Peterson suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament, torn medial collateral ligament and damage to the medial and lateral menisci when he took a hit to his left knee on Dec. 24 at Washington and was placed on injured reserve two days later. He was experiencing pain he characterized as "severe" before the surgery, and between that and a solid enough range of motion, the procedure with renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews was moved up four days to Dec. 30. He returned to Minneapolis the following week to begin rehabilitation.
With surgery now two weeks in the rear-view mirror, Peterson had the sutures removed and ditched his crutches on Friday. Sugarman characterized the first weeks after ACL surgery as "miserable" but said Peterson's pain level was "normal."
"He's doing awesome," Sugarman said.
Peterson's goal remains to be ready for the start of the 2012 regular season, and he hasn't let the idea that he might not be the same running back even enter his mind.
"Not at all. I've not thought about that once," he said. "I've been through a lot in my life. I call out to a higher power and I put my faith in him. I know that anything I put my mind to, I'll be able to accomplish. I feel like I'm going to come back better than before. I know people might laugh at that or think otherwise, but you know what? It doesn't matter what they think or how they feel about it. The only thing that matters is how I feel about it and what I believe. I've been able to just go through the sacrifices and whatever it takes to get to that. I've already started that."
With no damage to the surrounding cartilage, the Vikings expect an eight- to nine-month recovery period. Sugarman said his only goal during the rehab process is the same as Peterson's: Have him ready for the regular-season opener.
Sugarman said the rehabilitation is broken down into five stages: 1) Two weeks of recovery from the surgery; 2) Restoring his range of motion in the next two weeks, continue to work on getting his quadriceps muscle stronger, do some work in the pool and eventually get rid of the brace he was wearing Friday; 3) Getting the ligament "safe"; 4) Start jogging straight ahead on land; and 5) About four months removed from surgery, take most of the exercise restrictions away and start getting the strength and agility back.
Peterson had the middle third of his patellar tendon and two bone plugs grafted into his knee, because, as Sugarman put it, "it's the gold standard" for the operation. They will get weaker, get necrotic and then eventually recover and get stronger.
"That's the one thing that you really have to be cautious the first couple months. You can't push him too hard, otherwise you can put him at risk. He knows that. We all know that. That's why the protocol is set up the way it is," Sugarman said.
Peterson cringed when asked if he has watched the play on which the injury occurred, acknowledging that he has.
"Just looking at it, your leg is not where it's supposed to go that way, at all. But I knew right off the top, when I got hit, that it was something devastating," he said. "And just watching the play kind of puts the cherry on top for it."
Peterson said the first few days back in Minnesota were the hardest after having the surgery in Alabama. The range of emotions has been almost as challenging as the pain.
"I had thoughts that went through my head and that's just normal and human instincts. Initially, I'd say right after the game, I asked myself why. Sug (Sugarman) remembers when he came on the field and I was like, ‘Why me? Why me?' But quickly I was able to remove myself from that and just accept it for what it was," Peterson said. "It wasn't going to change the situation and it definitely wasn't going to help, so I was able to kind of put that behind me quick."
After missing five games with a high ankle sprain and his knee injury causing him to miss the season finale, Peterson finished with 970 yards rushing and 12 touchdowns, the first time in his five-year career he didn't reach the 1,000-yard mark. He also had 18 catches for 139 yards and a touchdown.
Peterson has talked with current and former teammates that have been through ACL surgeries and knows the stages of recovery. However, there is no protocol for how to handle things mentally. That may be the biggest hurdle.
"The one thing I really grab and put in my mind from those conversations is mentally, that's going to be the tougher challenge," he said. "Over this period of time, you're going to gradually get the strength back and your flexibility and you'll be able to start to move around like you used to. But just mentally it's going to be tough. I've experienced it and I'm just two weeks in, but I feel like I'm mentally strong. I was built that way and I feel like I'll be alright."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.