AD for MVP. There, I said it.
If you’re not sure who AD is — and, even worse, if you think “AP’” is an acceptable nickname for Minnesota Vikings halfback Adrian Peterson, rather than an abbreviation for the Associated Press — you need to learn this once and for all. Peterson has gone by AD, short for All Day, since he was a kid tearing it up in Palestine, Texas.
Now AD is a man who makes professional football players look like lesser men, which is not easy to do. It’s even tougher when you play on a team with a struggling, second-year quarterback (Christian Ponder) and with only one other legitimate playmaker (injured wideout Percy Harvin), who is done for the season. Yet Peterson is putting together one of the best individual campaigns a running back has ever enjoyed while pushing the Vikings (8-6) into the postseason mix.
With apologies to Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, the greatest players of their generation — and two of the best quarterbacks of all time — Peterson has been the NFL’s most exceptional performer in 2012.
Like Manning, who is coming off four neck surgeries and a lost 2011 season, Peterson is a medical marvel: Less than a year after tearing his ACL and MCL, he is on the verge of becoming the seventh back to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. He even has a shot at breaking Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson’s single-season record of 2,105 yards. Peterson, fresh off a 212-yard effort in last Sunday’s 36-22 victory over the St. Louis Rams, needs 294 in his final two games to surpass Dickerson’s 1984 standard.
[Y! Sports Radio: Eric Dickerson wants to keep his single-season rushing record]
Dickerson didn’t win the MVP that year, losing out to Dan Marino. Neither did the most recent members of the 2,000-yard club: Chris Johnson was beaten out by Manning in 2009, and Jamal Lewis lost to co-winners Manning and Steve McNair in ’03. O.J. Simpson (1973), Barry Sanders (1997) and Terrell Davis (1998) took home MVP trophies, though Sanders shared his with Brett Favre.
The NFL is a QB’s world; the rest of his teammates just live in it.
I understand why quarterbacks have won an overwhelming share of the MVP awards since AP began doling them out in 1957. It is the most challenging and influential position in professional sports, and quarterback play almost always correlates directly with team performance.
Yet I think sometimes voters get overly caught up in the most valuable terminology. Quarterbacks, by definition, almost always have the greatest value to their respective teams. If you take the term literally, it’s tough not to vote for one, in any year. And when the term is taken too literally, it leads to some ridiculous suggestions, such as the campaign to make Manning the 2011 MVP — after he sat out the entire season and the Colts plummeted to 2-14.
By that standard, Len Dawson should get a few votes this year, given the Chiefs’ struggles.
I get why the “most valuable” label came about — you want to acknowledge the importance of a player’s impact upon a team’s fortunes, rather than just lofty stats. To me, however, the MVP should be the athlete who has the best overall season, period. Perhaps renaming the award “Most Outstanding Player” would help others choose in a manner more to my liking. Personally, I’d still give points for impact on a team’s fortunes without the word “valuable” in the award, all things being equal.
Sometimes, however, a player is so absurdly dominant during a given campaign that it transcends any other criteria, at least in my mind. This happened in 1987, a strike-marred season. Because the season was shortened to 15 games, and three of those were conducted mostly with “replacement players”, Jerry Rice played in only 12 contests. And yet the San Francisco 49ers’ future Hall of Fame receiver still shattered the NFL’s single-season record for receiving touchdowns. Rice had 22 TD catches, four more than the previous mark, and his record stood for another two decades, until Randy Moss caught 23 (in 16 games) for the New England Patriots in 2007.
Rice, who caught 65 passes for 1,068 yards, helped the 49ers to a league-best regular-season record in ‘87. And yet, he did not win MVP. That honor went to Manning’s current boss, John Elway, who completed 54.6 percent of his passes, threw 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and had an 83.4 passer rating while going 8-3-1 in 12 starts for the Denver Broncos.
No receiver, in fact, has ever won MVP. The only positions that have, besides quarterback and running back, are defensive tackle (Alan Page, 1971), outside linebacker (Lawrence Taylor, 1986) and kicker (Mark Moseley, 1982). Yes, kicker. That was not a misprint. Picking Moseley wasn’t quite as silly as an extra winning a best supporting actor Oscar, but it was up there.
Because of the way the AP conducts the voting, with 50 media members selecting only their top candidate, the MVP sometimes plays out more like a presidential primary than a typical sports award. With no points system to take into account second and third choices, voters tend to gravitate toward a candidate they believe has a strong chance of winning, much of this based on pre-voting hype and perception.
This year, it became obvious that Manning had a strong shot at a winning a record fifth MVP award by late October, and his current numbers (67.9 completion percentage, 4,016 passing yards, 31 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions, 103.5 passer rating) are absolutely impressive.
Brady, who has won twice previously, has also been tremendous this season, with the stats (63.4 completion percentage, 4,276 passing yards, 30 touchdown passes against six interceptions, 100.1 passer rating) to substantiate it. What he did Sunday night against the 49ers, bringing the Patriots back from a 28-point second-half deficit by engineering four touchdown drives in 14 ½ dizzying minutes of football, was downright epic, even though New England ultimately lost the game.
You will never hear me say that either Brady or Manning isn’t stupidly awesome, and if either is this year’s MVP, I won’t complain. As for some of the other potential candidates who’ve been floated in recent weeks, such as Colts rookie Andrew Luck? Child, please. Luck has had an impressive season, as have fellow rookie passers Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson, but saying he’s the MVP is more of a stretch than talking up the Jets as a playoff contender was before Monday night’s Music City Meltdown.
I’m happy to state my case for Peterson through traditional means: He has 1,812 yards, which is 423 more than his closest pursuer (Marshawn Lynch) for the league’s rushing title. He also leads NFL backs in average yards per carry (6.3) and touchdown runs (11).
Just as the last running back to win MVP, LaDainian Tomlinson, did so on the strength of eye-popping numbers — 1,815 rushing yards, 508 receiving yards and an NFL-record 31 touchdowns, 28 on the ground — Peterson’s 2012 campaign is too extraordinary to be ignored.
I’m even willing to apply an old most valuable litmus test: Close your eyes and picture the Vikings without Peterson. Would they be anywhere near a wild-card berth? Would they have beaten the Rams last Sunday? Would Ponder and head coach Leslie Frazier be in danger of losing their jobs?
Now open your eyes and watch Peterson run, on this or any Sunday. He’ll make his case with clarity and ferocity, all day.
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