In the NFL right now, there is not a better Running Back than the Minnesota Vikings Adrian Peterson. The Key for the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday is that they have to stop him if they want to win the game. They cannot allow him to do what Calvin Johnson did last week for the Lions, namely gash the Defense for huge chunks of yardage that puts the opponent in a position to win.
In my inaugural article for The Football Educator I thought I would talk a lot about legendary RBs and how they can change the game. There’s an old saying that recently has been applied to the Vikings as it pertains to Quarterbacks. “If you’ve got three, then you really don’t have one.” The Vikings have been iffy on whether they were going to start, Josh Freeman their newly acquired former Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise hope, Christian Ponder, their own former franchise hope, or Matt Cassell, the only QB on their roster I really didn’t want to face this week.
I first heard that comment about not having one about RBs. It doesn’t work in today’s NFL because almost all teams have a RB by committee approach in today’s specialized game. Virtually every team has a primary back, but many of them also have a goal line back, or a 3rd down back, and very few teams still run from the I formation with a true Fullback as the lead in the I with the RB dotting the I. I am a former FB and I long for that position to cycle back into popularity in the NFL as most things do happen in cycles.
Well, the Vikings are different than most teams because they do keep a true FB in their game plans, and quite frankly Adrian Peterson is special. He is quite simply the best RB in the NFL even though he is not currently leading the NFL in rushing. If you stop him, you have a chance of stopping the Vikings. Adrian Peterson has recently made news by talking not about himself, but about a legendary Dallas Cowboys RB named Emmitt Smith.
Peterson is a Texas born kid who grew up watching Emmitt Smith run for the Cowboys and set the NFL record for rushing yardage. He wants to be the RB to break that record. I don’t think he can, and I will defend that belief later in this article. First of all, you have to mention how close he was last year to breaking Eric Dickerson’s NFL record for rushing yards in a single season. In 1984 Dickerson followed the Rams Offensive Line to 2105 yards rushing to set the new standard in the NFL. He was the second RB to eclipse 2000 yards in a single season. Peterson was the 7th.
This feat was also accomplished by Jamal Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens, Barry Sanders of the Detroit Lions, Terrell Davis of the Denver Broncos, and Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. You counted 6 right? I forgot one? No, I wanted to highlight one.
The first to ever accomplish this feat was O.J. Simpson of the Buffalo Bills in 1973. No matter what you think of O.J. you should know this, he owns the true NFL record because he is the only guy to do it in a 14 game NFL schedule instead of a 16 game NFL schedule. O.J. averaged over 143 yards per game in 1973 when he set this mark. By comparison last year when Adrian Peterson fell 8 yards short of Dickerson’s record he averaged just over 131 yards per game. If O.J. had had a 16 game schedule and kept up his pace the record would have been 2289 yards rushing. That is 184 yards ahead of Dickerson’s record.
The all time professional football mark for rushing yardage in a single season isn’t recognized as an NFL record. In 1985 Herschel Walker, playing in the USFL for the New Jersey Generals, rushed for an amazing 2411 yards in a single season. No matter what you think of the USFL, that mark is remarkable. Ah, but one caveat belongs here too. The USFL had an 18 game schedule. This means Herschel averaged 133 yards per game, which would put him ahead of Dickerson’s NFL record pace, but still behind O.J.’s pre-infamy pace. If O.J. had 18 games to run in 1973 and kept up his pace he would have gone for 2575 yards.
Ah, Herschel Walker, one of my all time favorite players. I like mixing in personal experiences with my articles, so if you will excuse me I am going to do that here. In 1989 everything about the Dallas Cowboys changed. Jerry Jones bought the team from Bum Bright, who in my not so humble opinion was the worst thing to ever happen to this team. Tom Landry got fired and Jimmy Johnson came in as the 2nd Head Coach in Dallas Cowboys History.
In 1989 the Cowboys were awful. I remember thinking two things, “Tom Landry would have won more games,” and “Troy Aikman is going to be a great QB.” I thought that even though he did not win any of the 11 games he started in 1989. The guy just had “it,” and it was obvious.
