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Hateful Respect


A Packer fan comes to terms with the sublime brilliance of Adrian Peterson

@BreakTheHuddle

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“What you did was very spiteful, but it was also very brave and very honest and I respect you for doing that. But the content of what you said has made me hate you. So there’s a layer of respect, admittedly, for your truthfulness, but it’s peppered with hate. Hateful respect.” – Aldous Snow (Russell Brand), ‘Get Him to the Greek’

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Peterson Run

Adrian Peterson used the jumbotron at Lambeau Field to see if any Packers were closing in at the end of his 82 yard touchdown scamper on December 2nd. Even if they had been, it probably wouldn’t have mattered.

As much as it pains me to admit it – I love watching Adrian Peterson play football. I don’t particularly enjoy when he plays against the Green Bay Packers, and it’s not as though I want the Vikings to win, but when he carries the ball, the sport feels different. A methodical game of ebbs and flows receives a jolt of electricity, everything else stops, and unbridled athletic skill, made manifest in ferocious determination and desire, is embodied in number 28 in the purple helmet.

When the blocks are lined up, and Peterson hits a hole in stride, there’s a sound that happens in a crowded room of people watching the game. If it’s a group of Vikings fans, there’s excited chatter, followed by shouts, followed by the usual pleas and unnecessary reminders (“GO! RUN! GO!”). If it’s a group of opposing fans, there’s a noise not unlike that of air being let out of a balloon, a gasp, a collective muttering of “fuuuuuuuuuuu…” under the breath. Heck, even when he doesn’t get blocks – even when he’s wrapped up, and he’s going down, he never seems down. It’s possible he’ll toss a grown man aside like a plaything and keep chugging along. Or if it’s late in a game, and you need to stop him on a third down – and you stand him up at the line of scrimmage – there he is, again, somehow forcing his way through, diving across the “unofficial” yellow first down line.

Even if you’re a Packer fan who loathes everything about the Minnesota Vikings –their dumpy stadium, the obnoxious color scheme and fight song, their woefully irrational radio play-by-play announcer, as well as that infernal horn that sounds after each first down – you ought to learn to appreciate Adrian Peterson. Other than possessing a lead foot[i] and occasionally being tardy[ii], the guy’s done nothing to incur your wrath. By all accounts, he’s humble, kind and the hardest working man in football.

Paul Allen

Paul Allen: The Unofficial Spokesman for Cheesehead Schadenfreude since 2000.

Now he’s on a historical run, a quest to break the NFL’s all-time record for rushing yards in a single season. Considering the fact that he began the season at less than 100%, and that his workload was reduced in weeks one through six, this might be the most remarkable individual feat in NFL history. After all, he eclipsed the century mark in rushing just once in the Vikings’ first six contests, and according to Vikings beat writer Tom Pelissero, was unable to make lateral cuts as recently as October 7th.[iii]

My appreciation for Peterson is not a symptom of Stockholm Syndrome, nor is it a sign that I’m slowly losing my love for the green and gold. I’ll argue with anyone who says Peterson’s the best ever (more on that in a minute) and I still take great delight in Viking maladies… especially watching Christian Ponder play quarterback. Since I moved to Minnesota, I’ve been immersed in the cult of AP, but I haven’t participated – merely observed, and appreciated the talent. Nothing more.

Part of this appreciation comes from the random, historical nuggets that can be uncovered when discussing Peterson’s recent 8-game run of dominance. To wit: in 1998, Hall-of-Famer Curtis Martin of the New York Jets rushed for 1,287 yards on 369 carries and scored 8 touchdowns, all over a full 16 game season. In his past 8 games, Peterson has rushed for more yards (1,313) and scored more touchdowns (9) on FEWER THAN HALF AS MANY RUSHING ATTEMPTS (176).

He has exactly as many yards in his past 8 games as Arian Foster has gained on the entire season. His average of 129.4 yards per game is the sixth best single season mark of all time – and all of the top five players in that category (O.J. Simpson, Jim Brown, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson and O.J. Simpson, again) completed their feats before Adrian was born in 1985. Even if his pace “slows back down” to his season average, he’ll still break the record; if he continues at his recent clip, he’ll obliterate it.

