24 Hours With ... Patrick Peterson, the NFL’s Only Shutdown Cornerback. (Just Ask Him)
- Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson shows The MMQB his life at home, on the field, inside the film room, at the golf course and inside his beloved garage
7:31 a.m. local time
Patrick Peterson lives in a gated neighborhood in Scottsdale, Ariz., in the first house on the corner. He shares the 7,800-square-foot abode with his wife, Antonique, their 19-month-old daughter, Paityn, and two dogs that are too big to fit in a purse but small enough to fit in a computer bag.
Peterson greets The MMQB’s video crew and me with a firm handshake and a low-octave, “Hello.” He’s wearing a grey T-shirt with Deion Sanders’s cartoon likeness on the front. It’s early July; the temperature is already in the 90s and will creep to nearly 110.
There’s earth-tone tile flooring throughout most of the house. Many of the finishes are dark. The only light comes from the windows and two 150-gallon fish tanks, which sit underneath a 60-inch TV. The gourmet kitchen and living room open into each other. Everything is orderly except for the middle of the room, where a tornado of pink toddler toys seems to have touched down. “That’s one thing that changes when you have kids,” Peterson says with his easy laugh. “Things get messy.”
It’s a 30-minute drive to the Cardinals’ practice facility, where Peterson will do the last of his four individual on-field workouts for the week. Before we leave, I use the guest restroom and discover that, next to the copper sink with a glass top, there is a toilet upholstered with leather. This includes the seat.
Peterson typically takes Paityn to daycare at around 8 a.m., but his wife and daughter are away today visiting a friend. Peterson didn’t want to fiddle with the car seat, so the couple switched vehicles. Antonique took Patrick’s black 2016 Escalade. Patrick is driving Antonique’s 2015 red BMW X6 . . . for now. Later, he’ll exchange it for his 2016 white Rolls-Royce, the latest addition to his collection of more than a dozen cars.
Peterson chats throughout our drive. After the workout, he plans to watch film. “The season is such a blur,” he says, “I have to have a game plan before our game plan. An outline of the receiver or the offense we’re going against. So in the season, when coach gives the game plan, I can go back and look at my notes.”
The beauty of playing corner and traveling with each opponent’s No. 1 receiver is that you know your assignments as soon as the schedule comes out. Back at home, there’s a list hanging on the window of his bathroom. It’s called “Patrick’s Receivers” and breaks down the Cardinals’ 2017 opponents and the names of each wideout Peterson will face. “I’m accustomed to playing inside, outside, nickelback,” Peterson says. “I’ve been playing against opposing teams’ No. 1 guys for years. It’s just second nature for me.”
The conversation shifts to how he met Antonique. She caught his eye eight years ago at a bar when they both attended LSU. She didn’t follow football closely but, like many students, she attended home games and knew of Peterson. “It was the best time of my life when I met her,” he says.
Antonique has 10 months of medical school left. Then, residency. After that, she plans to open a family practice. Her husband is eager to call her Dr. Peterson.
Naturally, Antonique has become more of a football fan, but no one in the Peterson household is a big NFL consumer. Patrick doesn’t watch football on TV—perhaps because cameras don’t show the secondary, he theorizes. Antonique owns two jerseys: her husband’s, and Peyton Manning’s. Peterson says “she was heartbroken when Denver lost the Super Bowl [to Seattle]. You would think we lost the Super Bowl.”
Peterson and Antonique love to travel. In March, they ventured to Dubai, where Peterson rode a 153-mph roller coaster. I ask if Paityn joined them. “Hell no! That girl is a handful.” He grins. “A good handful, though.” Antonique’s mother flew in from New Orleans and stayed with her.
Peterson pulls into the parking lot of the Cardinals’ facility. It’s mostly empty. Coaches and staffers are on summer vacation. A few players are around. Cafeteria workers are peddling food, trying to get rid of what’s left.