Herschel Walker was my favorite player on the Cowboys at that time. I remember watching him at the University of Georgia and hoping he would one day be a Dallas Cowboy. I got that wish. You can argue all you want over who had more to do with the success of the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990’s, Jimmy Johnson or Jerry Jones. I personally think it might belong to the late Mike Lynn, General Manager of the Vikings at that time.
In 1989 Lynn traded a slew of players and Draft picks to the Cowboys for Herschel. I was broken hearted. I also am greedy when it comes to the Draft. One day in 1989, after the trade, I was on my motorcycle at a traffic light in Tucson, Arizona. I had on my Herschel Walker jersey. Next to me was a car full of guys and their windows were down. The guy in the back driver’s side asked me, “Did you buy that jersey on sale?” I laughed with them. You’ve got to laugh right? While we waited for the light to turn green they opined about how Herschel was the final piece of the Vikings Super Bowl puzzle. Turns out he wasn’t their final piece. He was the Cowboys beginning piece.
In fact, Herschel was somewhat of a flop for the Vikings. He never even broke 1000 yards rushing there, mostly because they did not use him in the aforementioned I formation. The Vikings got blown out in the Playoffs by the San Francisco 49ers, and in subsequent years the Vikings stunk and let Walker go off to the Eagles and eventually back to the Cowboys where he was primarily a Return Specialist. I always wished we had brought him back in 1995 so he could have earned a Super Bowl ring. In my opinion he nearly earned one while not even in a Cowboys uniform.
In that trade with the Vikings Jimmy Johnson has often said, you can’t follow all that happened in that trade. Mostly that is because the Cowboys even traded the Draft picks they acquired to trade for more picks. I read one time that 18 players ended up being involved in that trade. Thanks to Wikipedia, which actually has a piece on this trade, I am going to try and share all that happened in the deal.
The Vikings received Herschel Walker, the Cowboys 3rd round picks in 1990 and 1991, a 10th round pick in 1990, and a 1990 5th round pick that the Cowboys acquired from the San Diego Chargers for Darrin Nelson, who refused to play for Dallas after being the Vikings primary RB. The only player who ever sort of panned out for the Vikings was the player they selected in 1991 with the Cowboys 3rd round pick, Wide Receiver Jake Reed.
So Dallas received Darrin Nelson, who as mentioned was promptly sent to the Chargers, Defensive End Alex Stewart, Linebackers Jesse Solomon and David Howard, Cornerback Isaac Holt, and then a plethora of Draft picks. Here they are, the Vikings 1st round picks in 1990, 1991, and 1993. The 1990 pick and a 3rd were used to trade with Pittsburgh to select Emmitt Smith. The 1991 pick turned out to be Alvin Harper. The 1993 pick was later traded to the Eagles. I could not find reference of who the Cowboys received and I can’t seem to remember either. They received the Vikings 1990, 1991 and 1992 2nd round picks who turned out to be Alexander Wright, Dixon Edwards, and Darren Woodson. The Vikings 1992 3rd round pick which ended up traded to New England and once again I can’t find reference as to whom Dallas got in that trade. And the Vikings 6th round pick in 1990 which was traded to New Orleans possibly as part of the Steve Walsh deal. I do know that the Cowboys ended up with Russell Maryland in these numerous deals.
Emmitt, Woodson, Harper, Edwards, and Maryland all played key roles in the Cowboys rise to dominance in the 1990’s. I want to focus for a minute on Emmitt and defend my earlier contention that Adrian Peterson will not catch Emmitt Smith’s NFL rushing record. Emmitt stands alone at 18,355 yards. Peterson is just over halfway there at 9420 yards. He is nearing 30 years old and RBs tend to decline rapidly once they hit that plateau age. In fact, the last RB who people believed had a shot at Emmitt’s mark was LaDainian Tomlinson. He fell 4671 yards shy of the mark he once aspired to like Peterson does.
