Adrian Peterson (Patrick Smith/Getty)
Adrian Peterson is returning to the field where he suffered his season-ending knee injury. He knew when it happened it was “pretty bad,” but his persistent rehabilitation has him ready to return to where it ended prematurely last year.
Only 9½ months ago, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson hit the turf at FedEx Field after a 3-yard run and started pounding his fist on the ground.
He knew his knee was damaged. One of the NFL’s best running backs of the past five years had his season ended prematurely. He suspected – correctly – that he had torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
“99.9 (percent), I kind of knew,” Peterson said Thursday. “I felt three pops and just the way my leg bent, I knew it was messed up pretty bad.”
The questions remaining were what other damage had been done and how would his career would be impacted.
The first question was answered in the following hours. Not only did he tear the ACL, but the medial collateral ligament had torn and he suffered some cartilage damage. The second question would take nine months to answer.
The injury happened on Christmas Eve; the surgery to replace his ligaments took place on Dec. 30. Days after the injury and before the surgery, the seemingly invincible human specimen was talking of intense pain and couldn’t wait for the surgery. One day after that surgery, on Dec. 31, he tweeted a picture of him in a party hat celebrating his New Year’s Eve in his hospital bed while eating ice cream.
That was just the start of his testimonial to human determination. His attitude has remained upbeat and resolute ever since.
About 9½ months after the surgery, he will be having a rebirth of sorts. He returns to the place where his career was put on hold, at FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins.
Is there a sense of revenge in his return trip to Washington on Sunday?
“Maybe a little bit. But nothing that's just overwhelming and really that personal,” Peterson said.
He said he would welcome the chance to run over Dejon Gomes, the Redskins safety who administered the hit that wrecked his knee.
“I'm going to make sure I have my shoulders low. He might be going for the ankles,” Peterson said. “I'm just going to go out and play ball and just have fun.
Ever since that hit, however, there have been no indications that Peterson or the team ever felt the tackle was dirty.
Peterson said he has watched a replay of his injury a few times, but it was more him just running across the video, not making a point to seek it out.
“It’s not something I Googled or something. I’ve run across it a couple times,” he said.
“I don’t like seeing it.”
These days, Peterson's ankle is a bigger concern for him. He got it twisted during a running play early in last week's 30-7 victory over the Tennessee Titans, but he continued playing, carrying 17 times for 88 yards. He didn't practice Wednesday, but said he has no doubt he will play against the Redskins.
Peterson is about as humble of a star athlete as they come. Teammates marvel at him and competitors cheer him on when they aren’t playing against him.
When it became immediately apparent that something was very wrong last Dec. 24, even the Redskins had their concerns.
“I think everybody was hoping that Adrian would come back,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said this week. “Watching him on film, you can tell he’s worked extremely hard to put himself in the position he’s in. You can see, at least from the outside – I don’t know him personally – you can see what a great kid he is, and I think everybody was pulling for him. Our players were sick when it happened.”
Peterson has played in five games since that injury and has impressed along the way. In his return to action, he surprised most with his workload of 17 carries for 84 yards and two touchdowns in the regular-season opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars after he didn’t play at all in the preseason and continued to rehabilitate his injury. Two weeks later, he increased his carries to 25 in an important slugfest victory against the then-undefeated San Francisco 49ers. One game after that was his first 100-yard performance of the season, signaling to followers of stat boxes and fantasy-football milestones that he was back.
After five games, he has rushed 96 times for 420 yards, a 4.4-yard average, and has four touchdowns.
“I’m still amazed. The way he’s running right now, he’s having a very good season for us right now, with or without an ACL,” Vikings coach Leslie Frazier said. “I am amazed at what he’s able to do and how soon he’s been able to do it.”
Sunday will be his first time back to the scene where his career was put in doubt. It’s been a long journey with incremental steps, consistent sweat and occasional disappointment in the muscle atrophy he saw in his left leg. He will hit the FedEx turf once again Sunday, but this time he fully expects to pop right back up and jog back to the huddle time and time again instead of needing a cart to haul him off the field like it did 9½ months ago.
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.