Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Lean on me

Talk about a guy taking responsibility, how about Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, who is featured in the new ESPN the Magazine.

"Moments after rushing for 160 yards in his team's heartbreaking 18-15 loss to the Colts on Sept. 14, he doesn't fixate on the team's QB struggles or its vulnerable secondary. He blames only himself.

"Without the win, 160 yards doesn't mean anything," he says, tossing a towel into his locker. "I left plays out there. I left a touchdown out there."

Peterson blows air through his teeth, yanks his carefully pressed dress pants off a hanger, snapping the fabric.

"I take it personally. I feel responsible. I do. I got tripped up. I need to do a better job picking my feet out of the hole. I can't make mistakes like that."

His voice fades as he shakes his head. His body is tense, vibrating with disappointment. He rams his hands into his hips. "It's just," he grinds his teeth, "really, really frustrating. I feel like I didn't do enough," he says softly.

What more could you have done?

"I could have come up with the big play," he says flatly. "I could have done my job."

Peterson's attitude is one reason he's such a great player, earning All-Pro honors as a rookie last season after rushing for 1,341 yards.

And his teammates see it. According to one: "Adrian's never happy with himself. He doesn't understand his accomplishments."

Another adds: "Adrian is different. He's 100 mph every day. He's never looking for the break. He's not looking to hide. We're always asking him to slow down. Because frankly, the other players can't go that hard."

In the ESPN article, Sidney Rice, a Vikings WR and Peterson's roomate, tells a story:

Rice remembers the first time he spied Peterson.

"Adrian was alone in the gym doing pull-ups. I just stood there and watched him, lifting himself up over and over. Everyone else had gone home. But he was still there."

Since that day, Rice has witnessed more miracles. Players dragged 15 yards, defensive clusters blown out like confetti, speed that blurs the eyes.

"We call him A-Robot," Rice says. "I can't remember ever seeing him exhausted. He'll tell us not to bend down when we're tired. He'll say, 'There's no air down there. Stand up. Lean on me.'"

In a time when teams are searching for players to step up and lead, here's Peterson telling his guys to lean on him.

According to the story, when Peterson was a kid, he sat down with his mother and wrote out four goals that he posted on the door to his room:

1. Get on top of my grades
2. Get in my Bible more
3. Stay out of trouble
4. Be the best that I can be

As he says:

"Believe it or not some of the same things I did last year on the field I've been doing since middle school. I push myself harder. I do extra drills. No matter how tired I am, I make sure I'm first. I got a long way to go, but I figure if I just keep doing the things I have been doing, I should be all right.

You can tell yourself anything. If mentally you don't cave in, if you push yourself beyond where you thought your body could go, you can do almost anything. A lot of people lack that ambition. I figured that out pretty early."

[Here's Peterson's ESPN "Sunday Conversation" from December 2007.]