Rushing the Same Way Since 1984: Adrian Peterson and the NFL of Today

Adrian Peterson walked off the field with a mere three seconds to go in a tie ballgame. Adrian Peterson walked off the field with a mere nine yards to go to break the single-season rushing record.

Peterson began the day needing 208 yards to break the single-season rushing record, set in 1984 by Los Angeles Ram Eric Dickerson. Dickerson had rushed for an NFL record 2105 yards for the Rams and 28 years later, Peterson had come within nine yards of the record. Dickerson had very publicly stated that he wished Peterson the best, but he truly hoped that his record would stand until his passing.

“I’m pulling for Adrian to stay healthy, win MVP and play the way he’s playing,” Dickerson said. “I do not want him to break my record. I’m not going to tell that lie.”

December 30, 2012 marked the one year anniversary of Peterson’s surgery to repair his torn ACL that he suffered in the previous season’s finale against the Washington Redskins. The Minnesota Vikings playoff hopes – which all season had been powered by the churning legs of Peterson – were at that moment resting on the right leg of Kicker Blair Walsh. The 34-34 impasse with the Green Bay Packers was broken when Walsh’s 29-yard field goal sailed true through the uprights. With the win the Vikings clinched the sixth seed in the NFC, edging out the Chicago Bears and earning their first playoff appearance since 2009.

Peterson ended his 2012 campaign with 2097 yards rushing.

FOX cut to a shot of Peterson on the sideline grinning wide and jumping in jubilation after Walsh converted the kick. He was happy to be going to the playoffs and that he was fortunate enough to be playing ball when 18 other teams had to end their season’s that night. The emotions were mixed in the stadium however, the purple and white confetti rained down, but the fans excitement was somewhat contained. They were so tantalizingly close to witnessing history, with 24 seconds left in the game Peterson broke off a huge run – having 173 yards before the run – before being brought down inside the Packers 30-yard line. Every fan inside the Viking’s Metrodome Stadium – as well as most of America’s livings room – held their breath, unable to tell how far the rush was. It went for a gain of 24 – nine-yards shy of the record. A sense of disappointment tinged the victory for all those watching.

All those were disappointed – except Peterson himself.

Directly following the game, Peterson spoke with Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers very briefly and their conversations could not be heard through the television set. One could only assume that Rodgers and Jennings were offering condolences to Peterson, who came so close. However, in an interview with FOX sideline reporter Pam Oliver, he confused audiences.

With a question (that wasn’t really a question) as blunt as my mother’s unsharpened kitchen knives, Oliver said, “Wow. Nine yards. That has to hurt.” Peterson – who had ample opportunity to find out about his near miss at the record from standing on the sideline – came back with, “Nine what?”

Nine what? The man who came awfully close to history didn’t even know? I was astonished. Where was the stereotypical selfish superstar who only envisioned seven figures when they did well?

Once Oliver had overcome her initial shock, she stumbled through the words, “Uh, nine-yards, at least that’s what I heard…Your rushing record.” Peterson, displaying incredible class, shrugged it off and discussed his pride and joy of “contributing towards the W” and said, about the record, “I don’t focus on it.” He was focused on the team; he was not living up to the typical superstar’s mantra of self-centered attitude that is so purported in today’s society. Peterson was walking in a different direction.

Peterson’s accomplishments are even more impressive because of what most NFL analysts are calling a “Quarterback league.” Today it is a consensus opinion that a team needs a high-caliber signal-caller to be successful in the NFL, but Peterson and tailbacks around the league contradict that.

For a “Quarterback league” it is rather remarkable that Peterson rushed the Vikings into the playoffs, which prompts the question: is the NFL of today really a Quarterback league?

Both in 1984 and in 2012 the NFL played a 16 game schedule, but in the so-called Quarterback-dominated league, there were more 1000-yard rushers than in the running-back prime. 2012 saw 14 rushers run over one thousand yards, while in 1984 13 rushers notched the same monument.

The success, the naysayers yell, of 1984 playoff-bound teams was centered on their vaunted backfields. Not true, of the 10 playoff teams in 1984 only six had 1000 rusher’s while in 2012 seven of twelve teams had 1000 yard rusher’s. That means in 1984 60% of all playoff teams had a one-thousand yard rusher while 2012 housed 58% of playoff teams with a one-thousand yard rusher.

