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When the Minnesota Vikings officially declined their option on Adrian Peterson’s contract on February 28th, a gentle weight lifted off my shoulders. I knew there was a chance he could sign in Minnesota again, but I was relatively confident it wouldn’t happen. When a deal was reached with Latavius Murray about three weeks later, I was certain this was the end for Adrian “All Day” Peterson in a Vikings uniform. Finally, we could stop talking about whether or not Adrian could take a handoff from the shotgun formation or whether it mattered. Finally, we could stop measuring his presumed talent against the deficiencies of our offensive line. And finally, for the love of God, I could stop hearing the response “but it’s AP!” every time I questioned the potential of our offense as a unit. The rollercoaster ride of one of the greatest runningbacks to ever put on a Vikings uniform was over.
And then, on April 25th, the New Orleans Saints, the Week One opponent of the Minnesota Vikings on prime time Monday Night Football, sign none other than Adrian Peterson, condemning the Minnesota sports faithful social media sphere to another few bonus months of All Day hot takes. Oh boy. Oh goodie. Predictably, the Vikings fan base is split on how to react to Adrian taking the field at US Bank Stadium for the first time, and of course, they have opinions on what the rest of us should do as well. Some of us, like the voice of the Vikings, Paul Allen, are hoping for a standing ovation for the former face of our franchise. Others are just fine with him receiving a chorus of boos echoing from the stadium’s bleachers.
My take? Do whatever you want. Cheer him. Boo him. Don your black-and-gold jersey you bought the day he signed with the team that willingly drew personal foul flags in the NFC Championship to break the body of our silver-haired mercenary quarterback and shriek with unfiltered excitement until capillaries start bursting in your cheeks. I won’t be there in person. I’ll be either sitting on my couch or a bar stool with a beer in my hand, marveling at how strange it looks for 28 to be wearing those colors. But don’t tell me or any other Vikings fan that we should feel obligated to stand and cheer for Adrian Peterson when he takes the field on Monday night, because we don’t owe him a damn thing.
Oh, I can sense it already. Your brow is furrowing, your lip is curling, and your fingers start furiously tapping away at your keys with a staccato of conviction. Did you forget what Adrian did for this team? You do realize what he accomplished with 5,000 new starting quarterbacks and offensive line units that were basically yoga balls filled with pudding, right? He put this team on his back!
Yes. I understand what Adrian brought to this franchise. I’m not going to deny that more often than not, he made Sundays a lot of fun. I really liked Chester Taylor when he was in purple, and I remember my excitement for 28 completely overshadowing that affinity after his very first game. I remember him nearly knocking William Gay clean out of his cleats. The entire 2012 season was something that will never be forgotten thanks to All Day.
All of that being said, the balance has been paid between the Minnesota Vikings, Adrian Peterson, and the fan base. I’m not just talking in dollars and cents, though Adrian certainly got his in that manner. We made him the highest paid running back in NFL history, and it’s not particularly close. Was the price tenable? In his prime, sure. He was never what you would call a dynamic runningback. He earned his money on being one of the most physically gifted specimens you’ve ever seen step on a football field, using unreal strength and speed to clobber defenses.
For a while, it worked for him, even if it didn’t bring a Lombardi Trophy to Minnesota. Adrian got the cash and he got the accolades. If you tuned the TV to SportsCenter, nobody mentioned the Minnesota Vikings without gushing over Adrian Peterson. The only interruption in the exclusive celebration of 28 was number 4, and it was a short-lived one.
As Adrian’s career in Minnesota progressed, we began to notice his penchant for dropping the rock in crucial situations. We started to notice that despite his immaculate physical prowess, he really wasn’t getting any better at protecting the quarterback on passing downs. We continued to be amazed by the beast that he was, but there were flaws to his game. We gave him the benefit of the doubt, season after season. This was the year that Adrian was going to develop as a true three-down back. He was spending the entire offseason working on his ball security. Just you wait, we were soon going to be able to completely nullify the need for a quarterback because with all of the improving that Adrian was going to do, we could just snap it directly to him and run ourselves into a championship all…day.
And then “the thing” happened. The photos are released. Raw and visceral reaction ripples through the airwaves of sports talk radio for weeks after the announcement that Adrian was being deactivated, and eventually, placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List.
I’m not going to turn this into a debate on corporal punishment. I certainly have opinions on it, but we’ve had the discussion ad nauseum since the incident. What I am insisting on, however, is how embarrassing the entire incident was for this franchise and fan base. It was at this point that I was really hoping the team would move on and trade Adrian for whatever we could get for him. We didn’t do that, of course. We stuck by him. Through all of his feelings of betrayal, all of his backhanded apologies that weren’t really apologies so much as they were laments of people judging him for lacerating his child’s scrotum with a tree branch, through his agent’s buffoonish social media posts, we stuck by an aging runningback that was no longer worth the money he was being paid.
Oh, we didn’t stop there, though. In one of the most embarrassing events since the Love Boat scandal, we doubled down on our payment in spine and pride and sent our General Manager and Head Coach out to Adrian’s home to actually negotiate with this guy whose feelings were hurt that we tried to “get this right”.
Even that wasn’t enough. This guy puts us through a PR nightmare and a season full of drama, and he takes to Twitter to gripe about guaranteed money under this phony premise that he’s suddenly very concerned about everyone’s contracts in the NFL. Yeah, okay. The timing is very much a coincidence, I’m sure. Anyone notice that his demands for guaranteed money in the NFL suddenly became very quiet as soon as the Vikings caved and, for reasons I will never understand, actually restructured his contract to give him more guaranteed dough?
We rewarded him for that entire fiasco. I don’t think I’ll ever really get over that as a Vikings fan. The whole ordeal was so ridiculous, and in the end, we showed just how afraid we were of wounding Adrian Peterson’s ego.
Did fan base support wane after the incident? I suppose we don’t have an exact way to quantify it, but I don’t think it did. It felt to me like we were willing to move on and resume the cycle of worshiping this deity of a Viking icon, wondering why our offensive unit as a whole wasn’t successful when it primarily catered to a player with no mystery or balance to his game. But it’s Adrian Peterson, the purple masses insisted as All Day danced and juked at the line of scrimmage, desperately searching for that home run highlight reel play when we really could have just used five damn yards.
I’m not here to tell you what you can and can’t do on Monday night. It’s your sports fandom, and if you treasure the memory of Adrian Peterson in purple enough to cheer for him when he makes his appearance, you’re more than welcome to. But if the person sitting next to you or in front of you doesn’t feel like joining you, leave them be. The debt between us and Adrian has been paid in full. The balance is at zero. You and I don’t owe him a damn thing.