His production has him in the hunt for several awards. I don’t know if the ‘Comeback Player of the Year’ award can be split between two players, like the MVP award can, but it should be given equally to Peterson and Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. I can’t pick between the two. If they want, the NFL can go ahead and skip the award next year to compensate – shoot, they can just cancel it after this. One of the five greatest quarterbacks of all time, as well as the best running back in the NFL, returned from potentially career-threatening injuries in the same season. Nothing as impressive as that will ever happen again.

As for the MVP… that’s an entire column unto itself, and in the coming weeks, you’ll get plenty of chatter about that from folks who are far smarter and more passionate about it than I am. Suffice it to say, he’s in the mix – an impressive feat for any running back in today’s pass-happy NFL.

There’s also chatter that this season is proof that Peterson is the best halfback to ever play the game. Before I comment, here’s a chart of the other running backs in AP’s stratosphere, with production through their first six seasons, to show you how they compare with the Vikings’ star:

Rushing G Att Yds Avg Td Yds/G
Eric Dickerson 90 2136 9915 4.6 75 110.2
Jim Brown[iv] 90 1790 9322 5.2 82 103.6
LaDainian Tomlinson 95 2050 9176 4.5 100 96.6
Emmitt Smith 93 2007 8956 4.5 96 96.3
Barry Sanders 89 1763 8672 4.9 62 97.4
Adrian Peterson 87 1695 8564 5.1 75 98.4
Walter Payton 89 1865 8386 4.5 65 94.2

The gentlemen listed above are, in some order, the greatest running backs in NFL history.[v] Peterson will add to his total yardage in this season’s final two games, surpassing Barry Sanders (whose overall numbers are remarkably similar). He’s also second in yards per carry and third in yards per game. A common argument derived from these factors goes like this: “Peterson’s playing in the wrong era – he’s a dominant back at a time when passing is more prevalent than ever. If he had been around two decades, or even one decade earlier, his numbers would look like Eric Dickerson’s.”

There are two problems with this line of thinking – first of all, rushing statistics haven’t dipped significantly in recent seasons. In fact, they’ve been stagnant ever since 1990, when Barry Sanders was in his second season and Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson had yet to wear an NFL uniform. Teams are not running the ball less often than they did before – though the ratio of runs to passes has certainly shifted in favor of the aerial attack.[vi]

So the same number of rushing attempts are available to running backs… but nowadays, of course, multiple backs from each team get the carries. This makes the evaluation of Peterson tricky – while he’s the closest thing we have to an “old-school” bell cow, he’s kept fresher by the newfangled strategy of “running back by committee.” That’s the second issue with the argument that AP is the best ever – he was kept fresh by his backups. We can’t merely extrapolate his numbers and assume he’d have reached 10,000 yards on 2,000 carries. It doesn’t work like that.

And while it’s superficially stunning to consider how good Peterson’s been despite the futility of Minnesota’s passing attack, in historical terms, it’s hardly unique. It’s important to note that O.J. Simpson, especially, was stuck with putrid signal callers for much of his career. In Simpson’s all-time best 1973 campaign, Buffalo’s run-to-pass ratio was 605-to-213. You think defenses didn’t know that number 32 was going to get the ball?

A more modern example, LaDainian Tomlinson, had the following quarterbacks at the start of his career: Washed Up Doug Flutie, Drew Brees Before He Was Really Drew Brees, Ancient Doug Flutie, Almost the Great Drew Brees, and Rookie Philip Rivers. Sounds pretty comparable to Peterson’s list: Decent Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte For Some Reason, Vengeful Brett Favre, Post-Sexting Scandal Brett Favre, Fat Donovan McNabb, and Christian Steele-Ponder.