Peterson ducks into the locker room to change. Twelve minutes later, he heads toward the field wearing spandex pants, shorts and a red hoodie (with the hood up). It’s an outfit that transcends metaphor: wearing this for practice is as crazy as wearing spandex and a hoodie for a workout in Arizona’s summer heat.
Waiting for Peterson on the sun-splashed field is his personal coach, Roderick Hood, a journeyman NFL corner who played from 2003 to ’11. There is also Cardinals second-year corner Brandon Williams, who works out with Peterson. Williams is in a navy athletic shirt and bright green runner’s shorts, which show off his long legs. His arrival is met with the good-natured ribbing of alpha males, and everyone trades barbs as they stretch.
To warm up, the group stands in a triangle, throwing and catching a tennis ball. Almost every drill will end with Hood throwing a tennis ball for Peterson and Williams to catch. Only on the deep coverage drills will Hood throw a football. Think of the movie Dodgeball: “If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.” Well, if you can catch a tennis ball, you can catch a football.
A 10-yard rope ladder is laid across the field. Peterson and Williams step in and around it at improbable speeds. Three times, Williams’s foot will catch and discombobulate the ladder. The third time he won’t notice until the end. Frustration will set in, and it will be augmented by Peterson and Hood’s ruthless potshots. Such is the life of a young player who dares workout with football’s best cover corner.
At the end of a change-of-direction drill, Peterson fails to catch one of the tennis balls and gripes that Hood “isn’t throwing them right.”
“Is Aaron Rodgers going to throw the ball ‘right’ for you?” Hood snaps. “Is Eli Manning going to throw the ball ‘right’?”
Now it’s coverage transitions along the boundary. Peterson and Williams begin in press position, backpedal a few yards, then turn and sprint. Every time he gets into his press stance, Peterson touches his index finger to the grass. It’s his reminder to stay low. His transition from backpedal to sprint is seamless. Williams, who has much longer legs than Peterson, has to work at it diligently.
Peterson squats into his press stance and reaches his index finger to the ground. Our cameraman sneezes. Peterson rises back up, looks at him and says, “Did you just sneeze?” Yes. “Bless you.” And, back into his stance he goes.
Sweat is becoming a factor. Peterson’s hoodie starts to recede toward the back of his head. More deep transitional coverage drills. But this time, you must stay on the very edge of the sideline, Hood explains to his charges.
“Alright, let’s go, Patrick, get ready,” Hood barks. “And don’t come off the sideline!” Peterson stands up and affixes Hood with a stare. “Have I come off the line yet?” No, Hood admits. “Alright then.” Looking on, Williams chortles.
New drill. The player backpedals and then breaks toward the QB, either to the left or right, depending on Hood’s signal. At the end, Hood winds up and, from about seven yards away, rifles a tennis ball. It’s basically a pick-six drill.
On Peterson’s third pick-six rep, he bobbles the ball. His catch rate on these is barely over 50%. It’s not easy.
Williams comes out of his break strong. Hood winds up and throws. The tennis ball hits Williams squarely in the right eye. He drops to the ground. Peterson turns to the camera with a demonstrative expression that says, “Did you get that?!?”
Now it’s deep-ball coverage against a ghost’s double-move. Peterson’s hoodie, wet with sweat, has nearly fallen off.
Williams is still attempting to open his right eye. Peterson and Hood toggle between expressions of concern and amusement.
Peterson questions the quality of Hood’s deep ball. Hood yells that he was a quarterback at some far-off, long-ago high school that a former professional athlete probably shouldn’t be citing. Peterson is dismissive. But then Hood throws an indisputably beautiful bomb. Peterson, as he’d just promised, catches it with one hand. As his momentum dwindles, he brings his other hand to the ball. Hood declares it a two-handed catch.
Williams, abandoning efforts to open his right eye, decides to continue on with the drill. He asks a small clarification on what the drill is. Hood provides it and then hypothesizes that, gone with half of Williams’s vision must also be half of his brain. Williams responds with a petulant, sarcastic laugh.
