EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — There’s sure to be a ton of purple and white No. 28 jerseys littered throughout the crowd, almost as if Adrian Peterson still was playing for the Minnesota Vikings.
Maybe he’ll get a standing ovation when he takes the field for the first time with his new team, the New Orleans Saints, on Monday Night Football.
Maybe the Vikings have something planned to recognize him.
Whatever happens, Peterson anticipates a warm welcome from fans when he steps onto the field at U.S. Bank Stadium to begin the next phase of his career.
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When asked by the New Orleans media if it will be harder than usual for him to stay calm, Peterson said, “No. I’m always out there maxed out, so it won’t be anything different.”
Over the course of his 10-year career, Peterson became the Vikings’ all-time leading rusher, amassing 97 touchdowns and 11,747 yards rushing. He’s remembered and revered for the moments that turned him into a future Hall of Famer, setting the league’s single-game rushing record (296 yards) as a rookie, an MVP season in 2012, seven Pro Bowl invites and countless long runs where he bulldozed through defenders on his way to the end zone.
That version of Peterson is the one he wants you to keep in the forefront, not the injuries that limited him to three games and 72 yards rushing in 2016.
When asked about how he left Minnesota, following the past three seasons headlined by injury and suspension, Peterson is adamant he never left anything on the table and did everything physically possible, including spending thousands of dollars on special types of treatment, to come back healthier than ever.
“So you can kind of fully grasp and understand how it was for me last year,” Peterson told Minnesota reporters, “I tore 90 percent of my meniscus. All the advice I was getting was, if you cut this out, you would be bone on bone. If you have surgery to repair it, it’s still a 50 percent chance that the meniscus doesn’t heal. So, of course, I said, ‘You know what? I believe in a higher power, so I’m going to get it repaired.’ So I went through the surgery and got it repaired, and it was six to eight months recovery.
“The talks from everyone within the team was like, ‘Well, you can start your rehab, and you can get ready to come back during the OTAs, the minicamps, depending on the healing process.’ That’s what they were telling me, and I was like, ‘No, I believe in a higher power, and I want to get out there and help my team win, so I’m going to get the meniscus repaired, and I’m going to call the people that I know, whether it was the blood-flow-restriction therapy, whether it was the hyperbaric chamber, whether it was the stem cells that I was able to get done, or the ozone therapy that I did, this all came out of my pocket. I was, almost every week, spending $10,000 a week to come back, to get out there in hopes of us making it to the playoffs, which would ultimately give us the chance to a win a Super Bowl. That’s what I had my mind set on, when everyone else was telling me something totally different.
“I didn’t sit back and say I’m just going to collect a check. I was fighting. … I don’t want to go back to Houston and just relax and collect money and be satisfied with that because the doctors were saying this was going to be a six to eight month recovery. I feel like that’s a perfect example of what I gave my team, my organization, and I feel that’s why the state of Minnesota and the fans respect me and have so much love for me.”
Peterson and the Vikings parted ways in the offseason when the organization chose not to pick up his $18 million contract option. He became a free agent and signed with the Saints on a two-year, $7 million deal.
It wasn’t a blow to his ego, Peterson says, but he did choose to set the record straight about his final interactions with the Vikings.
“Even in the midst of all the, ‘Oh, Adrian went to the Vikings and requested $8-9 million … that never was said. I never requested that,” Peterson said. “I talked to the Vikings twice. Once was an exit meeting when I talked to [general manager] Rick [Spielman] and our owner, and the next time I spoke to anyone on the Vikings about any type of contract was never. But I got the call saying they were going to sign [Latavius] Murray, and I was OK with that. It was a situation where we both kind of knew where we were. The season didn’t end the way we wanted it to end. Things didn’t happen the way they wanted it to happen Week 15 and 16. A lot of people were on edge.
“For me to have an exit meeting, and the next time I talked to them I was getting a call at 1 o’clock in the morning saying we’re signing Latavius Murray, that’s no ego blow for me. For me that’s motivation. Congratulations. Now I can move on and take my abilities somewhere else.”
That motivation has manifested itself in the form of a new team and new opportunity. Peterson’s remark about wanting to “stick it” to the Vikings upon his return has made the rounds, but he says that’s not something solely limited to his former team.
“I want to stick it to every team,” he said. “I [hope to] have a great performance against all our opponents this season, so that comment wouldn’t be anything different than I would say about Green Bay when we played those guys. The only thing that’s going to be different is playing my first game with a new team back in my old home, and that’s going to be the only difference.”
As he begins his second act, mention of famed running backs who have tried to replicate the early success of their careers and failed ring plenty. According to ESPN Stats Information, Peterson will be the sixth player to face a team with which he previously rushed for 10,000 yards. The other five (including LaDainian Tomlinson and Emmitt Smith) combined for 32 rushes, 72 rushing yards and zero touchdowns against their former teams, each playing one game against them.
Not surprisingly, Peterson is determined to beat those odds, prove people wrong and tack on some of his best years yet.
“It’s kind of crazy because it’s like the year before I tore my meniscus in Week 2, I led the league in rushing after sitting out a year, with a mediocre offensive line,” Peterson told reporters in New Orleans. “I’m 32 now, people say, ‘Oh, well he’s losing it because this back or that back lost it around that time.’ But you erase the  season when I came after sitting out for a year and led the league in rushing. So to be honest with you, I always feel like I have something to prove, so it’s nothing different heading into this year.”