One of those 2012 playoff teams – Adrian Peterson’s own Minnesota Vikings – had second-year man Christian Ponder under center. Ponder was remarkably similar to Jeff Kemp, the ’84 Rams QB. While Ponder didn’t win as many games as Kemp, they both made the playoffs and their stat-lines were similar. Kemp threw for 2021 yards, 13 touchdowns and 7 interceptions; in comparison, Ponder threw for 2701 yards, 15 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Ponder and Kemp were game-managers, a coach on the field, a warm body to hand off to the franchise running-backs that the Rams and Vikings both had. Neither of the Quarterbacks were asked to be ‘The Man’ or take shots down field, they both just needed to be adequate.

The 1984 Super Bowl did not even feature a top-five premier rusher. San Francisco 49er Wendell Tyler had 1200 yards that season but the 49ers were really powered behind the gun-slinging arm of Joe Montana and teams so often dropped five or more in coverage that Tyler had running lanes that even Ki-Jana Carter could hit (Ki-Jana Carter was the former No. 1 overall pick out of Penn State for the Cincinnati Bengals – he is generally regarded as the biggest RB bust in NFL history). As for the 49ers opponent, the Miami Dolphins, they were led by 23-year old upstart Quarterback Dan Marino.

Dickerson’s Rams lost in the first round. Even with a 2105-yard rusher in their backfield, the Rams lost in a running-back dominated league – supposedly. It will remain to be seen where Peterson runs the Vikings into.

Even though Dickerson ran for more yards, it can easily be argued that Peterson was more valuable in the backfield. Dickerson also fumbled 14 times in ’84 whereas Peterson only coughed up the pigskin four times. Keeping the ball is essential and the security Peterson provided was a stark comparison to the sloppy play of Dickerson.

The running-backs of today’s NFL have heard the talk; they have heard that the NFL is a signal-callers game. They don’t believe that talk, and they are letting their play talk for them. Peterson is leading the tailback movement that is contradictory to the mob mentality that the NFL is a Quarterback’s league. Even the sentiment that all successful teams require an elite quarterback is being challenged – and disproven.

Adrian Peterson did not walk off the field – he ran.

My Father’s Generation of Red Sox

September of 2011 is well known for Red Sox fans. For my father, it was the Red Sox of old, as the team from his generation shown through. I as a Red Sox fan had been spoiled. Two championships in four years and multiple playoff appearances had led me to believe that the Red Sox were a normal, successful franchise. Babe Ruth had moved over, the curse had been reversed, and Boston had, while not forgotten, at least become at peace with the year 1918. My father assured me that this 2011 September performance was not out of the ordinary. The years of 1946, 1975, 1986 and 2003 were more my dad’s style; the more of the Murphy’s Law Red Sox.

The 2012 club was muddled about in mediocrity for the first half of the season. The post-trade deadline deal that sent Sox pitcher Josh Beckett, OF Carl Crawford and superstar Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers dumped $250 million in salary. This showed the Red Sox knew they needed to reform; they needed to make amends and rebuild their roster because the overpaying of superstars to attract them to Boston was not working.

The Red Sox recognized this and are trying to put that plan in action this offseason; minor additions and role-players. A team that finished 69-93 a season ago can obviously do a lot to improve, but this was different. Jim Bowden, a former GM of the Washington Nationals, wrote that the Red Sox were the second most improved team in Major League Baseball. Bowden is a well-respected mind in baseball, and being a reader of nearly all his columns on ESPN, I respect his opinion as well. Why, then would he say that, because I believe it is just not true.

The Red Sox offseason has been highlighted by the acquisitions of Outfielders Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, First Baseman Mike Napoli, Shortstop Stephen Drew and Pitcher Ryan Dempster.

Ben Cherrington, Red Sox General Manager, has repeated the same phrase over and over again when looking for free-agents and described them as “good character guys.” Jonny Gomes is one of those good-character men. The Oakland Athletics defector comes over at the age of 32 and with a new 2-year, $10 million contract. He also comes over as an owner of a .262 batting average, 104 strikeout total (One-third of his 2012 at-bats) and playing less than 100 games for the third straight season.

Another of those high character men is Shane Victorino, the former Phillies Outfielder who signed a 3 year, $39 million contract. He described his future impact on the Red Sox clubhouse as “fun” and “loud,” promising to be high-energy.  Victorino has a higher upside than Gomes, though he’s the same age at 32. The Hawaiian-native owned a .255 Batting Average last season, but did not strike out often, only 80 times in 666 at-bats. Meanwhile, he drew 53 walks, showing that he can still get on base. However, Victorino and Gomes both boast only pedestrian 1.6 and 1.1 Wins Above Replacement (WARs) in which their play is compared to an average MLB starter.

