In Minnesota, they have a heroic figure that has been a part of the state's mythology and folklore – Paul Bunyan. A larger-than-life figure, Bunyan is said have felled forests with minimal swings of his mighty axe and has been taken on as a something akin to a patron saint of Minnesotans.
As he prepares for his return to Texas for the first time as a professional, running back Adrian Peterson is taking on similar mythic proportions. In the short span of five days since setting a franchise record for rushing, Peterson is already being compared – not just favorably but straight up – to the unquestioned NFL running back king of the hill, LaDainian Tomlinson.
While Vikings fans knew Peterson had the potential for greatness, for the most part, he didn't fly onto Vikings fans' radars until he was speculated as someone the team might have the opportunity to draft. But to some of his Vikings teammates, he's been a known commodity for some time. He was the Texas equivalent to Paul Bunyan.
In Minnesota, high school football is very localized and region-centric. While they have traditions, it isn't viewed as must-see entertainment. In Texas, high school football is often mentioned in the same breath as religion and family. It's not unusual for local talk sports radio stations to break down high school games for days and make note of junior high players who have a "can't-miss" tag. It is a way of life, not how to spend a Friday night you have free.
"High school football in Texas is huge – there isn't much that's bigger," said Vikings long-snapper Cullen Loeffler, who grew up in Ingram, Texas. "If you're a good player, word gets out pretty fast and everyone knows about. Adrian made a pretty big name for himself early on."
Wide receiver Robert Ferguson lived near Peterson's home in Palestine, Texas, and had a chance to see him personally – after hearing legend of the next great Texas running back to join the long and storied history of legendary Texas high schoolers. He wanted to see for himself if the legend was true or hyped up.
He came away duly impressed.
"He was a manchild out there," Ferguson said. "He was pretty much the same size he is now. It wasn't even fair (to his opponents). We knew back then that he was going to be great."
As Peterson's legend grew, word of his speed and athletic ability spread like a hot summer wind across the Texas plains. It was naturally assumed that Peterson would go to one of the two schools that typically had their pick of top local talent – the University of Texas and Texas A&M. By the time Peterson had the first of his consecutive 2,000-yard rushing seasons, Vikings cornerback Cedric Griffin was a reshirt freshman for the Longhorns. He, like many of his teammates, just assumed they would be welcoming Peterson as a teammate after his senior season.
"You would hear about guys and you kept hearing, ‘Did you hear what Peterson did this week?' and things like that," Griffin said. "We figured that with the push he would get to come (to Texas) that it was a guarantee."
Ferguson got word from his alma mater that A&M could have a good shot to land the prized prospect. But when he opted to leave the state to play for hated rival Oklahoma, it left a lot of school administrators and fans shaking their heads in dismay.
"We just kept asking how did he ever get out of Texas?" Ferguson said. "When he went to Oklahoma, it was a real eye-opener."
The rest was history – as Peterson dominated the college game before turning pro and joining the Vikings. Sunday will his first trip as a pro back to Texas, where some fans remain bitter that he opted not to stay at home like so many other home-grown heroes have done. There's the possibility that there will be some boos coming from the crowd, but Ferguson pointed out that, regardless of the reception he receives on his return to the Lone Star State, his star continues to shine as brightly as it did when he dazzled fans in Palestine.
"He might get booed by some people, but he'll also get cheered by some too," Ferguson said. "Whether you boo him or your cheer him, you do it for the same reason – you respect how good a player he is and you either cheer for that or boo because now he can hurt your favorite NFL team."
Texas-Bred Vikings Speak of AD's Legend
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