Though he has spent most of his young career ripping through opposing defenders like a speeding Hummer through a Hollywood studio façade, Adrian Peterson still gets his share of road rage, as all rookie running backs must. So it was last Sunday at Soldier Field that the Minnesota Vikings' revelatory runner, after being nailed for no gain on his first carry against the Chicago Bears, heard All-Pro middle linebacker Brian Urlacher bark, "Welcome to the league."
"It was kind of funny," Peterson recalled by phone Thursday from the Vikings' training facility. "On the next play I broke one for 27 yards, and it just kept getting better from there."
Late in the game in which Peterson produced one of the greatest individual performances ever by a rookie, running for 224 yards and three long touchdowns and setting up a game-winning field goal with a 53-yard kickoff return, he put a move on Urlacher that made the eighth-year veteran fall backwards to the turf. This time, Urlacher's tone was more conciliatory. "That's a pretty good forward lean you've got," he told Peterson.
In just five NFL games, and without having earned a starting job, the young man known as 'AD' – short for All Day – has announced himself as a dominant force. Peterson leads the NFL in rushing yards (607) and has an insane-in-the-membrane 6.3 yards per carry average going into Sunday's game at Texas Stadium against the the 5-1 Dallas Cowboys.
The former Oklahoma star, the seventh overall pick in April's NFL draft, has showcased a scary combination of breakaway speed, exceptional power and nimble moves. Even more chilling, he runs with a ferocity seldom seen in a player with his skill set.
"People talk about a new breed, and with his size and speed he really may be that guy," Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman said Monday while watching the Giants-Falcons game from his downtown Dallas condo. "You're always hearing that 'so-and-so runs like Eric Dickerson,' but I think this is the guy who really does."
Or put it this way: Were last April's draft to be redone today, Peterson would almost certainly go in the top two. But while the immensity and immediacy of his impact might be surprising to some observers, it hasn't surprised me – Peterson told me that this would happen.
In March, while working on what turned out to be my final cover story for Sports Illustrated, I traveled to Norman, Okla., where I dined with Peterson at Charleston's restaurant. While carefully cutting up bites of his steak for his two-year-old daughter, Adeja (whom he had already dubbed "AD Jr." for her nonstop personality), Peterson talked about the raised eyebrows he got during some of his interviews at the league's scouting combine. AD described himself as a cross between LT (LaDainian Tomlinson) and LJ (Larry Johnson) to various coaches and front-office executives.
Later during the meal, Peterson said of his impending transition to the NFL, "I'm coming in to be mentioned with the best that ever played. I'm setting my bar high, reaching past the moon to the stars. I want to win Super Bowls, lead the league in rushing. I want to be the rookie of the year. What's it take for me to get there? I've got it laid out. I know."
Was he wrong? The Super Bowl dream may seem like a distant one at the moment, but as for the rest of his lofty goals, Peterson is off and running. Presumably, he may even one day become a first-stringer in coach Brad Childress's offense; holdover Chester Taylor currently owns that distinction and actually had more carries against the Bears (22) than did Peterson (20).
"It doesn't bother me at all," Peterson insisted Thursday. "I go out there and get the same amount of carries as a starter would get, so I really can't complain."
Don't worry, I told him: I can, and so can a lot of people in my business. He laughed and reminded me that, just before the draft, there was some doubt as to whether he would play at all in 2007.
An si.com report on the eve of the draft asserted that Peterson, who missed most of his final season at Oklahoma with a broken collarbone, had re-aggravated the injury during the Fiesta Bowl and might not be ready for the start of training camp. The next morning, an NFL Network analyst suggested Peterson might not be able to play until 2008.
"I was upset about the reports, but that's the kind of game some of the agents play to get their guy to move up in the draft at someone else's expense," Peterson said. "There was nothing I could do about it. I figured, If teams pass on me, they're gonna miss out."
Even with Peterson's torrid start, the durability issue lingers. There's the notion in some quarters that he is running with an abandon that, along with his upright style, invites punishing hits. With physical safety Roy Williams lurking in the box on Sunday, Peterson runs the risk of seeing stars beyond those on the Cowboys' helmets.
"He runs so hard and doesn't shy away from contact, but it's still early," Newman says. "He hasn't been hit square. In college, he'd see a linebacker and think, 'I'll run him over.' He's doing that now in the pros, but once he gets hit square, he may start to reconsider and think, 'Maybe I'll go around this guy. Cause he's got moves, too.' "
Peterson's elusiveness isn't merely a function of shiftiness, however. "A lot of people really underestimate my speed," he says. "I ran a 10.3 (100-meter-dash) in my junior year of high school, but not a lot of people realize that."
