EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson has just heard a derivation of the "30-year-old" running back question for roughly the four-millionth time, but politely answers the question as if it were the first time he’d heard it.
But at 31, Peterson is a marvel of genetics. He doesn’t look at all slower or worn down from his years in the NFL. He has rushed for at least 1,200 yards in seven of his nine seasons and is coming off a league-leading 1,485 yards in 2015...at age 30.
In keeping with that theme, his teammates and coaches don’t sense that he has diminished at all.
"He doesn’t run any slower, see the field any less, doesn’t run with any less power," said coach Mike Zimmer, who also doesn’t even dream about wasting one of the greatest runners in NFL history in the preseason.
Peterson talked with Bleacher Report recently.
Bleacher Report: So how many times have you been asked the question about being an over-30 running back?
Adrian Peterson: Too many times.
B/R: So you have the automatic response for that one?
AP: Not really. I think it's always a little different, but it is what it is to me. I know that people have their own opinions and they look at what the norm is for people. I look at age as just being a number. In my mind my age is still 28 and I think I have to remember how old I am.
B/R: Me too.
AP: (Laughs) But for me it's really mind over matter. I go out and put in a load during the offseason so I know what I'm going to be able to do, as long as I stay healthy, when it comes time for the season.
B/R: I don't want to take you too far down this path, but this question is related to something from fantasy football. The year you were coming back from your knee injury (2012), I think I took you in a second round of the draft. It was in an analysts draft, so everybody is asking about everybody's pick. They asked me why I took you so high in the draft and I said I always take guys who have the mental capacity and toughness to overcome things. So to me you are one of those rare athletes who is able to mentally focus over whatever obstacle, and age would be that latest one. Explain that process.
AP: It comes with a lot of work, and then there's guys that come before me that I'm able to look at and inspire me as well. I got a guy on the team now, [cornerback] Terence Newman; he's 37 now and he's been doing it for a long time. You look at Ray Lewis, you look at Brett Favre. I know it's different positions, but you think about the mental mindset it takes to continue to grind and play at a high level. Those are the guys that I look at that motivate me.
It's all about mind over matter. Each summer when I'm down in Houston working out, we always have young guys come in. For instance, this year there's [Chargers running back] Melvin Gordon and a lot of other young guys that came down to Houston to work out and to see where you're at. There hasn't been an offseason yet where I wasn’t the top guy in all the testing.
To me, when you got a 20-year-old running back or 21-year-old receiver that's just coming out of college and you're out working these guys, age really don't matter. So it's easy for me to see what it is. People say it’s all about age, but to me, it's mind over matter.
B/R: Walter Payton had this drill where he used to run up and down riverbanks back in Mississippi where he grew up. Did you have something like that that you do that's a ritual kind of thing?
AP: Yeah, hills. Hill workouts is my ritual.
B/R: Hills like this one next to the Vikings facility (which is roughly a 25-degree angle)?
AP: Yeah, a little steeper. The one that I have in my gym is just a 30-degree incline and I do all types of exercises and stuff. I do cuts, I do jumps with dumbbells, I do the hill, backpedals, side shuffles, of course sprints, all that stuff. The hill is something that I love, love, love to do and I do it every year.
B/R: And how many times do you hit that hill?
AP: It really depends, maybe once or twice a week. It depends on the load that we have for that week. The type of work I do is more like CrossFit, so I do track workouts, and I do boxing workouts. So it's a lot of different things that I do. I don't want to overload the body too much, but when we do the hill, it's not like workouts. When we finish, we are probably at 50 to 70 reps on the hill.
B/R: And that wears your body out pretty well?
AP: Yeah, that can get you.
B/R: You have not shied away from contact during your career. I once made a comment that I thought Marshawn Lynch was the best at getting nasty yards in the league, and then Vikings fans descended upon me and ripped me. I had to admit I was wrong. But that's part of the mentality too, right?
