. It’s just the players, coaches and ownership groups that change.
Peterson’s career didn’t end as a Viking, just as Alan Page, Carl Eller, Ron Yary, Chris Doleman, Cris Carter, John Randle, Randall McDaniel and Randy Moss placed additional teams on their NFL resumes before their Hall of Fame careers came to an end.
Yet, all of the other Vikings are now embraced as Vikings forever.
Why should Peterson be different?
The absolute worst scenario the Vikings defense could face is a angered Adrian Peterson playing his first game as a former Viking against the Vikings with a chip on his shoulder and something to prove. He has a history of coming up big in those situations.
Peterson didn’t leave Minnesota by choice. His contract forced the issue. If he would have accepted a deal that paid him $3.5 million a year with some upside, he would still be in purple. That just wasn’t going to happen at the time a decision needed to be made.
Whether you loved him or hated him following the charges of child abuse for his parenting style, what he did on the field for the Vikings may never be duplicated. He and the Vikings will be permanently linked.
But, at a globally televised football game, how are Vikings fans going to address the elephant in the room?
With a career highlight video and a heaping helping of Minnesota Nice?
Or no acknowledgement and a vocal display of disdain and ill-will?
One or other is going to happen. Which will it be?