As for that "Welcome to the league" moment, Peterson insisted it has already happened – twice, in the same game. "When we played in Detroit, I was jumping to avoid a leg tackle, and (linebacker) Ernie Sims came out of nowhere and caught me in midair. On another play I tried a spin move near the sidelines and (defensive tackle) Shaun Rogers almost broke my back. I've got some payback for those guys when we play them again (Dec. 2)."
Predictably, Peterson emerged from that game even more determined to challenge defenders head-on. "That's my mentality," he said Thursday. "I'm just trying to get to the end zone. At the point of contact, I'm pretty good at lowering my shoulder. So unless you catch me with my head turned, I feel like I'm going to dish it out, too."
In the meantime, he'll keep turning heads in the stands, and in sports bars and living rooms near you.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
Jeff Garcia and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will continue their unlikely march to a division title by upsetting the Lions in Detroit. … Let's see, the unbeaten New England Patriots at the winless Miami Dolphins – can you feel the letdown coming? But the Dolphins are so bad that New England will pull it out, anyway … Similarly, watch out Buckeyes and Ducks on Saturday … David Garrard will finally throw an interception, but the Jacksonville Jaguars will still pull off the Monday night shocker over the Indianapolis Colts.
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
Oakland, where the Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs will throw down for supremacy (or, possibly, shared supremacy, with the Chargers and/or Broncos) in the AFC Worst. And what is it with the West this season? The NFC West is even more brutal than its AFC counterpart. Is this the karmic payback we get for the Pac-10 coming up?
LIES, LIES, LIES
1. ESPN was right to ban that meanie Jimmy Kimmel from Monday Night Football, because the comedian hurt poor old Joe Thiesmann's feelings during his guest appearance this week, and it's much better TV when everyone is politically correct and gets along.
2. George Steinbrenner is a very decisive man.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Brandi Chastain's debut was a smashing success, as her pick of the Baltimore Ravens over the St. Louis Rams was a pick-fest (five Ravens interceptions) and a 22-3 laugher. The soccer legend's first instinct was to pick on the 0-6 Rams again this week – they face the 3-3 Seahawks in Seattle – especially after hearing about coach Scott Linehan's post-practice rant Thursday and his displeasure with certain players' excitement at the return of injured stars Marc Bulger and Isaac Bruce. "What difference should any of that make?" Chastain said Thursday, hours after running a half-marathon in San Francisco. "How about being motivated because you're a professional athlete and you take pride in your craft? Maybe we should go to the European soccer model and start relegating teams who perform badly to a lesser league – and make them win that league before they're allowed to return. That would fire them up. Come to think of it, you have to believe that the fear of embarrassment will motivate the Rams on some level." Hmmm. Would Chastain reconsider? "Nah, I'm picking the Seahawks. I'm a big Mike Holmgren fan, and he'll get them back in a groove."
MY BUDDY'S ANNOYING FANTASY ADVENTURE
The good news for Malibu last Sunday was that, by playing Adrian Peterson, he got a 54.82-point rush of euphoria. That was soon tempered by the realization that his team, Beat the Gypsy, was playing against an opponent (Shadongers) that has essentially given up on the season – fantasy football's version of the 2001 Stanford rugby team. Trotting out a lineup that included Jay Cutler, Travis Henry, Heath Miller, Jeff Reed and the Denver defense (bye weeks), someone named "empty slot" at wide receiver and injured Patriots halfback Laurence Maroney, Shadongers managed just 20.80 points and went down to defeat by a scant 130-point margin. "It bums me out that I wasted the greatest performance ever (Peterson's) on that lame team," said Malibu, who nonetheless improved to 5-1, tied with two others atop the 12-team league. (And right about now, all you geniuses up at the beach house who laughed loudly at Malibu after I advised him to take Peterson in the second round of the draft might want to bow down and kiss the ring.) This week, Malibu has what looks to be a tough matchup against Number 8 or Number 9, which includes Matt Hasselbeck, Plaxico Burress, Rudi Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew. Malibu is hoping for another huge game from Peterson, a strong follow-up effort from Kevin Curtis and a redemptive performance by Santana (Take Me Out, Coach) Moss.
