The last time Vikings fans saw Adrian Peterson on the field, he was leaving with a severe knee injury that many believed would take nine to 12 months to heal. On Sunday, Peterson defied his doubters, coming back earlier than expected and announcing, "I'm back."
The smile on Adrian Peterson’s face Sunday afternoon was nearly impossible to contain, despite rain that forced the practice indoors and led to little more a second walk-through practice of the day. It didn’t matter to Peterson. He was back practicing football, something that was far from a guarantee when 2012 began.
After projections hinted that he might miss some or all of the 2012 season after suffering a devastating knee injury Dec. 24 that resulted in Peterson spending New Year’s Eve in a hospital bed following surgery, to be back on the practice field – even an artificial one used for track – was a blessing.
“I was like a kid in a candy store when I came out here and they threw me out there with the first group,” Peterson said. “I was smiling. I had to calm myself down. I was going a little too fast for a walk-through at the beginning. For me, this is so satisfying. A lot of people doubted me – a lot people said this and said that – but I kept my faith, kept working hard and now I’m back in the mix. I can’t complain.”
Peterson’s incredibly quick recovery from his knee injury is something that was the biggest challenge of his sporting life. He has faced adversity, but football has always been something that has seemingly come so easily for him. In order to get it back, he was going to have to attack rehab with the same ferocity he hits a hole running at full speed. Getting back out with his teammates Sunday gave him a moment to look back on what he’s been through and the grueling work it took to get to this point.
“It’s been a true test,” Peterson said. “When they took me off (the physically-unable-to-perform list) I just kind of reflected back to the day after the surgery and the process to get where I’m at now. It’s been hard work – not only for me, but for (head athletic trainer) Eric Sugarman and his staff and the staff down in Houston. (It took) a lot of prayers – giving God his time and keeping my faith. That’s really what has got me to this point.”
Peterson had been pushing the coaches and medical staff to give him clearance to play because he felt he had accomplished everything he set out to do and being forced to work by himself on the sidelines was getting stale. He felt as though, ready or not, here I come.
“Pretty much what it came to is that I’ve done all I can as far as training and working out and doing different drills,” Peterson said. “It was time to get back in the mix and doing some football activities. That’s the next step. I’m feeling good. I feel like I’ll be able to go out and participate in everything, but I’m going to let (the training staff and coaches) do their job and go with the flow.”
When Peterson had his surgery Dec. 30, 2011, his doctors told him the rehab process would take nine to 12 months. Asked how long after hearing that information did he shorten his own timetable, in true A.P. fashion, he was disputing the prognosis as the words were being spoken.
“Immediately,” Peterson said. “In my mind, I was like, hey, I know it’s not going to be nine months, but I’m just going to control what I can control and that’s working my butt off every day and taking advantage of everything – even with the little rehab stuff that I did here in Minnesota and back in Houston – really grinding and getting some good work out of it.”
That grinding came with a price. His surgically repaired leg atrophied following the surgery and needed to be worked on constantly. For an athlete who survives and thrives with his legs, having one wheel weaker than the other required a lot of sweat and a lot of pain to overcome.
“The most difficult part was strengthening my leg and (regaining my) range of motion,” Peterson said. “I really wanted to strangle Eric Sugarman a couple of times going through the process of trying to get my range of motion back. It was painful, but he helped me get through it. We got through it together. (It was) the process of strengthening my leg – just looking at my right leg and seeing how massive it was compared to the leg I had surgery on – fighting that and keeping my mind positive that, five months or six from now, it’s going to be a different story. I just kept pushing along the way through the process.”
While Peterson may have wanted to place his patented vice-grip hand shake around Sugarman’s neck a few times, the feeling might have been mutual. Sugarman often had to try to reign in Peterson’s rehab workouts, because A.P. wanted to push himself so hard. They were an odd couple this offseason, but one that worked very efficiently together to get such pronounced progress so quickly.
“He probably felt like he was dealing with one of his kids – you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” Peterson said. “He knows how I am. He knows I’m going to push myself to always get better. I’m always trying to do extra in whatever I do. He did a good job of talking to me, containing me and letting me know that, slowly but surely, you’ll be able to get back to doing the things you did before.”
While Peterson is back on the field, he is still far from being the Adrian Peterson that has lit up the NFL for five years. He hopes to get some action in the preseason, but that isn’t a given. He still intends to be introduced to the fans at the Metrodome as the starter Sept. 9 when the Vikings open the regular season, but he still has plenty of doubters – from the media to friends to even members of his own family.
However, with what Peterson has endured the last seven-and-a-half months to get to this point, doubters are the least of his concern. The rest of the NFL has been put on notice – get your popcorn ready, All Day has returned.
“It doesn’t matter,” Peterson said of the skeptics. “I didn’t let it affect me, because I had my mind set on what I wanted to accomplish. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. It was going to take work. Faith without work is dead. I had my faith in the right place and my mind, my work ethic and my will in the right place. I’m back.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for 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.