Speaking of Tomlinson, there’s also the problem of pass-catching for Adrian Peterson, shown in the following chart:

Receiving Rec Yds Avg Td
LaDainian Tomlinson 398 2900 7.3 11
Emmitt Smith 301 1951 6.5 4
Barry Sanders 210 1782 8.5 6
Walter Payton 202 1791 8.9 5
Jim Brown 192 1831 9.5 14
Adrian Peterson 175 1520 8.7 3
Eric Dickerson 172 1422 8.3 3

Some don’t like including receiving statistics in the evaluation of running backs – but it’s an integral part of playing the position. In this respect, Peterson’s output is pedestrian, especially in comparison with Emmitt Smith and LaDainian Tomlinson.

I’m not ready to stand on the table and say, definitively, that I know who the best running back of all-time is. What I do know is this – it’s not Adrian Peterson, and there’s no shame in that. Tomlinson, Simpson, Brown and (maybe) Eric Dickerson are ahead of him. At least, that’s what the numbers say to me.

At the same time, I realize that football isn’t played in statistical models or football-reference websites. The point of sports is to watch the games, to get excited, to appreciate the subtleties and debate about intangibles. I am too young to remember Simpson or Dickerson, and Brown played before most of the games were even caught on film. LaDainian Tomlinson never scared me the way Adrian Peterson scares me. The numbers might say he was better – I’m afraid my eyeballs tell another story.

The tug-of-war between the objective and subjective forces in our brains is part of what makes discussing and writing about sports so much fun. We (usually) get the fun payoff of debating without devolving into the partisan bickering that any political discussion inevitably descends into. Black and white facts stack up against full-color replays, and we’re left to sort through it all. Do you think Peterson’s the best of all time? Well, he scares the BeJesus out of me, so I guess I see your point.

I guess there’s no harm in saying he “could” be. His career isn’t finished, yet. He could be like Earl Campbell and simply wither away at 29, beaten and bruised and used. Or he could be Emmitt Smith, productive and remarkably healthy until he’s in his late 30s. The debate will rage for years to come, and he’ll be a source of pride for Minnesotans, and a source of envy for those of us who love the Green and Gold.

How should Packer fans handle it? It’s not like the Vikings are a threat to Green Bay’s standard for success – Lombardi Trophies. A team whose best player is a running back can’t win the Super Bowl anyway; what harm is there in letting our poor, snakebitten rivals to the west have a little fun now and again?

Hopefully, Packer and Viking fans both found something they loved and loathed about what I’ve said, here. It’s possible to feel both at the same time, you know.

Hateful respect.*

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below

*One more thing. Every nice thing I said about Adrian Peterson is hereby null and void if his urine or blood is ever found to be dirty in the teeniest, tiniest sense. I might appear to be a rational fan, full of respect for a truly wonderful player on my favorite team’s arch rival, but if he’s on horse steroids or HGH I will unload self-righteous hell on every purple-wearing Minnesotan dumb enough to come within earshot. Not that I think he’s using, or anything…


[iv] This is actually Jim Brown’s first seven seasons – since they played only 14 games per year back then, it helps the math work out a little better.

[v] O.J. Simpson didn’t fit neatly into the chart because he had an odd career; he followed three seasons as a backup with six transcendent years (which included 1973, the greatest season by a running back, ever) and finished his career with three injury-riddled years. His “apex” numbers would’ve slotted him just ahead of Barry Sanders – 87 games, 1800 rushes, 8849 yards, 4.9 yards per attempt, and 46 touchdowns on 101.6 yards per game. He also had the best statistical season of all-time by a running back, in 1973.

[vi] It’s worth mentioning two other small points – first, the average gain per rushing attempt is at an all-time high this season, and second, this rushing success likely has something to do with the fact that contact practices are limited, and tackling technique has gone the way of the dodo bird. I wanted to include this in the article, but it seemed too “hater-ific” and I chickened out. Oh, well. It made it into a footnote.

Hate Watching: Vikings versus Jaguars


Jacksonville visits Minnesota in a game one man loves to despise

@BreakTheHuddle

“‘Hate-watch’ is a fancy term for watching shows you don’t like but get perverse satisfaction from.” – Frazier Moore

“‘Hate-watch’ isn’t that fancy of a term. And who the hell is Frazier Moore?” – Yours Truly

PREGAME: I thought they had blown up this dump awhile ago. Is there still a chance these guys end up moving to Los Angeles? No? Shoot. I thought that would’ve been good punishment for the Brett Favre fiasco.

