SI.com's Adam Hofstetter spent a day last week with top NFL Draft prospects, Adrian Peterson and Brady Quinn. Below is a recap of his time with Peterson. Check back tomorrow for a story on Quinn.
To the executives of whichever NFL team drafts Oklahoma running back Adrian Peterson next weekend, I offer the following words of caution: when you shake his hand for the photo op, it's going to hurt. A lot.
I found that out the hard way last Wednesday, when I met Peterson and Brady Quinn while they were in New York to promote a mobile phone provider.
My assignment was simple: tail two of the world's most talented, most accomplished, and yet most unproven football players in the country through their day of seemingly endless interviews and appearances.
New York was the umpteenth stop for both men in their separate, weeks-long, whirlwind tours of the country to meet with officials from various teams trying to figure out whom to draft next weekend. Quinn was still working out for most of the teams he was visiting, while Peterson had already performed at the combine and was, in his words, "just going to meet the coaches and get a better vibe with them."
But Wednesday was media day for these two. In fact, by the time I met up with him at about 9:30 a.m., Peterson had already done a couple of phone interviews. He had several more interviews scheduled throughout the morning, followed by a noon press conference, a 12:30 Internet chat, and a press lunch before heading back to the airport. Somewhere between the press conference, the chat, and lunch, Peterson would also be meeting with three very lucky fifth-graders who were there to interview him and Quinn for the weekly kids' section of New York's Newsday. With all the travel and the early morning start, the notoriously late riser who compares his sleep to hibernation was lucky to know what city he was in.
Quinn's schedule was remarkably similar, though he got an even earlier start; he claimed in one interview to have been working out in his hotel's gym before 6 a.m. Their divergent morning habits are hardly the only difference between the two men. Still, both of them spoke about the anxiousness of not knowing where they'll live and work for the next four years, about their eagerness to test themselves against the NFL's best, about using a chunk of their signing bonuses to take care of their parents, and about their appreciation of the position they're in right now.
Despite Quinn's notable polish and ease with the media, it was Peterson who ended up revealing much more of himself to me. He talked about his 2-year-old daughter, and how she's been keeping him up nights by shaking her bottle over him and dripping milk on his face -- payback, he says, for when he was a kid and his mother nicknamed him All Day for his endless energy. He insisted that he doesn't have any end-zone dances planned for his first NFL touchdown, though he joked about dropping a little pop-locking or maybe the Robot. He told me about his love of seafood and his distaste for rare steak (further evidenced when he reluctantly sent his back to the kitchen at lunch). He said that he'll miss the camaraderie of dorming with his college teammates, and that he won't mind too much if his new veteran teammates make him shave his head as part of his rookie hazing. He spoke of his closeness to both of his parents and his grandmother, and mentioned that after he spends some of his signing bonus to set them up he's planning to spoil himself with a Bentley and maybe a new house in whatever city he'll be living in.
One clear benefit of Peterson's relationship with his family is that he couldn't possibly be much more polite. Throughout the day he opened doors for people, and he even apologized for interrupting me to ask his agent a question. Unfortunately for everyone, Peterson's politeness included offering a handshake to everyone he met throughout the day, including the three Newsday kids. The NFL could certainly use a guy who has good manners. Heck, the NFL could use a guy who has a clean record.
Luckily for the league, Peterson is about as clean as they come. It's exactly that type of behavior that has helped him score endorsement deals with Sprint and Nike. And it isn't by accident, either. At the press conference, Peterson explained that the NFL's suspension of Adam "Pacman" Jones and Chris Henry earlier that same day sent a clear message to the guys who are about to join the league.
"I hate to miss one game," Peterson said. "In the NFL you can play 18-20 games. It's an eye-opener. A lot of guys, it's going to make a big difference in how they respond to different situations."
It's that reluctance to miss games -- and the competitive fire behind it -- that seems to define Peterson much more than his manners or his bone-crushing grip. He told me that his team's loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl hurts him "still to today." He told me that Ray Lewis is the one NFL player he most looks forward to facing -- not out of disrespect, but rather because he relishes the challenge.
"I always thought he was one of the best linebackers out there. I just love the intensity he plays with, the poise. To go up against him, I look forward to that," Peterson explained. "If Ray Lewis is in there, and he hits you, you're a grown man. To have the opportunity to play on that level, I would say that's probably what I'm most looking forward to."
He knows that his collarbone injury has led to speculation that he might slip in the draft, but he wants teams to know that he's a warrior. "You're going to get a guy that you can count on, a guy that's going to go out there every Sunday, or Monday, or whatever, and give it his all," he promised. "Truth is, I love the game, and just the passion that I have for the game, I'm going to go out there and get it on."
In other words, whichever team drafts him is going to be getting a whole lot more than a firm handshake.