A peculiar signing by the Sox was the Mike Napoli acquisition for 3 years and $39 million. Napoli hit just above the infamous Mendoza line last season, coming in just over .220 at .227, with 125 strikeouts, 24 homeruns and only 9 doubles in one of the most “hitter-friendly” ballparks in the country and not all the concerns are offensive. His defense – and Napoli was signed to replace Adrian Gonzalez at first base – has been spectacularly poor over the last two seasons. Now, no one expects Napoli to be like Gonzalez with his presence at the plate, but he comes to Red Sox without an open DH position (David Ortiz has that covered) and with a void at first base. The Sox need a first baseman after trading away large prospects like Anthony Rizzo and the failure of development with Lars Anderson. Do they think they got one in Napoli? Can he hold up with health (his hip is nagging) and his defense? Napoli can also play behind the plate, which, in the Sox eyes makes incumbent Jarrod Saltalamacchia expendable.

Why, though? Saltalamacchia and Napoli had nearly the same stat lines in 2012. Salty hit .222 with 25 homeruns, 17 doubles and 139 whiffs. Next season however, Salty will be 28 where Napoli will be 32. Salty is also making $2.5 million per year as opposed to Napoli’s (if he signs) $13 million. It does not make sense that the Sox would pay $10.5 million more for someone who’s older and produces at the same rate as a cheaper incumbent. Plus, Saltalamacchia provides the creative challenge for every visiting radio and television announcer that the plain Napoli couldn’t!

If the Sox want high character guys, they could sign me for a lot less than $39 million.

A man whose services were not necessarily wanted because of his character, but probably his performance on the mound, Ryan Dempster was added to the Sox rotation from free agency. At 2 years $26 million, the Dempster signing seemed to be low-risk because of the shortened time. The Texas ace was added in hopes that he could be a pitcher to contribute 200 innings to the starting rotation that was not very good last year. Collapses from Beckett and Jon Lester headlined while Clay Bucholz’s struggles continue in his fifth year, mostly with staying healthy. Dempster, meanwhile, has gone over 200 innings four out of the last five years, the exception being in his 173 innings last year. Dempster’s 3.38 ERA is a full point lower than Bucholz, the Sox 2012 leader, at 4.56. Essentially, Dempster will have a limited amount of time – two years – to pitch for Boston in a time where Boston will not be competitive and will merely lessen the pain at the front of the rotation. The Dempster signing is a bit odd as the Sox could have taken that $26 million and used it on a younger core or even re-signing Cody Ross.

Cody Ross was the type of high-character guy that Ben Cherrington wanted when he went out and got Gomes and Victorino. Ross hit .267, slugged 22 homeruns and played in 130 games last year as well as won over Sox fans with his aggressive, “dirt-dog” attitude. His signing with the Arizona Diamondbacks for 3 years and $26 million marks the squandering of another opportunity for the Red Sox. Ross, at the same age as Victorino and Gomes, signed for $13 million less and produced better than they did. Ross was on the 2012 Sox squad and publicly declared his wish to play for the Red Sox, asking them to resign him. Why, then, did the Sox not do so? Ross leaving marks another blemish on the Red Sox offseason.

The biggest decision that left all Red Sox fans wondering “Why?!” was the signing of Stephen Drew. A shortstop that played less than 50 percent of last year, he also only hit .223 with 7 homeruns. Now I’m not saying every position should have a power hitter stocked there, but when the Sox committed $9.5 million over one year, I had to wonder what the Sox were doing. They already have Mike Aviles who will turn 32 (compared to Drew’s 30) but played in twice the number of games, hit twice the number of homeruns, and hit nearly 30 points higher than Drew. Aviles also made only $1.2 million last year, yet he was more than four times cheaper than Drew and outperformed him on the field. I guess the most obvious positive in this situation is that the Drew signing was only one year and if he does not pan out, then the Sox can part ways with him rather easily. Also, the future in Xander Bogaerts and Jose Iglesias were viable options in the minors (though Iglesias hit .135 last season with the Sox).