OXYGEN-DEPRIVED THOUGHT FROM ABOVE
If Nebraska loses badly at home against Texas A&M this Saturday, will university chancellor Harvey Perlman get fired? If the Huskers go down to Texas the following week, will it be university president J.B. Milliken's turn? And, really, can Governor Dave Heineman be feeling all that secure?
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Cal alum Al Kosakoff (class of 1992), who died last week in San Diego. Up in the Bear's Lair in the sky, he'll be betting on Jeff Tedford's crew to bounce back this Saturday in a big way … and taking the over.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
"Notre Dame NBC for SNL"
IF CAL WINS A FOOTBALL GAME I'LL …
As freshman quarterback Kevin Riley took off on his ill-advised scramble into the throes of agony last Saturday night at Memorial Stadium, one consoling thought flashed through the minds of Cal fans everywhere: At least 74-year-old Jim Hanifan can have sex between now and New Year's Day. On that note, we'll attempt to restore some decorum to the proceedings by calling in one of the most prominent of Golden Bear powerbrokers: Michigan Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm. The fabulous second-term governor came through with a vital executive decision Thursday in advance of Saturday's showdown at UCLA, decreeing, "If Cal wins a football game, I'll give up listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers on my iPod until Jan. 1." The sacrifice is much appreciated, especially given the color of the band name in question, and it should send a chilling signal to our little sisters to the south: We are done messing around.
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
This one's from Randy Moss to the quarterback who wooed and saved him, to the tune of Styx's "Lady.":
"Brady, when you're with me I'm smiling
Give me all your balls
Your throws build me up when I'm sinking
Just hit me and my troubles all fade
Brady, from the moment you found me
Standing all alone
You gave all the love that I needed
Now I'm so fly, like a child who has grown
You're Tom Brady of the Patriots
Three rings on your hand
Sparkling, clear, and lovely
You're Tom Brady"
TRIPPIN' ON E(MAIL)
"First of all (b---), TO says to 'get your popcorn ready' because he knows that it is going to be a show. You, the media, always twist the words of the players so you can get a better story. TO has respect for every player including Randy Moss, but he didn't want to get involved in the media hype you guys cause. Each of you (expletive) know what you are doing. But you don't get it! The more you distort the facts of what one player says, you give the other team the momentum. My Cowboys are learning together, and they will come together. The Patriots and the Colts are not alone in this fight! That was a pompous remark and you can kiss my ass!"
Fort Worth, Texas
Uh, Kathy, I'm not exactly sure which remark you're referring to, and I think you probably need to work on your reading comprehension a bit, but forget about all that: Can I just tell you what a dainty flower you are, and how grateful I am that you came into my life?
"Brady's a great QB. But this whole receiver comparison thing is kind of silly. If you're going to ramp up the 'What would Brady have done with Manning's supporting cast, and vice versa' debate, keep it fair. Make sure that your definition of 'supporting cast' includes the respective defenses and coaches. If you don't, then you're ignoring that both players are part of organizations with different bottom lines, different philosophies, and different owners. Don't stop at the receivers. Ask yourself the following: which owner (Jim Irsay or Bob Kraft) would you rather have in a quest for a Super Bowl? Which coach: (Bill) Belichick or (Jim) Mora? Which defense: one that allows, on average, less than 14 points per game (2001, 2003, 2004 Pats) or one that allows more than 22 (2001, 2003, and 2004 Colts)? One that allowed 22, 21, and 27 offensive TDs, or one that allowed 50, 40 and 38? You get the point. Both QBs are great. It's my belief that if you flipped the teams (and not just the receivers), Manning would have 3 rings, and Brady would have more passing yards and TDs. But that observation is no fun, is it? If there is any poetic justice and cosmic symmetry to come into play here, (Tony) Dungy will craft a defensive game plan to stymie the Pats' offensive juggernaut, and the Colts will go to win the Super Bowl after Brady sets the record to TD passes in a season. That would be great theater."
That's a really intelligent, cogent email, and I'm glad you sent it. Because what you are about to read is going to deviate sharply from that path.
"Michael, I am sick to death of you and all the Tom Brady worshipers. You better listen to your quarterbacking god and remember like he said it's a little too early to be engraving his trophy. There's a lot of football to be played. All u talk about is how wonderful he is and how Peyton (Manning) wants to be like him. Bull----. I guess it would be easy to win with whoever your receiver is when you film and know all the opponents' calls signals. I always wondered when they won how they always knew where the ball was going. Now everyone knows, but you still want to trash Peyton and put Brady on a pedestal. Why don't you just stick with your original picks: the great (New Orleans) Saints and (San Diego) Chargers and jump off the Brady bandwagon. You suck."