PREGAME: What do you MEAN, “that hardly seems equitable”? THEY TOOK FAVRE AWAY FROM US!

PREGAME: No. I won’t let it go.

PREGAME: Ah, that stupid horn. And there are men dressed like women. This looks more like an S&M convention than a football game. Am I right?

KICKOFF: Oh-and-16, here come the Vikings! They would have to take Matt Barkley first overall, wouldn’t they?

15:00 to 6:11, 1st Quarter: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…

6:10, 1st: Marcedes Lewis burns Chad Greenway for an 18 yard reception. Even Vikings beat writer Tom Pelissero tweeted incredulously last season when Greenway would make a play in pass defense. The book on him is: good run-stopper, can’t cover worth a lick. And in a passing league, that’s sort of a problem.

4:54, 1st: Jaguars convert their 4th 3rd down conversion of the drive. Things are looking good so far.

I should have known better than to pin my hopes on a guy with hair like this.

4:23, 1st: Blaine Gabbert misses Justin Blackmon for a touchdown pass. COME ON, GABBERT! Blackmon was more open than the upper deck at one of your home games! For the record, game ought to be 7-0 right now.

2:52, 1st: Real score – Jaguars 3, Vikings 0. Alternate universe score – Jaguars 7, Vikings 0.

1:25, 1st: Dropped interception by the Jaguars at the Vikings 45. The safety would’ve had room to run, too. I assume he would have made it all the way to the end zone. Real score – still 3-0, Jaguars. Alternate universe score – Jaguars 14, Vikings 0.

14:20, 2nd Quarter: Adrian Peterson, 9 yard rush. I know the NFL has testing for steroids, and something’s in the works for HGH, but is anyone testing Peterson for the stuff they inject dogs with before they race? Seriously. He’s a freak of nature and he scares the bejesus out of me.

11:15, 2nd: Blaine Gabbert throws an awkward-looking though simultaneously beautiful back-shoulder-ish toss to Laurent Robinson for 20+ yards. Chris Cook, the woman-choker, on the coverage.

6:05, 2nd: Maurice Jones-Drew “introduces himself” to Mistral Raymond at the 10 yard line. Remind me to never let MJD “introduce himself” to me. It looked painful.

5:23, 2nd: Jaguars touchdown, Gabbert to Lewis. Real score, Jaguars 9, Vikings 0. Things are going swimmingly. Now all they need is the extra point…

5:23, 2nd: … blocked. Lame. Real score: still 9-0 Jaguars. Alternate universe score: Funny, they blocked the extra point in the alternate universe, too. Jaguars 20, Vikings 0.

5:08, 2nd: At this point, Christian Ponder is 2-of-4 for 17 yards and has just displayed the sort of quarterbacking footwork that middle school coaches would be concerned with.

3:51, 2nd: Ponder almost intercepted, again. Do you think Matt Barkley would like it here? Isn’t he from California? It might be a little cold for him. The new stadium will be indoors, right?

2:46, 2nd: IMPORTANT GRAPHIC: Gabbert: 9/15, 103 yards, 1 TD. Ponder: 3/7, 32 yards, 0 TD.

You’ve got glasses, Musgrave. Take it easy on yourself and buy a bigger call sheet.

2:37, 2nd: As the punt was in the air, I could see someone tap Vikings Offensive Coordinator Bill Musgrave on the shoulder and whisper, softly, “Hey, stupid. Your biggest threat hasn’t really touched the ball much, yet. His name is Percy Harvin. Remember him? He played on less than 60% of the offensive snaps last year for no good reason and raised a big stink in the offseason about his small role in the gameplan. You should maybe call some plays for him because he’s really good. Stop being so dumb. Also, why is your play-calling sheet so tiny? Good God, it’s like a 5-by-8 note card! Some of these offensive coaches have charts and graphs and entire binders they’re looking through, and you’re standing over here with something that belongs in a recipe book! C’mon, Musgrave! But seriously, Percy Harvin, he wears #12. Get on it.”

