The moment was a reminder of how, even after enduring hardship, the payoff in joy can be fleeting.
Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson and his family – including his father, mother and stepfather – were sitting in a room, listening to the sales pitch from agents Tom Condon and Ben Dogra. Condon went through all the numbers for what Peterson, who is expected to be the first running back selected during the NFL draft April 28-29, could be expected to make as a rookie.
All the while, there was an overstuffed bag on the floor next to where Dogra was sitting. Condon had asked Dogra a couple of times to tell him what was inside, but Dogra said he'd show him later.
When Dogra finally spoke, he addressed Nelson Peterson, Adrian's father. Dogra talked gently about how the elder Peterson had spent eight years in prison, missing all but one of his son's high school and college games.
The one game Nelson Peterson attended was Oct. 14, 2006 against Iowa State, when Adrian Peterson lit up the field for 183 yards and two touchdowns. It was also the day that Adrian Peterson broke his collarbone and ended his regular season, diving into the end zone to celebrate having his father around for the first time.
Eight years of hard time for selling drugs and all Nelson Peterson got to see was one game.
Enter Dogra. From out of the bag, he pulled one bound volume after another. In the volumes were every story ever written about Adrian Peterson from the time he started high school in Palestine, Texas becoming one of the greatest running backs in state prep history.
The room went silent. Nelson Peterson choked back tears.
"It was pretty special for my dad," Adrian Peterson said.
The rest of the story to be written will now depend on whether Peterson can avoid the injuries that cut short his high school and college careers. Be it a twisted ankle his sophomore year at Oklahoma or the collarbone injury this past season, the biggest concern about Peterson is whether he'll hold up.
It has become enough of an issue that the 6-foot-1, 217-pound Peterson answers the questions about it in a rehearsed fashion.
"Basically the injuries," Peterson said, pausing to take a breath before answering. "My ankle injury that I had my sophomore year is completely healed. The only injury I'm dealing with now is my collarbone injury. A couple of doctors are saying that no surgery is required. It'll heal on its own. So as far as the collarbone injury, when it heals, it'll be as strong as it was before."
What might help Peterson avoid the NFL's injury report is if he learns to run without so many focal points. The biggest criticism of Peterson's Sooners career was that, in football terms, he runs too high. In essence, his upper body is too upright, making him a large target for tacklers.
Add in the fact that Peterson is taller than the average running back and the question among NFL personnel folks is whether Peterson is worthy of taking in the early part of the first round given the financial investment.
"You're talking about putting 20, 25, maybe $30 million into him and I'm not sure if he lasts more than four years the way he runs," one NFL coach said. "I love him as a player, but we can't all think in terms of just how good a player he is. There's more to it. Particularly if you're a team that's on a two- or three-year plan. If he was the final piece to the puzzle, OK, maybe you take him. But if you're still building, it's a tough call."
The other fear is that Peterson's body has already taken a pounding. Between his senior year in high school and freshman season at Oklahoma, Peterson carried more than 600 times for more than 4,800 yards. In his freshman season alone, he had 339 carries for 1,925 yards. In fact, Peterson said he initially hurt his collarbone as a freshman. It didn't break until he was a junior.
"He has been a man, really the man, for his team for a long time now," San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "As a coach, you love that. You love that toughness in a guy. But you have to wonder a little bit when you see some of the injuries he's had. For me, I'm just glad I have a guy at that position right [with Frank Gore]. I don't have to worry about it that much."
Peterson discounts all the knocks.
"I really don't feel like there's anything to prove there," the tailback said. "I'm just basically going out and focusing on performing well."
- Adrian Peterson
- Nelson Peterson