John E. Hoover: Vikings' Peterson among legendary company
BY JOHN E. HOOVER World Sports Columnist
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
12/18/12 at 4:59 AM
Go to John E. Hoover's blogOriginal Print Headline: Peterson is among legendary company
ST. LOUIS - Eric Dickerson met O.J. Simpson on a 1978 recruiting trip to USC.
Just a senior in high school, Dickerson gave Simpson fair warning that the NFL rushing record Simpson had set just five years earlier - 2,003 yards during the 1973 season with the Buffalo Bills - would someday be his.
Six years later, Dickerson - as a second-year running back with the Los Angeles Rams in 1984 - kept his word, breaking Simpson's mark with 2,105 rushing yards.
For 27 years, Dickerson's record has withstood remarkable players and magnificent accomplishments. But it's never taken on anything quite like Adrian Peterson.
When Peterson met Dickerson as a rookie in 2007, Peterson made no bold predictions about breaking his rushing record. Not that he didn't want to.
"If I did encounter him (now), that would be something I'm sure I would say to him," Peterson said with a smile last week - before his assault on Dickerson's mark continued Sunday with 212 yards against the Rams.
"It's been in my sights for a while," Peterson said after his Minnesota Vikings beat the Rams 34-22 at the Edward Jones Dome. "It's something that I'm not focusing on. It's in the back of my mind. But I want to accomplish that."
Peterson's big day - he had an 82-yard touchdown early and a 52-yard sprint late to help seal it - puts him at 1,812 yards going into the final two weeks of the season. He needs 294 yards - an average of 147 yards per game - against the Houston Texans in Houston and against the Green Bay Packers in Minnesota to surpass Dickerson's standard.
"Man, it would be ... I don't know. It would mean a lot," Peterson said. "I can tell you that because that's a landmark. It's been there for a long time, and as a running back you definitely want to break all the records."
Only six men have rushed for 2,000 yards in an NFL season: Simpson (2,003 in 1973), Dickerson (2,105 in 1984), Barry Sanders (2,053 in 1997), Terrell Davis (2,008 in 1998), Jamal Lewis (2,066 in 2003) and Chris Johnson (2,006 in 2009). Peterson's season average of 129.4 yards per game is on pace for 2,070, which would be second all-time. But Peterson doesn't often settle for second.
"Everybody shoots for my record," Dickerson said, "just like I was shooting at it."
Simpson remains the gold standard because his total came in a 14-game season. His 143.1 yards per game is better than Dickerson's average of 131.6.
But Peterson's 14-game total of 1,812 yards (129.4 per game) is better than anyone since Simpson. Dickerson's total after 14 games was 1,792. Terrell Davis was at 1,801, Lewis at 1,747, Sanders at 1,731 and Johnson at 1,730.
In their final two games, Davis averaged 103.5, Johnson 138.0, Dickerson 156.5, Lewis 159.5 and Sanders 161.0.
The Texans' run defense is stout, allowing just 93.2 yards per game. But Green Bay, against whom Peterson gained 210 yards just three weeks ago, seems vulnerable.
Peterson rushes to the finish line on an unparalleled hot streak. His current season average of 6.3 yards per carry is higher than any of the six had in their 2,000-yard campaign, and his 1,313 yards over the past eight games is an NFL record for that stretch.
Peterson, 27, would be the second-oldest to reach 2,000 yards. Sanders was 29.
And remember, Peterson is making all this history less than a year after major knee surgery.
"It's mental," Peterson said. "My mindset, my willpower, my determination. And that's something people don't see, is how hard I work during the offseason. I grind hard. When you want to be great - and in my mind, I want to be the greatest that ever played - you can't talk about it; you have to go out and work."
Said Dickerson, "It just shows how he worked to get back to where he's at right now. Because that doesn't happen overnight. You don't just wake up one day and you're well."
Dickerson, a Pro Football Hall of Famer who played in the NFL from 1983-2003, recalled his brief encounter with Simpson last week in a telephone interview with the Tulsa World.
As a high school All-American in Sealy, Texas, Dickerson originally committed to play at Texas A&M. But he changed his mind and narrowed his final three choices to USC, Oklahoma and SMU. He chose SMU, where he became a two-time All-American.
Former OU coach Barry Switzer considers losing Dickerson in 1979 to be one of his greatest recruiting failures. Dickerson said he preferred OU, but his grandmother wanted him to stay closer to home.
Dickerson said he has followed Peterson since he was a Sooner freshman back in 2004.
"He's rough and rugged," Dickerson said. "He runs hard. He runs really upright, like me. But he just gives it 100 percent. On every carry. ... I just like the way he runs the football."
Their big, fast, physical running styles aren't the only thing Peterson and Dickerson share. Both grew up in the fertile running back fields of east Texas. Peterson is from Palestine, which sits on an almost straight line that runs from Hooks (home of Billy Sims) to Tyler (home of Earl Campbell) to Sealy.
"I think he's special," Dickerson said, "because he's a Texas boy."
The man who rushed for more yards in an NFL season than anyone said he considers Peterson a rare talent worthy of challenging his mark.
But that doesn't mean he'll be cheering for Peterson these next two weeks.
"I don't want him to break it," Dickerson said. "But if he does, I think he would be a guy that's worthy of breaking that record."
Eric Dickerson of the Los Angeles Rams breaks away from Green Bay Packers defenders during a 1984 game. Associated Press file