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.

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3 thoughts on “Rushing the Same Way Since 1984: Adrian Peterson and the NFL of Today

  1. Nice article sam4tr. I realize the article is largely about how Peterson handled himself in not breaking the record but when it comes to the actual record holder, for my money, it is still held by O.J. Simpson. As Peterson approached 2,000 yards, stats were shown of previous backs reaching the milestone including Simpson. However, nothing was made of the fact that The Juice did it in a 14 game schedule (where was the asterisk in those charts?!). If OJ had two more games on the schedule he would probably hold the unattainable .406 average or the 56 game hitting streak of football, which would never have been broken.

    • I completely agree with you on that, O.J. probably would have that DiMaggio or Williams-esque record. For my purpose though, I was just contrasting Peterson and Dickerson as well as the NFL of the 70s and 80s to modern times. When the NFL switched from a 14-game schedule to 16 in 1978, they changed the NFL forever and Simpson’s 1973 campaign was on par with Joe Namath from 1967. In ’67 Namath threw for a then-record 4007 yards (seems ridiculous now) before Dan Fouts broke that in ’81. The thing is that Fouts only threw for 14 more yards per game, but ended up with 795 more yards because he had two more games. What I’m saying is, I guess the records come with the territory.

  2. Pingback: Year in Review: 2013′s Top Posts | Purely for Sport

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