The Greatest Accomplishment in the History of Sports


Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings face the Houston Texans tomorrow in a week 16 road game.  The Vikings (8-6) are in contention for an NFC wildcard spot.

Credit our defensive for playing above average by Viking’s standards.

But the real story here is Adrian Peterson.  All Day leads the league with 1,812 rushing yards through 14 games.  Other top running backs closely trail AP with 1,379, 1,322 and 1,313 yards, respectively.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Peterson is 188 yards shy of being the 7th running back ever to join the single season 2,000 rushing yard club.  AP trails Eric Dickerson’s [1984] all-time single season rushing record of 2,105 yards by 293 yards.

To accomplish this feat in the current era of the NFL – an era where league rules and optimal strategies advocate throwing 60 passes per game – further highlights Adrian’s talent and work ethic.

To accomplish this feat with an incompetent quarterback, currently last among starters with 5.9 passing yards per attempt, highlights Adrian’s physicality. (Note: 909 rushing yards after initial contact)

First play of the game vs Chicago (week 13).  Count the Bears in the box.

Adrian Peterson Bears

Yet Adrian still goes off for 51 yards.

Video: AP v Bears 51 yards

To accomplish this feat eight months after tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee is incomparable to any other feat in sports. 

When a football player tears an ACL, the question isn’t when he will recover but if he will ever compete at a high level again.  Many ACL injuries are career ending.  This is more relevant to running backs than many other positions due to the amount of stress on the knee ligaments when making cuts or other lateral movements.

To understand the gravity of this comeback, let’s look at running back performance the year following ACL injury.

Player Year Before Injury Year After Injury Team Rush Yards
Curt Warner 1983 Sea 1449
1985 Sea 1094
Terry Allen 1992 MIN 1201
1994 MIN 1031
Jamal Anderson 1994 ATL 1846
1996 ATL 1024
Terrell Davis 1998 DEN 2008
2000 DEN 282
Robert Edwards 1998 NWE 1115
2002 MIA 107
Olandis Gary 1999 DEN 1159
2001 DEN 228
Edgerrin James 2000 IND 1709
2002 IND 989
Jamal Lewis 2000 BAL 1364
2002 BAL 1327
Dominic Rhodes 2001 IND 1104
2003 IND 157
Deuce McAllister 2001 NOR 1074
2003 NOR 1057
LaMont Jordan 2005 OAK 1025
2007 OAK 549
Ronnie Brown 2006 MIA 1008
2008 MIA 946
Deuce McAllister 2006 NOR 1057
2008 NOR 418
Cadillac Williams 2006 TAM 798
2008 TAM 233
Kevin Smith 2008 DET 976
2010 DET 133
(2012 Stats through 14   games)
Jamaal Charles 2010 KC 1467
2012 KC 1230
Tim Hightower 2010 WAS 736
2012 NA 0
Rashard Mendenhall 2010 PIT 1273
2012 PIT 113
Knowshon Moreno 2010 DEN 779
2012 DEN 406
Adrian Peterson 2010 MIN 1298
2012 MIN 1812



The majority of guys struggle mightily the year following injury.  There are a few impressive post-ACL seasons noted above; however, these players had ~25-35% more recovery time than Adrian who blew out his knee late in the 2011 season (12/24/2011).

Peterson is within reach of the record most directly correlated with success at his position the season after major knee surgery.  I struggle to comprehend this accomplishment as I type about it.

Adrian runs over William Gay (just because):

It may be an exaggeration to call this the greatest accomplishment in sports history.  Individual vs. Team accomplishments are difficult to measure side by side.  Dynastys like the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s or Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s come to mind.

Accomplishments that changed society for the better – like Jackie Robinson breaking the baseball color line debuting for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 – seem to be on a level of their own.

But to be in reach of the all time rushing record in a passing league, playing on an otherwise abysmal offense (from qb to coordinator) and 8 months off major knee surgery certainly warrants the debate.

Disclosure: Adrian is my favorite player of all time.

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