AP: Yeah, it's definitely part of the mentality. You want to be able to leave your opponent with that mindset that this guy is not going to avoid (contact). That kind of plays with their mind a little bit. They know that they got a physical back, not just a guy that's trying to get around them. They don't know what you're going to do. They don't know if you're going to run them over or if you're going to run around them, try to shake them. So that's why I continue to play the way I play.
B/R: You have to leave a mark on somebody?
AP: Oh yeah, definitely.
B/R: Make them know that they are going to get punished?
AP: Yeah. Then they may not get punished—I might just get around them—but just to have it in their mind that you will do it is satisfying.
B/R: So that they've got happy feet?
AP: Exactly, keep them guessing.
B/R: Tell me about playing for Zimmer. He seems to have really kind of sparked you.
AP: Yeah, he has. He's that high school coach that you always miss. You hear from somebody, "Oh, I miss how high school football was." He brings that tempo, mindset and attitude to what he does. It's just on a professional level.
So just really having that chemistry with his players, being able to relate and talk that language and just genuinely caring about his guys, even when he's ripping you, you know that he's telling you what's best, whether you like it or not. You are able to sit back and say, "You know what, he's right." You respect that. There's not a lot of coaches out there like that. So I think that's why he has the control and the connection with the guys on this team.
B/R: He has a special appreciation for language, too, I've been told?
AP: Yeah, he's not that guy who just F you and just cuss you out. He knows how to give it to you.
B/R: But he will cuss occasionally?
AP: Yeah, he will.
B/R: If you could trade one season of your career for a championship, would you do it? If somebody said you get to play one less season but you get a championship, do you do it?
AP: One less season? Yeah, I would do that. Forget all the other records, I would do that for sure.
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B/R: With Teddy Bridgewater, what's going to take him the rest of the way in your opinion?
AP: What's going to take him? Just the guys up front being able to protect him. You give Teddy time, he's going to make good decisions. He's a heck of a quarterback, small guy. I think the most important thing is giving him the time he needs up front.
B/R: The four additional players who were named in the Al-Jazeera investigation (James Harrison, Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and Mike Neal—Peyton Manning was originally named and cleared as well) have to deal with Commissioner Roger Goodell right now. They're in a big fight. You went through your deal with the commissioner. What advice would you give them?
AP: I would say this, just to follow your heart. At the end of the day, it's hard to win against the NFL. It's a billion-dollar business, it's hard to win against it. They can manipulate a lot of different things. They can pull strings, they know people. At the end of the day, nine times out of 10, they are going to win.
But to be able to have that self-respect for yourself and just that feeling of, OK, I did what I could, just stay true to yourself, man. If you feel that this is something that's valid and you should go out there and win, then push through it no matter what the outcome is. Just know that nine times out of 10 that no matter whether you were right or you were wrong, the NFL is a business, man.
B/R: How difficult was all of that to deal with?
AP: It was a little distracting, but I was also—but it's not like I had to throw the football and deal with that as well. It was more disheartening, to be honest with you, just to kind of see how the National Football League really is.
B/R: To me, there was an important parenting lesson in this for you. Did the punishment and the fight over the punishment distort the more important point in all of this?
AP: Oh no, not at all. The punishment was what it was. I feel like it really shouldn't have went into my job. I don't know any other job that the off-the-field issues—especially something personal like that—affects your job. But as far as the parenting lesson, no (I understood that). To me it was so simple, it was a situation where I disciplined my child and it didn't turn out the way I wanted.
People have to see it for what it is, but they would be so shocked to know two simple things that I just really never shared with anyone, but I spank my child at times. He didn't move a muscle, not one inch, and he didn't drop one tear. I tell you that and you are probably like, "Wow, how is that even possible?" But little details like that is not what people are able to see, and that makes the world of difference to the outcome of the situation.
So for me, I realize that, hey, it went overboard a little bit and it was because I didn't see what was happening to him. But I understand that, and I understand that my son loves me and I love him, and everything just really got blown out of proportion, and I'm OK with that. I'm still here. My son is around me all the time. At the end of the day he still loves me and I love him, so it is what it is.