It happens every now and then. You know, when you have that epiphany. When your life changes because you've seen someone do something during a game that you knew was going to change lives. When you saw the future of a sport.
They say in life you are lucky if you have five moments like this. In my life I've already had my five. My first was in 1974 when N.C. State's David Thompson got his foot caught on a teammate's shoulder during the NCAA tournament. He flipped, fell and cracked his skull open and was on the court unconscious for five minutes only to come back 15 stitches later in the second-half of the game looking like he'd battled on Iwo Jima. And even though he didn't play again in that game, in the Final Four he helped snap UCLA's six-year reign as national champions on the way to the title -- he even picked up the Most Outstanding Player award. I knew at that moment that I'd seen the future of the game.
I knew it when I saw Walter Payton rush for 275 yards in a game. I knew it when I saw J.R. Richard pitch while he was in high school. I knew it the first time I saw Jerry Rice at Mississippi Valley State. I knew it when I saw Allen Iverson score 61 points in the second-half of a summer league game while he was still a freshman at Georgetown.
Three years ago I thought I had one of those moments while watching a University of Oklahoma football game. I saw a freshman running back dissect a defense like Thomas Keller does an egg, run through linemen like Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum runs through money. Then I realized that wasn't one of those moments, that was just a reincarnation of Billy Sims.
But that moment that I thought I had in 2004, finally came yesterday: I saw Adrian Peterson again for the very first time.
Minnesota Vikings rookie Peterson rushed for 224 yards. Two-hundred twenty-four yards. A rookie. In the NFL. Against a Chicago Bears defense (albeit not 100 percent or fully staffed) that carried the team to the Super Bowl nine months ago. And that's not including the 53-yard Devin Hester impersonation Peterson pulled off on a kickoff return that gave his team the field position it needed to kick the game-winning field goal as time expired.
On a day when we all saw New England separate itself from every other team in the NFL (including the Colts) and begin its quest to become (seriously, no bull) the new 1972 Miami Dolphins, and on a day when we all saw the Colorado Rockies become America's team by winning games in ways and at a pace none of us have ever seen in baseball this late into October before, this young kid, 22 years old, from Palestine, Texas is about to live past the "Next" title he was given by ESPN The Magazine two years ago. Peterson is on his way to having a greater impact on his sport than the Pats and Rocks will have in theirs.
My eyes have seen the glory.
And apparently, I wasn't alone. Keith Olbermann had the same moment, saying, "If we had to show you all of the Adrian Peterson highlights we'd be here until Thursday."
"He's the best player to come into this league since LaDainian Tomlinson," Daryl Johnston said during the broadcast on Fox. "At the beginning we said he was special ... and he's making the Bear fans go home early."
"He's a very special player," Darrell Bevell, Vikings offensive coordinator said, having had his share of "moments" since the day training camp opened. "He's got special talent. He has that great combination of physicalness but yet speed to take it the distance, and I think he showed all that today."
They've seen the glory too.
If he wasn't real, I'd think he was Xbox'd. One hundred three yards in his first game as a pro ... off the bench. One hundred fifty yards against the Chiefs in Week 3. In Week 4 against the Packers -- 112 yards (on only 12 carries and 108 of those yards came in the first half before the coach stopped giving him the ball in the second half). The third highest total yards by one person (361) in a game in NFL history Sunday.
I saw this coming three years ago, but slept on it. I let the injuries in his sophomore and junior years influence my belief, so I thought I didn't see what I had seen. Now I know. Let's just call this the Awakening. Let's just call him Lord Finesse.
But he calls himself AD, as in All Day. That's 24/7 with a number 28 on his back. The new Eric Dickerson, the next Barry Sanders, the better LTII? The moment was strong.
In that 2005 "next" issue Gene Wojciechowski called him a "true prodigy." Well, prodigies don't always come to fruition. Sometimes our eyes see the glory that isn't really there. Those who knew about this prodigy, knew early. Me? It took me longer. But what I just witnessed was nothing faux and barring serious injury in the next 10 years, the beginning of a change in the game.
I saw the future of football. I'm lucky, I had moment No. 6.