Adrian Peterson's Phantom Poundage and the Art of Saying Nothing

M. EccherCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2009

MINNEAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 30:  Adrian Peterson #28 of the Minnesota Vikings runs with the ball against of the Chicago Bears at the Metrodome on November 30, 2008 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

Way back in April, when NFL Draft coverage was in full swing and the Minnesota Vikings had precious few headlines to offer, Adrian Peterson gave us something to talk about.

The league's leading rusher announced that he was looking to gain as many as 12 pounds in the offseason, pushing his playing weight to 230 "just to see how it feels."

It was the easiest media mini-frenzy he's ever incited.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune listened to him, tracking down a wary reaction from Brad Childress for good measure: "230 is awful big." So did USA Today. The Washington Post gave the comment a blurb.

Sports Illustrated ran with it, hunting down reactions from prominent NFL running backs about what the extra bulk could do to Peterson (lost speed, knee injuries) if he followed through and packed on the pounds.

And then he didn't.

When Peterson reported for training camp last week, he tipped the scales at 220, three pounds heavier than his playing weight last season. All the fuss was dedicated to extra junk that never made its way to AP's trunk.

Peterson said he learned his lesson: "Never talk about my weight, because it'll be something you hear about the whole summer," he told reporters at camp last Friday.

If he meant that, he missed the point. The real lesson here is that with a few choice words, a media-savvy star can reel in a boatload of offseason attention without lifting a finger.

The remark that started the whole ordeal—"God willing, I will get to 225, 230"—was a throwaway line. It was nonsense. It was fantasy. It was a daydream (Gosh, I wonder what it'd be like out there if I was a real big guy...) that Peterson happened to voice aloud.

He wasn't going to get to 230. That's bulldozer territory—Shaun Alexander, Fred Taylor, Deuce McAllister. If Peterson had rolled into Mankato looking like any of those guys, Childress would have had a heart attack.

He wasn't going to get to 225. Look at the man. Where are those extra pounds gonna go? Unless he borrows a page from the Pat Williams book of nutrition, he's carrying about as much punishment as his frame will allow.

None of that mattered. In the absence of actual Vikings storylines over the summer, weighing the pros and cons of a beefier Adrian Peterson was terrific fodder for football pundits.

His "goal" of playing at 230 was enough of a stretch to be easy to criticize, but not quite outlandish enough to dismiss as absurd. It was simple enough to market for public consumption, and specific enough to throw a smidgen of analysis into the equation.

Feasible or otherwise, real or not, it's a softball of a topic that provides an easy fix for all those maniacs determined to keep football in the spotlight year-round.

Adrian, you don't need to learn to avoid dispensing these kinds of innocuous verbal gems. You need to learn to keep them coming.

Tell us you hope to catch 50 passes next year. Tell us you're aiming for 3,000 all-purpose yards. Tell us you want you throw five or six touchdowns out of the Wildcat. Tell us you're going to grow an 18-inch 'fro, "just to see how it feels."

Are any of those things going to happen? Nope. But if you don't think about them too hard, they sound like things that could happen. They sound just legitimate enough to write about—and make no mistake, we'll write about them.

You don't have to mean any of it. You just need to say it. Just put it out there and let a few media types run with it.

Will these kind of proclamations be the kind of thing "you hear about the whole summer?" You bet they will. And that's a good thing.

We get a few story ideas to tide us over until August. You get column inches dedicated to you and to the Vikings during a stretch on the calendar when football has no business being in the news.

There may be other ways to get that kind of attention—get a DUI, shoot yourself in the leg—but in terms of return on your investment, it doesn't get much cheaper than a passing statement about a made-up aspiration.

If you need to see how it's done, look no further than Shaquille O'Neal, the master of non-information himself.

Last September, Shaq-fu told us he was going to retire in exactly 735 days (never mind that that number would put the end of his career right at the start of the 2010 season). He told us Amar'e Stoudemire's new nickname was "Sun Tzu," and even let an Arizona Republic beat writer pick the moniker (never mind that nobody in their right mind has called Stoudemire that since).

He's not talking to make a point. He's not talking to make a difference. He's just talking to talk.

It's a gift, really. So keep talking, Adrian Peterson. We promise we'll listen.

Even if it turns out you're not really saying anything.

For more on the Vikings, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.