All in all, the 2013 Red Sox will be very different than the Sox in 2011. Not just roster wise, but also in the clubhouse. With Beckett’s bad attitude out and Victorino and Gomes’s “loud” and “fun” vibes coming in, will the Red Sox clubhouse really be revamped? The Red Sox outlook doesn’t look good, they’re predicted for around 70 wins by the Baltimore Sun, but they will have a good clubhouse. But, can that clubhouse stay positive even on a losing streak? Can the Red Sox be competitive with all the improving the AL East has done? Will they return to the Red Sox of old, the same team that will muddle in mediocrity, maybe going .500? Overall, will the Red Sox faithful – who were so famous throughout the 2000s when times were, to quote the 8th inning anthem, Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, “So good!” – remain faithful and proud in their team? I guess my father’s generation, those who were faithful through all the heartbreak once before, will wait around and see.

Pilot

Sam I am. My name is Sam Fortier and allusions toward Dr. Seuss’s tale have been tossed my way since the first-grade. Eleven years later, at 16 years old, I have been contemplating creating a blog for some time now. Word Press was the highest recommended of all the sites reviewed online and was the most highly touted by all the people I talked to.

I’ve been interested in a career in journalism and have always loved writing. Time and time again I have heard that the best way to gain experience in writing is to do and blogging was the best outlet. Even Webster University (St. Louis, MO) – a college I visited in December – said they required all of their students to have one. My father as well as other adults in my life has been administering that advice for about a year now. As much as I love writing, my biggest passion is sport. I love sports; whether playing, writing, or watching. In grade school I played football, basketball, and baseball. Football was not offered at my high school, so I had to stop playing, which was disappointing. I stopped playing baseball when I got to high school for personal reasons, but it was always my favorite. Basketball, my school’s staple athletic team, became my favorite. During my sophomore season, seven seconds into the team’s first scrimmage, during an attempted charge, the opposing forward and his full 200 pounds landed on my head and caused a concussion. That left me out of all athletic competition and training for the next two months. I felt lost without it, but even though I could not play sports, the passion never died. I began writing about the team’s games. Over the summer, with my father as acting editor, I wrote a few article’s about the Red Sox dreary 2012 season.

When I was little, I always had the thought that I would go on and play professional baseball and if not, hey, I could go play in the National Football League. Of course, as I rose through tee-ball, Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth that I realized that – wait a minute – people got a lot better at sports. When I went to my first professional baseball game in 2003 (Pedro Martinez’s 300th win against the Rays) I watched batting practice and realized that these guys were good, really good. My aspirations in journalism I can say were inspired by my love of sports, but my inability to play them at a high enough level to sustain a living. That, coupled with admiration for the sports journalists of my time and writing, led to journalism. One such man was Stephen A. Smith. That man may be the funniest and smartest analyst on ESPN, he single-handedly can capture an audience, make them lean in toward the television set in anticipation and invent catchphrases on whim. That art is more impressive to me than any homerun or touchdown toss. His and Skip Bayless’s battles on First Take are on my DVR daily. Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon provide excellent insight on Pardon the Interruption and Tony Reali, J.A. Adande, Woody Paige, Bob Ryan and others couldn’t make sports any more intriguing on Around the Horn. Their issues they cover are relevant and pressing. They also make the audience enjoy the show as much as they do; all three shows are packed with as much knowledge as they are fun. With Stephen A’s explosions, Woody Paige’s board and Kornheiser’s Canadian flag – there is much of the latter.

I was the Play-by-play announcer over the PA system for the Dover, NH-based Seacoast Titans football team during the fall of 2012. While there, I also wrote a small column for the local paper, the “Fosters Daily Democrat,” about the games and gained valuable experience as a reporter. The key is the deadline. I found that the biggest change at the paper from the classroom was the pressure to be efficient and get the job done. While essays are required in the classroom, it’s a bit more difficult to craft a 300-word, intriguing account of a high school football game in an hour than it is to write a five page essay on the motifs contained within Romeo and Juliet in a week. By more difficult, that’s to say…to do it justice. The Romeo and Juliet essay could write itself, dry and dull work that merely requires time. However, when having a mere 300 words to put a hard-fought, overtime thriller into words, it’s hard to do the game justice. Written and re-written is the story to find a suitable tone and the best style.

Overall, my goal in setting up this blog is to make a deadline for myself. I hope to publish a story at least every Monday, hopefully more. The goal of this blog is to simulate a real work-style environment and prepare me for what I hope will be an illustrious and prospering career in journalism. So, like Dr. Seuss said “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way.”