2:28, 2nd: Hey, there he is! Percy Harvin for 16 yards.

1:56, 2nd: For some God-forsaken reason the Jaguars blitz Harvin’s man from the slot position, leaving him as the hot read, and he’s wide open for 11 more.

0:40, 2nd: After a nice throw by Ponder – wait, what am I saying?!? – Adrian Peterson walks into the end zone. Are we sure he isn’t on some kind of horse steroid? Real score: Jaguars 9, Vikings 7. Alternate universe score: Jaguars 20, Vikings 7.

HALFTIME: As they come out of the break, I see our announcers are Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcotts, the guys who must have drawn the short stick. Or drew the wrong card. Or are the worst at their jobs. You don’t end up calling this game unless you’ve got some room to move vertically in your profession. Just saying.

HALFTIME: They do a bit called “Solomon’s Wisdom.” Hey, a little Biblical reference. I wonder: will anyone threaten to cut a baby in half?

Percy Harvin has two years left on his rookie deal but is playing like a man who’d like a lucrative extension after this season.

13:13, 3rd Quarter: Everson Griffen gets away with a hit to the helmet of Blaine Gabbert. It seemed like that was the call being missed across the NFL all preseason and throughout most of Sunday, but honestly, the referees in this game did a pretty decent job.

12:15, 3rd: Maurice Jones-Drew, meet Harrison Smith. Good gracious, that tiny man is like a bowling ball.

11:39, 3rd: Gabbert fumbles the snap, Vikings take over at the Jaguars’ 44. Oy, vey.

9:50, 3rd: The announcers say that Adrian Peterson is like “a rhino” down near the goal line, which reminds me: does anyone test him for the steroids they give to rhinos before rhino races? No? Well, so much for the integrity of the league. AP walks into the end zone, real score is 14-9 Vikings, and the alternate reality score is 20-14 Jaguars.

6:05, 3rd: Christian Ponder fumbles at his own 16. What is it with the Vikings and drafting quarterbacks with tiny, tiny hands?

6:05 – 4:40, 3rd: Jaguars, ball at the Vikings’ 16: Rush, rush, incomplete pass, field goal. I cry. Real score: Vikings 14, Jaguars 12, alternate reality score: Jaguars 23, Vikings 14.

3:13, 3rd: Harvin gains 9 tough yards, lined up as a running back.

2:40, 3rd: I can’t believe I am about to say this, but this is my favorite football play I have seen in a long, long time. Harvin lines up in the backfield, Ponder runs a play action then tosses it out to him in the flat. As he makes the catch, the Jaguars cornerback covering him (#31, the much ballyhooed Aaron Ross) points at him and yells “Hey, HEY!” to a fellow defender AND RUNS AWAY FROM HARVIN. So, poor #22 (some kid named ‘Rutland’) attempts to tackle Percy and gets leveled, but manages to get Harvin near the sideline. By this time, Aaron Ross has circled around to help “clean up” the play, and Harvin’s already stepped out of bounds, but he lowers his head and instigates contact with Ross anyway, jawing at him afterwards. Percy Harvin runs like a man possessed.

Jags owner Shahid Khan

2:23, 3rd: I just punched myself in the face for thinking and then saying all those nice things about a Viking.

0:49, 3rd – 14:09, 4th Quarter: The Vikings follow a nice completion to Kyle Rudolph to the 4 yard line with the following play calls: a 1 yard loss to a rushing Percy Harvin, a Matt Asiata pass to the 2, and a John Carlson pass for no gain. No AP, No Toby Gerhart, and no Kyle Rudolph inside the 4 yard line. Musgrave… God bless you. Vikings kick a field goal. Real life, 17-12 Vikings. Alternate reality, 23-17 Jacksonville.

14:09 – 9:35, 4th Quarter: Jaguars move the ball, Greenway looks terrible in pass defense again, but they can’t cash in with a touchdown so it’s 17-15, Vikings in real life… (26-17 Jaguars in my fantasy land.)

8:45, 4th: Harvin. Again. Catches a swing pass, jukes one, then outruns 3 other guys for 20 yards.

