The tire didn't budge. Peterson reluctantly lowered the car. Finally, they called the truck.
"He has such a unique combination of Southern humility and Texas low-key charm, but it's backed with a fierce, fierce pride," says Bill Henkel, who represents Peterson at 10 Sports Marketing. "Sometimes it takes him two hours to get dressed. I tell him all the time, 'If I had a body like that, I wouldn't own a shirt.'"
Peterson's pride is most evident on game days and on the practice field, where he and rookie Percy Harvin take turns trying to prove who is Minnesota's fastest player. (Rice says some days it's Peterson, others it's Harvin—so Bolt has two Vikings to worry about.) Coach Brad Childress has had to chase Peterson out of the huddle when he tries to sneak in extra reps.
"He's one of those guys that you have to slow down and pull him by the belt loop and say, Whoa!" Childress says. "He's leaps and bounds over where he was in Year One. He's developed patience, knowing how to put people on our offensive line's blocks. There are plenty of backs who can get you that five yards, but when you've got it blocked exactly, can they get 15 to 20? Are they able to go all the way to the house?"
After making the Pro Bowl in his first two seasons, Peterson's profile couldn't help but grow. As a rookie he ran for 1,341 yards and logged a busy itinerary of travel and appearances. This past off-season, after rushing for 1,760 yards, he mostly split his training time between the Twin Cities and his native Texas, and cut down on his nonfootball activities.
The exceptions were a handful of trips out West, including to Las Vegas for Tiger Jam XII, Tiger Woods's charity event, and Los Angeles for a Nike commercial shoot. But his most meaningful stop was at the L.A. home of Jim Brown, who had invited him over to discuss their craft for a piece in the Sporting News. Also present was Peterson's father, Nelson, who spent eight years in federal prison on money-laundering charges before his release in October 2006, during Peterson's junior year at Oklahoma.
"When his dad left, it really affected Adrian, not having him around," says Smith. "Now they can do things together, and he's better for it." Peterson calls the trip to visit Brown a blessing, for reasons greater than Brown's anointing him as the best running back in football. "My dad watched Jim Brown play," he says.
Peterson got his 25th and final carry against the Browns with a little more than six minutes left and Minnesota leading by two touchdowns. Starting eight yards behind the line of scrimmage at the Vikings' 36, Peterson took a handoff from Favre and shot the left-side gap between tackle and guard. He shook off Browns free safety Brodney Pool with a head-and-shoulder fake and glided to the left. Then, in a blink, his feet stopped near the sideline at the Browns' 41 as he tossed cornerback Eric Wright out-of-bounds with the heel of his gloved right hand.
"I was right behind him, and I saw him grab [Wright] by the head," says Rice. "It was like he just redid that Nike Pro Combat commercial."
Cornerback Brandon McDonald had two shots to bring Peterson down as his legs started churning again, but Peterson separated himself with a stiff arm at the 36. From there he streaked into the end zone. Says Favre, who has been in the NFL since 1991, "I haven't played with a running back like that."