Peterson is going to line up as a receiver and give Williams a little juke off the line, dictating which way Williams must turn. Peterson complains of mild discomfort in his arm. “Don’t get hurt,” Hood says. “Stop if you need to. No one gets hurt on my dime.”
“It’s football,” Peterson says. “No one gets hurt in football.”
He finds no irony in Williams standing across from him, still actively (and unsuccessfully) attempting to open his eye.
Peterson’s last rep. About 40 yards downfield, he stops running. His trousers are . . . malfunctioning. Hood yells. Peterson yells back, “I can’t run with my damn pants falling down!” Hood laments how Peterson wasted one of his good spirals. They carry on, then Hood realizes that the inevitable has happened: all the trash talk has resulted in wounded feelings. “Why you getting mad?” he hollers at Peterson with rekindled enthusiasm. Hood hurries over and softens his taunt while still somehow managing to rub it in further. Eventually he gets Peterson to smile.
Williams’s last rep of the day. Another deep ball. Just before Hood gets into his drop-back, Peterson tackles him low and from behind. The two wrestle on the ground. Our cameras swarm, Jerry Springer-style. Practice is over.
After changing back into his street clothes (which look like his practice clothes, only dry), Peterson heads to the film room. “Mr. B!” he yells when he sees Michael Bidwill down the hall. The team owner is in jeans and a black Cardinals polo. They exchange quick pleasantries.
In the film room, Peterson and Hood watch Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins, whom Peterson will shadow in Week 11. Hood does most of the talking. Peterson looks on, drinking two mini bottles of Gatorade and a mini bottle of water. He hasn’t eaten since breakfast, which was just a hard-boiled egg.
Hood and Peterson notice that Hopkins likes to swipe his arm through the defender late in his route. He’s not particularly efficient off the line, and even a casual observer can see that he isn’t fast. He relies on his physicality.
Peterson notes that Hopkins’s release technique at the snap is based on how he thinks his defender is playing him. Disguising coverage presnap will be important.
On film, Brock Osweiler, under blitz pressure, misses a wide-open receiver. Hood and Peterson chuckle. Peterson is fascinated by Osweiler’s weird throwing motion. The ball goes down near his ribcage (unnecessarily) and then back up. He almost pushes it out.
When the film concludes, Peterson and I talk football. We discuss Hopkins and other wideouts. (Peterson’s favorite guy to cover is, or was, Calvin Johnson—the league’s most challenging receiver for many years.) We go over Arizona’s complex matchup-based scheme. “We don’t do two-high (safety) coverages,” Peterson says. “No disrespect, but other teams don’t have the personnel to cover receivers like we do.”
Peterson explains why he never worries about vertical routes. (The long and short of it: he trusts his speed and technique.) The routes that concern him are slants and especially digs, in-breaking routes where the receiver usually has inside leverage from the start.
I ask Peterson who, in his opinion, are the true shutdown corners in the NFL.
“What’s your definition of shutdown?” he says.
“I’m asking you.”
“Well, I’m asking you.”
And so, like a good, gritty journalist, I cede all the power to the person I’m interviewing.
“My definition of a shutdown corner,” I say, “would be someone who can play man coverage on an island, anywhere on the field.”
“When you say ‘on an island,’ ” Peterson asks, “you mean just the corner and the receiver, no help from anywhere?’
“If you’re talking about that guy,” he says, “then there’s only one dude in the league, and that’s me.”
He rests his case with a smile.
Our conversation meanders into pro football’s evolution during Peterson’s career and the lack of physicality that’s now allowed from defenders. Peterson then brings up an idea.
“I think a rule we should put into effect, although I don’t think we would, is this: It’s a spot-foul when the defensive player commits pass interference, but when the offensive player does, it’s only 10 yards. I think that should also be a spot-foul.”
So if the QB throws 35 yards downfield and the receiver is flagged for pushing off, the penalty backs up the offense 35 yards?
“Yes. Let’s even the playing field. We don’t call offensive pass interference anyway. The DB can’t touch the receiver after five yards, but after five yards the receiver can do what the heck he wants to the DB. Receivers shouldn’t have the ability to manipulate us downfield if we can’t manipulate them back.”