Just kidding. That was Wario. This is Shahid Khan.

5:38, 4th: Ponder overthrows Rudolph, which is tough to do, because the man is a physical freak and he has hands the size of hubcaps. Vikings kick a field goal and it’s 20-15 Vikings in real life (or, as I prefer, 26-20).

2:00, 4th: The Jaguars let the clock wind down to the 2 minute warning then punt back to the Vikings with 2 timeouts remaining. Also, they just showed new Jaguars owner Shahid Khan, pictured somewhere to the right.

1:51, 4th: Vikings ball, and 1 first down wins the game, and this is what happens: AP runs for nothing, Michael Jenkins commits an illegal block penalty (which stops the clock) and Gerhart runs for nothing. The Jaguars get the ball back 33 seconds later having to only use two timeouts.

1:18, 4th: IMPORTANT GRAPHIC: Blaine Gabbert, 0 career game-winning drives.

Jeez, that was Geraldo Rivera. Don’t you know ANYTHING? THIS is Shahid Khan.

1:18 to 0:27, 4th: Cecil Shorts for 20, incomplete to Shorts, then Greenway breaks up a pass, then they go right at Greenway again and convert a huge 4th down.

0:27, 4th: Holy crap… Gabbert does the ol’ lame-duck-chuck-it-up-and-any-competent-corner-makes-a-play-but-shoot-that’s-Chris-Cook-ah-hell-I’m-throwing-it routine. Complete to Cecil Shorts, touchdown. Jaguars convert the two point conversion and lead 23-20 in real life (or 34-20 in my happy place). The announcers call it a game winner. The announcers are stupid.

0:20, 4th: Matt Asiata returns the squib kick to the 31. Because, you know, when you have a kicker who was 5th-best in the league at kicking touchbacks last season, why utilize that? Squib kick it. Sure.

0:20, 4th: The Vikings have three timeouts and I am nervous.

0:20 – 0:04, 4th: 27 yards to Aromashadu, and 6 yards to Kyle Rudolph, and suddenly the Vikings are in range for Blair Walsh.

END OF REGULATION: Walsh crushes it from 54. Can anyone show me proof his right leg isn’t full of steroids and his foot isn’t solid titanium? Anyone? Goodell?  We go to overtime tied at 23.

OVERTIME: Vikings win toss. I feel ill.

15:00 – 11:06, OT: AP for 10, then for 21, then a pass to Aromashadu for 17. So, the Vikings are at the 25, and a touchdown wins it, and they’ve been moving the ball… then they get nothing, a loss, and a pass to Toby Gerhart to the 20. 4th down.

11:06, OT: To protect the integrity of the game, Blair Walsh should have to kick left footed until we get to the bottom of this steroids / titanium foot thing. But they let him kick right-footed and he’s good from 38. Vikings 26, Jaguars 23.

11:06 to end of game, OT: Laurent Robinson drops a pass, MJD runs for 6 yards, then Chad Greenway breaks up another pass play (and turns to the press box and whips Tom Pelissero the bird). And on 4th down, Gabbert needs 4, but decides to throw it way downfield into double coverage instead. And the Jaguars lose, which means the Vikings win. Dumb.

POSTGAME: That was dumb.

POSTGAME: Really, really dumb.

POSTGAME: Man, I said a lot of nice things about a team I really dislike. Harvin looks good, Ponder finished 17-for-20 after starting 3-for-7 and Adrian Peterson is healthy. The secondary still has problems and Jared Allen was more or less invisible after the first 5 minutes of the game but the Vikings are going to move the ball this year. They won’t be a complete embarrassment to football. Imagine that.

POSTGAME: What am I saying? Green Bay – San Francisco is about to start. It’s time for some real football. Surely my Packers will know how to cheer me up.

POSTGAME: Right?

The only thing left for Packer fans to do Sunday night was heave a long, deep sigh.

BreakTheHuddle is a fan of the Twins, Timberwolves and the 13-time World Champion Green Bay Packers. Reach him at BreakTheHuddle@gmail.com, @BreakTheHuddle on Twitter or leave a comment below!