When Adrian Peterson went down back on December 24th, I had a bad feeling we might not see him in cleats again. It was the type of injury which looked eerily similar to Joe Theismann's.
Luckily, it looked worse than it was, though only by a hair. Peterson tore his Anterior Cruciate and Medial Collateral Ligaments but had surgery and started rehabbing. By all accounts he is doing well.
The injury reminded us of another Viking who had massive knee damage but failed to return and finish out his career on his own terms: Daunte Culpepper.
Here's the catch though, Peterson is going to succeed where Culpepper failed.
Sound confident don't I? I am.
As bad as Peterson's injury was, Culpepper's was worse. Not only did he tear the ACL and MCL, but also the Posterior Cruciate Ligament or PCL. That's three of the four major ligaments in the knee.
As bad as Peterson's injury was–and make no mistake, it was and is bad–Culpepper's was far worse. To come back at all after an injury like that is actually pretty amazing, much less to be any good at what you used to be able to do.
Unfortunately, Culpepper was a shadow of his former self. The damage to his knee was just too much to overcome given several other circumstances which he had to deal with that Peterson does not.
It all starts with the extra ligament though.
Maybe Culpepper could have overcome the massive trauma to his knee if he had been a bit younger, closer to the beginning of his career than the end.
Sure, 28 isn't all that old, or that much older than Peterson was when he tore his knee up but two years can make a huge difference. At 26, Peterson is still at his height whereas many athletes-even quarterbacks-are starting to gradually slow down.
Culpepper was playing relatively well prior to his injury, but the body doesn't heal as well once you start to hit thirty and recovering from three torn ligaments will take longer.
That time was something Culpepper didn't feel he had.
In September of last year, the Vikings signed Peterson to a seven year, $96 million dollar contract–the most paid to a running back at that time.
So when he got hurt in December, there was no worry, this was a team which would stand by him. Which, in turn allowed him to set a natural pace for his rehab.
Culpepper was reportedly unhappy with his contract and was trying to negotiate a new one after the injury. Being hurt and trying to get new money out of a new owner (Zygi Wilf had recently purchased the team) put undue pressure on Culpepper to prove he was healthy perhaps sooner than he should have.
Add to it the fact that the Vikings did just fine without him (thanks to Brad Johnson) and you can imagine Culpepper might push himself beyond where he should have in the worry that he might lose his job or miss out on big money.
Peterson isn't going anywhere, has tons of guaranteed money in his contract and Toby Gerhart is his backup. As much as I like Gerhart, he is no Adrian Peterson.
There is no pressure beyond what an elite athlete normally puts on himself.
While Peterson has utilized team doctors and facilities in addition to his own private resources, Culpepper had no interest in using the Vikings' facilities and instead chose to work out in Florida, despite the fact that the Vikings were worried about the level of treatment he was getting.
It's not hard to imagine at this point that had he been in the team's facilities, the doctors and physical therapists there would have slowed him down and kept him off the field longer.
You have to wonder if in his concern for his job and money, Culpepper ignored some advice or crafted his situation so that the people he was getting opinions from were all going to tell him what he wanted to hear.
Peterson does his own thing, but has made sure the team knows what he's up to.
On top of being away from the facility, Culpepper was then traded and likely had a whole new set of opinions and commands to follow with the Dolphins.
As he was already training in Florida, maybe the effect was negligible. Then again, changing things in mid-rehab can be tricky.
Or lack thereof, in Culpepper's case. While Peterson has set a goal of starting Week One, he has backed off a bit lately, setting his chances at 50-50 to start against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week One.
Culpepper pushed and pushed to go Week One and convinced his new team, the Miami Dolphins, that he was ready to go.
He was clearly not. Culpepper couldn't wait though, and it cost him, as he ended up needing surgery again later.
While we don't know for sure what is going through Peterson's head. He might snap and decide he's ready to go regardless. He seems to be approaching this wisely. He sets the goal of starting Week One, but is realistic enough that, if his body says no, so will he.
Culpepper was desperate and allowed himself to jump the gun coming back–far too early as it turns out.
When it comes to an injury like Culpepper's or Peterson's, there is no sure fire cure or definitive outcome. All one can do is work hard to rehab and hope when you get back to the field you are ready and close to 100%.
Peterson may not be as good as he once was–a subject for another column–but he will do everything he can to make sure that when he steps on that field that he as prepared and fully healed as he can be.
Maybe he won't be the Peterson we saw tear up the field for the last few years, but he also won't be the Culpepper we saw fall apart in Miami.