On Thursday morning, with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson understanding his Week 1 status would be a game-time decision, he sat in an office at Winter Park still scheming to get his final say.
Moments earlier, during a 10-minute locker room exchange with reporters, Peterson sincerely professed his faith in Leslie Frazier’s decision-making, vowing to accept whatever resolution the head coach reached.
But that didn’t mean Peterson was above exerting pressure. So for a moment, he envisioned Sunday’s pregame warmups and the pivotal verdict that would follow in the to-play-or-not-to-play saga.
“Oh yeah, I’m going to have a word in it. Believe that,” Peterson said. “I will have my say.”
Asked if it might take 10 people to pry his shoulder pads off, Peterson laughed.
“Probably a lot more than that.”
Understand this: As the Vikings open the regular season Sunday against Jacksonville, Peterson has checked the box beside his biggest offseason goal.
Yes, he has always vowed to play in the season opener, virtually since the anesthesia wore off after his Dec. 30 surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee.
But having himself ready to play with the decision now in the hands of Frazier and the front office counts for something, too.
“I feel like I’ve done everything I could do to be ready,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s goal to return to action on Sept. 9 still hangs in the balance.
Making good on a declaration that he will soon be better than ever before? Before long, Peterson will begin that next steep climb.
Until further notice, Toby Gerhart will be the Vikings’ workhorse back, the insurance policy that will allow Peterson to ease back into his groove.
Don’t forget, it was Gerhart who uncorked the Vikings’ longest run in 2011, a 67-yarder at Washington that came on the series after Peterson’s gruesome season-ending knee injury.
Gerhart still laughs at his inability to reach the end zone on his big run, caught at the 8 by Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson.
“Around the 20, it felt like the whole field titled uphill,” Gerhart said.
But in rushing for 105 yards on nine carries after halftime that day and sparking a 33-26 win, Gerhart added to the confidence he’d been building throughout the second half of last season as his workload increased.
“I learned I can do this,” he said. “With that confidence, you’re able to relax and use your talents. You start seeing things earlier, hitting it faster.”
Even Peterson has a profound admiration for Gerhart’s dedication. The two backs, while competing for work, have developed a strong bond and an understanding that they can help each other. Peterson’s eyes bug out when he talks of Gerhart’s diligence in meetings, his penchant for asking good questions and thoroughly documenting everything that’s being taught.
“I write things down,” Peterson said. “But I don’t write things down like Toby.”
Gerhart speaks with similar amazement when noting Peterson’s indefatigable drive. He thinks back to the Vikings’ first session of organized team activities in May when Peterson, with his left knee still strengthening, spent much of the afternoon racing receiver Percy Harvin up the grassy hill beside the practice field.
“To see him competing stride for stride with Percy, to me, it left no doubts he was going to be back and as good as ever,” Gerhart said.
Last week, Gerhart joined Peterson for a similar hill session, driven to keep up.
“It’s not just his work ethic, it’s his positivity,” he said. “He’s always at 100 miles per hour, pushing himself. But he never complains. You’ll never hear him say, ‘I’m sore. I’m tired. My legs feel heavy today.’”
What could be next?
Peterson has always embodied an enthusiasm to push forward. But now that eagerness has spiked, especially after an offseason that he acknowledges has been filled with a series of unusual and sometimes trying twists.
Of course there was all that grueling rehabilitation — the severe pain in the month after surgery followed by the incremental push to restore his range of motion, then his strength, then his ability to cut and react.
But there was off-the-field chaos as well. Peterson saw the back of a police car in early July in Houston, arrested at a nightclub and charged with resisting arrest after a skirmish with security.
He also saw the back of an ambulance during training camp after a bizarre incident in which he had a seriously adverse reaction to cafeteria jambalaya.
“God has been testing me,” Peterson said.
Neither episode has full closure. Peterson’s next court date on the misdemeanor charge is scheduled for Sept. 27. He said he knows in his heart he committed no crime and never initiated contact with officers as the Houston Police Department alleges.
But Peterson will concede that he learned an important lesson from that incident, admitting he probably inflamed things with one last acerbic comment on the way out the door.
“I saw how fast something can flip, just like that,” Peterson said. “So innocent. It wasn’t meant to get to that level. So I’ve been able to step back and get a different view of Adrian and things I need to be better about. … You need to know when to walk away.
“Yeah, I’ve got the freedom of speech to say what I want to say. But me saying what I wanted to say added to what happened. I’m not saying you submit to anyone. But I could have cut it short.”
Peterson is also still awaiting results back on the exam he underwent to test for food allergies. His fingers are crossed it wasn’t seafood that sent him to the hospital in Mankato.
“That’s all I eat is seafood,” Peterson said. “I probably ate over 60 pounds of crawfish this offseason. Crab legs, stone crab, blue crab, Dungeness crabs. I can’t go without seafood.”
Peterson’s return to action will inevitably feature additional obstacles to maneuver around. Yet while many athletes recovering from ACL tears experience a dip in confidence and a bit of hesitance in their injured knee, Peterson has no such worries. Neither do the people around him.
“Adrian doesn’t understand hesitance,” Gerhart said. “But I don’t think you can. The moment you slow down and start playing cautious is the moment you get rolled on. Adrian’s going to attack this and play like nothing was ever wrong.”
Added running backs coach James Saxon: “That desire and that positive demeanor is who Adrian is and how he’s made. I don’t know if anybody can accurately give you the answers of what and why and when and how with how far he’s come. But I told him to go hug his mom and dad for passing on that DNA and that mindset.”
Peterson’s first carry — whether it comes today or in Week 2 — will be a symbolic milestone, a testament to his resolve, ambition and contagious positive energy.
So how will Peterson himself know he’s back? Like fully back, All-Pro caliber again.
Not surprisingly, it’s a question the Vikings star answers with little hesitation.
“I know already on the inside that I’m back,” he said. “It’s about me getting out there now and making it known.”