I suggest that instead of penalizing an offense a huge chunk of yards, what if the league just made offensive pass interference a 10-yard penalty and a loss of down. If you lose a down for intentional grounding, then why not for OPI? Peterson doesn’t reject this, but he points out that the majority of OPI flags are thrown on 11- to 20-yard routes anyway. Most spot-fouls would not be devastating.
Hood, following along, asks Peterson how many pass interference calls went against him last year.
Peterson shrugs off the question.
“I don’t care anyway. The refs can throw flags. It’s not going to change the way I play.”
Driving back to Peterson’s house, I realize he still hasn’t eaten anything since the hardboiled egg. He explains that he typically won’t eat more than a few bites until dinner. In 2014, his eating habits came unhinged and he ballooned to 220 pounds—17 pounds heavier than his current weight. After some early career success, he says he got too comfortable and was a little immature. Yes, 2014 was a down year. He cites Julio Jones’s 189 yards against him that season as the worst game of his career.
Peterson discovered he was Type 2 diabetic around that time. He seems comfortable discussing it, but doesn’t have much interest in doing so. Instead, he talks about how after that season, he decreased his meal portions and cut back on candy. “I still eat sugary stuff every now and then, just not like I did when I was . . .” he hesitates, searching for the right word before settling on the one that probably first came to mind . . . “fat. When I was fat.”
Back home, we tour Peterson’s backyard. There is a pool with jungle décor and a built-in children’s slide. There’s a small basketball court, and also enough patio space to accommodate a large wedding reception.
The in-law quarters, located on the opposite side of the basketball court, serve as Peterson’s man cave. Inside is a memorabilia collector’s dream. Along with Peterson’s college awards and trophies, there are autographed jerseys given to him by Deion Sanders and Michael Jordan (a golfing buddy). There is a signed collage of Tiger Woods (whom Peterson has also golfed with), and various jerseys from teammates. On one wall, near the bar area, hangs Peterson’s first NFL contract.
There’s also a golf simulator, which has a projector, a giant screen, 100 golf courses built into the system, several motion detectors and various cameras. The whole thing cost about $70,000. (Much less than you might expect, Peterson points out.) He takes a few swings. He’s only been playing since 2011, but his stroke is picturesque. His handicap is four.
Peterson keeps thinking of more “toys” to show off. Out comes his new airbow, which is essentially a sniper rifle that shoots bows. He’s getting into hunting. “Carson Palmer was supposed to take me out, but he hasn’t yet,” Peterson says with a hint of indignity. He’s loading up an arrow that he’ll fire at a target near the waterslide. As he crouches down, he explains the weapon’s mechanisms. I don’t follow, but our cameramen seem impressed. Peterson aims and builds the tension to levels unbearable for those of us with no idea how loud this shot is going to be. Then he fires. The arrow zings out with a cruel precision, and I make an audible, high-pitched gasp that I pray went unheard.
Peterson retrieves the arrow from the target. It’s in about nine inches deep and takes both hands to remove. In our small talk I learn that, yes, he heard me gasp, and yes, he found it amusing.
Time for actual golf. At an auction for The Patrick Peterson Foundation for Success, which helps underprivileged children, three fans bid for a round with Peterson at the exclusive Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, where Peterson is a member (and where “MJ used to be,” Peterson notes). In this foursome is Greg, a middle-aged man in an LSU polo, Greg’s wife, Joyce, and their friend Tim, who is also wearing an LSU polo. Peterson arrived early in his Rolls-Royce.
Greg rides in Peterson’s cart and does what I’ve done all day: peppers him with questions. Peterson is glad to be there. Before Paityn was born, he golfed three times a week. Now, those numbers are down slightly. It’s a tradeoff he’s happy to make, but when asked directly, he admits that it has added one or two strokes to his handicap. Admirably, he refuses to blame his daughter.