Ah, another dainty flower. For the record, I picked the Patriots and Saints to meet in Super Bowl XLII. But I'd rather watch the Colts play the Cowboys, with you and Kathy from Fort Worth duking it out in an adjacent mud pit.
"Its a little ridic you people crowning Brady and the Pats already. They still have 10 games to play in which Brady could go down for the season at any point. Think you might want to wait until we're past the halfway point or something to start calling out MVPs. Granted he looks the caliber but there's a lot of football left. Why don't you write about Derek Anderson and his imurgance or something other than MVPs. Think about it."
I thought about it, and I decided that anyone who can so thoroughly mangle the spelling of the word "emergence" is beyond ridic.
"God made man. There's nothing wrong with being a 'christian quarterback …' I think you might want to invest into some 'life' insurance! Watch what you write!"
Palm Springs, Calif.
Whoa there – If you're suggesting that I was somehow depicting Kurt Warner's spirituality in a negative light, you might want to check out the book I did with him, "All Things Possible," seven years ago.
"Mikey, did your girlfriend leave you for her Tom Brady poster or something? Oh well, give LT a smooch on his ass for me."
Lovely. If it makes you feel any better, the Chargers fans hate me, too (read on). And in the interest of full disclosure, my wife's brother did teach one of Tom Brady's classes at Junipero Serra High (San Mateo, Calif.) School … and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
"I think you might have a crush on Brady. I mean come on, you sound like his mother."
Galynn Brady has a crush on her son?
"We can tell that you despise the Pats … and being a Cali guy I can see why … I imagine you're a Chargers fan. There is a hint of jealousy in everything you write about them. Waaahhh :-)"
Keep on imagining that I get overly emotional about any NFL team, if it makes you feel better …
"Please never come to San Diego. You have no respect for this city and team. We all dislike you, but your ego is too big to care. Why not live in New England so you can marry your god Tom Brady."
You're completely wrong, dude – I have a ton of respect for the city and the team. But you're sort of right about the ego thing.
"As a Raiders fan, I know you hate the Raiders and you never miss a chance to take a cheap shot against them, but that line about (Rob) Ryan made me laugh. True, your comment completely ignores the fact that LT is an incredibly talented running back and means that your comment has absolutely no basis in reality, but it was still a funny line."
I don't hate the Raiders, nor do I hate any NFL team. And as far as the comment about Ryan, its inspiration came from an Oakland player.
"Ok Silver. I patiently waited for you to change, but it's not happening, so here it is. You are extremely biased. I mean just because you were a Raiders columnist doesn't mean you have to be biased against every single AFC West team, especially the Chargers. I read your comments in your Power Rankings (I don't even know why I still do that), and I saw that the Chargers weren't even in the Top 10, and your comment was how 'desperate' the Chargers were, instead of applauding the move the Chargers made. They got their man. I'm sorry, I know you hate the Chargers and want to make love to Tom Brady, but the Chargers, with just that move, are better than the Patriots. It's a brand new day. Also, the Broncos aren't as bad as you say. They just got hit around by a great Chargers team that wasn't afflicted by the Norv Turner disease. (Jay) Cutler is a fine quarterback, and once they get Javon Walker back, they'll be in good shape to compete for the AFC Wild Card, or maybe even the division. Shape up your game, Michael Silver. I very disappointed. If you don't respond, it further proves my case. You will have no arguments against mine."
Seoul, South Korea
Here are some arguments against yours: I never was a "Raiders columnist" – perhaps you're confused by the fact that I once covered the (San Francisco) 49ers for two Northern California newspapers? I'm not biased against any team in any division. The reason you still read "32 Questions" is because it is the best thing on the Internet on Wednesdays, and you lack self-control. The comment about A.J. Smith being desperate to win now wasn't meant as a criticism – he should be desperate to win while LT is still in his prime. Finally, if you think the trade for Chris Chambers makes the Chargers better than the Patriots … well, you're right, I can't even respond to that.
"Hey Michael, I was sad to see the ending of the Cal-OSU game play out the way it did, but look on the bright side – at least we know that in a couple hundred years Kevin Riley will gain more fame and fortune as an ensign on the Starship Enterprise! Keep up the great work!"
Kansas City, Mo.
Hasn't the kid suffered enough?
"Michael, your mom is sharper than you and your dad."
Barry, it took you an entire dinner to figure that out? All I can say is: just wait until you meet my sister.