To really get a true grasp of how high Peterson’s sights are set, he is 28. When Emmitt finished his season in 1997, when he was 28, he had amassed 11,234 yards rushing. If you give Peterson his current pace in 2013 he will end up with 10,154 yards. That is a remarkable number, but it is also 1080 yards shy of Emmitt’s pace. Both players began their NFL careers at the age of 22, so these are virtually identical players in terms of current projections. The difference is what Emmitt did after the age of 30, and Peterson is not yet there.
In fact, only Emmitt Smith and Marcus Allen have ever had the kind of production after 30 that I am about to discuss with you. After the age of 30 Emmitt Smith gained 4392 yards to finish out his career. Marcus Allen amassed 4286 yards after he turned 30. To put this in perspective, let’s take the greatest RB of all time, in my opinion, the late Walter Payton and show his numbers after 30. He gained 3417 yards after that age. LaDainian Tomlinson was a great RB. He gained 1194 yards after the age of 30.
Maybe Peterson is an Emmitt or a Marcus and can equal what they did. I need to see it before I believe it. Lastly in talking about RBs and these 2 teams I feel the need to talk about a favorite football memory of mine. It happened to be the last game of the 1982 season, and the first ever January regular season game for the Dallas Cowboys. The game was the last game of 1982 as the Cowboys traveled to Minnesota to face the Vikings.
That was the year of the player strike that wiped out 7 NFL games. Divisions were done away with and the playoffs were determined by Conference standings. Dallas was 6-2 and win or lose was guaranteed to be the #2 seed in the NFC that year. They weren’t playing so well in the game. I was on college break and was home in my Mom’s living room watching the game. I had a big bowl of homemade buttered popcorn in my lap and I was sitting in a chair right under a potted fern that happened to be my Mom’s favorite plant.
My Mom was not a Cowboys fan. She was born and raised near St. Louis, Missouri so she was a Cardinals fan, but she had also really liked Fran Tarkenton of the Vikings. He was retired by then but she was still pulling for the Vikings. It was the 4th quarter and the Cowboys were behind in the game and then a Vikings punt pinned them inside their own 1 yard line. My Mom commented, “Not looking so good for your Cowboys.” I replied to her, “No worries, Tony Dorsett is going to break the NFL record for longest rushing touchdown in NFL history.”
I had a reason for confidence in Tony Dorsett. In his Cowboys career, when he rushed for over 100 yards, they were nearly unbeatable. 39-4 in fact. Alas, one of the losses would be that game. I did not know then but Dallas only had 10 men on the field. Ron Springs, Tony’s Lead Blocker on the play, failed to report. Tony took the handoff from Danny White and hit the hole between the Center and the Left Guard. Tom Rafferty and Herb Scott stunted on the play and Tony went past the Line of Scrimmage like a bullet. At the 15 yard line Dorsett made a hard cut to his right and broke the first potential tackler. At the 20 yard line the MNF announcer said he was gone.
I sprang up out of my chair and sent the popcorn flying all over my Mom’s living room. My raised right hand also hit her beloved plant and sent it flying in every possible direction. I did not even see the finish of the play live because I was mortified that I had destroyed my Mom’s favorite plant and her living room. There was popcorn and fern everywhere, including hanging all over me. Then I heard something wonderful. It was my Mom laughing. I turned around and she was nearly horizontal on the couch and she was laughing so hard she had tears in her eyes. She wasn’t even mad that I destroyed that plant because she said I looked so stupid.
I told that story at my Mom’s funeral a little over two years ago and got quite a few laughs. She would have loved that. It remains a very precious memory to me. Tony Dorsett broke a 2nd hand tackle at about the 20 yard line and scored on the longest play from scrimmage in NFL history, officially listed as 99 yards. No RB has ever equaled it and very few QBs and WRs have on pass plays either. None will ever do it with only 10 men on the field, and none will ever mean as much to me as that one did. The key is to stop Adrian Peterson. That is what the Cowboys have to do. It is what teams always have to do against teams with great RBs as I have discussed in this piece. Enjoy the game, and Go Cowboys!