All four golfers can hit, but it’s apparent who the professional athlete is. Tim scowls when he learns that Peterson has been golfing for only six years. Tim has trouble harnessing his shot early on. The bright side, as Greg points out, is Tim will get to see more of the course. Joyce is hitting well but keeps finding bunkers. “Trips to the beach,” she calls them. Peterson, who hit two drives on the first hole but has played one shot at a time since, takes it all in stride. Temperatures are in triple digits and there are no clouds, but the group, aided by the shade of their carts, plays 18.
During a break, I notice that the valet has kindly moved Peterson’s Rolls-Royce a few feet to the left, so that it remains in the shade.
Peterson is on his own for dinner. A chef comes to his house twice a week and prepares different meals for all five weeknights. Tonight, a crab dish. This is the only full-sized meal Peterson eats. Despite this, and despite the fact that he never lifts weights except when the Cardinals’ workout schedule mandates, his body has the density of a tree trunk.
Last stop of the night: Peterson’s garage. It is in an unmarked warehouse in Mesa. Cars were one of Peterson’s first passions. His garage employs five men who spend time restoring vintage automobiles. The walls are covered with large, colorful graffiti style paintings. Peterson doesn’t know how much the local artist who did them charged; the garage manager handles that and deliberately keeps Peterson out of it. They’ve found that when someone discovers they’re bidding a job for a rich athlete, prices tend to rise.
Peterson’s and the crew’s restorative projects include:
1968 Chevrolet Camaro
1969 Chevrolet Camaro
1970 Chevrolet Nova SS
1971 Chevrolet Cheyenne C10
1972 Chevrolet Cheyenne C10
1972 Chevrolet Chevelle
1973 Chevrolet Camaro RS/SS
1973 Chevrolet Caprice
2001 Chevrolet Camaro Intimidator SS
2010 Chevrolet Camaro
2013 Chevrolet COPO Camaro
2013 Ferrari 458 Spider
2014 Chevrolet Corvette
2015 Cadillac Escalade
2016 Rolls-Royce Dawn
Each car is adorned somewhere with Peterson’s “P2” logo. The Camaro Intimidator SS has captured Peterson’s heart. Only 83 exist. Peterson has the only one signed by both Dale Earnhardt Senior and Junior. (Oh, and also by Patrick Peterson.) Peterson claims no amount of money would entice him sell it. I ask if he’d trade it for a Super Bowl ring. Absolutely not.
It’s the autographs that make it special. They’re scribbled over the odometer. Peterson instructs me to take a look. I decline. The car is parked terrifyingly close to the 2010 Camaro. I have visions of banging both doors and submitting an expense report that’d make Peter King and MMQB executive editor Mark Mravic blanch. But Peterson insists. And so I slide between both cars and make a show of peering through the window. “Oh yep, there they are,” I say, forgetting that Peterson knows these windows are too tinted to see through.
“You can open the door,” he says. “Go on, open the door.” And so, with the caution of a waiter setting down a tray of flaming soufflés, I open the door and poke my head in. “Yep, all three signatures,” I say, almost immediately returning the door to its closed and unscratched position.
Before we go, Peterson wants us to hear the ’73 Caprice’s roaring engine. Remembering the airbow, I wince. Sure enough, my fear was founded. This might literally be the only Caprice that can turn on with the push of a button, but that doesn’t soften its growl. (Afterwards, our sound guy would say, out of sheer gratitude, he’s glad that he happened to remove the boom mic’s headphones right before the engine started.) Peterson, grinning ear to ear, also shows off the customized horn; instead of just honking, it chimes an old-timey tune.
As we say our goodbyes, I remember to ask Peterson something I had forgot to earlier: Why in the world did he wear the hoodie out in the heat this morning? “It helps me dig deeper,” he says. “What teams do now is put these dummy receivers in—like the fourth receiver (on the depth chart). They run him on a Go route a few times to get me tired, then they bring the No. 1 guy back in. That’s why I work so hard in the offseason. When teams do that, I’ll be more than prepared. I’ll still be fresh. Like I’ve been telling you guys all day, I just try to stay ahead of the curve.”
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