Adrian Peterson: Chasing Immortals

(Getty Images)

Adrian Peterson’s miracle season has him on the cusp of Eric Dickerson’s record 2,105 yards.

When Adrian Peterson went down in a heap at Fed Ex Field last Christmas Eve, the early prognosis on his shredded left knee was a recovery time of nine to twelve months. In the days, weeks and months following, guarded speculation turned into heightened anticipation rather quickly.

The 2012 NFL season was supposed to be a dress rehearsal for A. P.  to work his way back into an NFL groove. Instead, he has composed a timely masterpiece — becoming the greatest threat to Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing mark.

O.J. Simpson sprinted his way to 2,003 yards during the 1973 season. “The Juice” inexplicably shattered a record set by Jim Brown that stood for 10 years. Simpson had 332 carries at six yards per tote in 1973. He rushed for 100 + yards in 11 of 14 games. In 6 games, Juice rushed for 150 + yards and for 200 + yards on 3 occasions. Simpson’s historic ’73 run was book ended with 200 + yard efforts.

The former No. 1 overall pick in 1969 averaged 143 yards per game for the 9-5 Buffalo Bills. Good enough for second in the AFC East. Simpson accounted for 2,073 of the Buffalo’s 4,085 yards from scrimmage. Throw those totals into a 16-game schedule and we’re talking a superhuman 2,289 yards on the ground. The Bills led the NFL in rushing yardage, but their passing game was a dismal 997 in the air. Rookie quarterback Joe Ferguson passed for 939 of those yards.

In his first 3 seasons, The Juice was anything but sweet in Buffalo. Although he averaged four yards per carry, he had more fumbles (17) than touchdowns (12) in those 3 years — topping out at a modest 183 carries and 742 yards. In 1972, Simpson had 292 carries and his first 1,000 yard season. A career-high eight fumbles would be drowned out by several huge gains — including a 94-yard touchdown run. Simpson was also gaining notice as a reliable receiver out of the backfield.

Simpson had arguably his finest season as a pro in 1975. He finished shy of 2,000 yards (1,817), but his 23 touchdowns  (16 rush, 7 receiving) cemented him as the threat everyone expected coming out of USC. Juice had another standout season in 1976 when he rushed for 1,503 yards. Injuries limited him to 30 games and only 18 starts over his final 3 seasons. In 11 pro seasons Simpson’s greatest impact came in career years 4 through 8. In ’73, the bulk of his work came on the frigid East Coast (only two games were played out of the Eastern time zone — San Diego and New Orleans). Juice rushed for 419 yards in Weeks 13 and 14 to surpass 2,000 yards. Those games were played in Buffalo against the New England Patriots and in a snowy Shea Stadium against the New York Jets.

That’s frozen O.J. for ya!


The images of Jim Brown obliterating would-be tacklers are ingrained in our conscience like lines from ‘The Mack’. There was nothing pretty about Brown’s game. His running was symbolic of the attributes on which the game was built; grit, power and will.

We’re so enraptured with Brown’s mystical feats from scrimmage that his mind-boggling numbers have become lost in a pile of hapless defenders.

Brown’s worst statistical season came as rookie when he rushed for 942 yards and 9 touchdowns. It was enough to win the AP MVP. Y. A. Tittle and Johnny Unitas won the UPI and Newpaper Ent. Association MVPs, respectively. The Cleveland Browns  finished 9-2-1 before losing to the Detroit Lions in the Conference Final.

In Brown’s nine-year career, he rushed for over 1,000 yards seven times. He never missed a game and had no less than 202 carries in a season. In 118 career games, Brown scored 126 touchdowns (106 rushing, 20 receiving). If there was a facet of Brown’s game that was overlooked, it was his effectiveness as a receiver. The Cleveland Browns created the screen pass by mistake — only for it to be perfected by fullback Marion Motley. Brown caught nearly 260 balls in his career averaging nearly ten yards per reception.

In 1963, Brown rushed for a stunning 1,863 yards in just 14 games. To put those numbers into perspective, Brown would have rushed for 2,129 yards in a 16 games. Brown ran for 133 yards per contest and averaged an insane 6.4 yards per carry. Toss in another 268 receiving yards and Brown was the first player to eclipse 2,000 all-purpose yards in a single season — averaging only 22.5 touches per game.

Like Simpson, Brown played all of his games outdoors and in a time where hitting after the whistle was routine. Brown played against the Night Trains, Deacons, Monsters and Sixty-minute Men of a growing, yet fierce NFL. Brown’s historical season should never be bookmarked in the minds of those who study this game.

Blessed with world-class speed and the strides of a gazelle, Eric Dickerson’s rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams was spectacular. Dickerson broke the NFL rookie rushing mark with 1,808 yards, good for 6th best all-time.

It only got better.

Dickerson’s record-breaking season of 2,105 yards was powered by a six-week stretch where he compiled nearly half of his total (1,044 yards). The Rams were 5-1 in that span and eventually made the playoffs. A 215-yard effort against the Houston Oilers in Week 15 gave Dickerson the single season mark at 2,007. Dickerson carried the ball 379 times for 5.5 yard average and 14 touchdowns. In 1986, Dickerson threatened his own mark for a brief time finishing with 1,821 yards.

There have been six 2,000-yard backs in NFL history: Dickerson, Simpson, Barry Sanders (2,053 yards in 1997), Terrell Davis (2,008 yards in 1998), Jamal Lewis (2,066 yards in 2003) and Chris Johnson (2,006 yards in 2009). I’m more surprised at some of the running backs who didn’t crack the 2,000-yard plateau. Here are the 50 greatest rushing seasons in NFL history.

Whatever Adrian Peterson does Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, his 2012 season has to be considered one of the greatest by any player at any position in any sport. Peterson has defied the odds, critics and modern medicine. As fans we’ve always been taught to never question the severity of an injury to an athlete.

Add physicians to the list.

5 Responses to “Adrian Peterson: Chasing Immortals”

  1. Vinny Hardy says:

    AP can definitely relate to the Juice when it comes to anemic passing attacks. Ponder hasn’t done anything to ease the burden for him.

  2. D. N. says:

    Wonderfully stated and some great clips!

  3. TC says:

    Thanks for the historic perspective as always. I was a kid in LA in mid ’80s and Dickerson made it look so easy….it was unbelievable. Thanks for the highlight reels of Jim Brown and Juice too.

  4. don says:

    I remember Eric Dickerson. He was the one RB who I believed to be unstoppable. Hated when he left the Rams.

    Hoping Adrian Peterson wins both Comeback Player of The Year AND Most Valuable Player Award.

  5. Miranda says:

    AP should definitely be in contention for MVP – but he has Comeback Player of the Year locked up for sure.