Not only were the words themselves shocking, but the source of those words made them even more so because of the weight of Curtis Martin’s own staggering accomplishments.
“To me, as far as God-given ability, Adrian Peterson has more than anyone I’ve ever seen play running back,’’ Jim Brown’s chess partner and the fourth leading rusher in NFL history said recently during a visit to his old stomping grounds (literally) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
Martin only spent three seasons in New England before moving on to the Jets, but during those years he set the tone for what would become a Hall of Fame career that would end with him rushing for 14,101 yards.
That being the case, one cannot simply dismiss his opinion on the Vikings’ bull of a running back, who, after being held to 86 yards by the Texans last Sunday, needs to pile up 208 in this weekend’s season finale with the Packers to break Eric Dickerson’s all-time single-season rushing mark of 2,105 yards. He needs 102 yards to become the seventh rusher in NFL history to cross the 2,000-yard threshold in a season.
To hear anyone’s name in the same sentence as Jim Brown’s when the subject is running the football is difficult for those of us who watched Brown dominate the NFL for nine remarkable seasons in which he averaged 104.3 yards per game and never missed one of them. Admittedly, he didn’t get tackled that often — because who could bring him down? — but what he did toting a football became and remains the gold standard by which all future running backs must be measured.
No one had to tell that to Martin, who considers Brown a friend and a kindred spirit when it comes to The Warrior’s Code all successful running backs must accept: no gains without pains. Yet, when this is pointed out, Martin smiles the knowing smile of an expert in the art of moving the football.
“I’m talking in the history of the NFL, not just in this era,’’ Martin said of Peterson. “I believe he’s that guy. Adrian Peterson is the type of talent that, even if his career ended with the injury last year, he’d make it into the Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know any other back with his elusiveness combined with his speed, his power, with his durability. He may not have the best career of any running back, but I think he’s probably the most talented there is.
“Adrian Peterson’s ability performs well in any era. You can take it back to the 1930s. He can play in Jim Brown’s era and he can play today. I didn’t watch Jim Brown, but I don’t think Jim Brown had his quickness and speed. Jim Brown in his era was exceptionally powerful. I’ll always think that Jim Brown and Barry Sanders were the greatest running backs ever, but I put Adrian Peterson in that category.”
Whatever category that is, it’s a small one he rumbled his way into this season after blowing out the ACL and MCL in his left knee on Christmas Eve a year ago. At the time, it seemed unlikely he’d be back this year, but he not only has returned, he has played with a fierce intensity, a man driven to prove he can outrun not only defenses but even surgeons’ scalpels.
What is most remarkable is that Peterson plays in an offense that throws as if it’s 1963, not 2012. Everyone within three counties of whatever stadium the Vikings are in knows who is going to get the ball most of the time and still no one has stopped him.
The Texans came the closest, limiting him to 86 yards on 25 carries, a paltry 3.4 yards per rush, after gaining 6.3 yards per carry and 129.4 yards per game going into that contest with Houston. Such numbers are, hate to admit it, Jim Brown-like.
Now, when you average more than 100 yards per game for your career (as Brown did at 104.3 per game), it’s going to take someone special to be his equal. Adrian Peterson might not yet be that, but one thing is sure — like Curtis Martin, Adrian Peterson is at least Brown’s peer.