Just think about the change we’ve seen in college football in the last couple of years.
That’s not to mention the countless freshmen who were named All-Americans (Sammy Watkins) and became the main focal point of the game plan for opposing offensive and defensive coordinators. This is the current state of college football, where talent gets you on the field, period. It’s imperative to remember that things weren’t always this way. You know the stories of tailbacks like Barry Sanders having to sit (OK, it was sitting behind Thurman Thomas but still) and wait their turn because freshmen simply didn’t play.
So when Adrian Peterson descended on Norman, Oklahoma, as an 18-year-old, green-eyed freshman, he was just another guy with potential on a roster full of guys with potential. What transpired during Peterson’s 2004 campaign was the stuff of legend, so much so that the man earned one of the greatest nicknames in sports history. All Day.
I decided to round up a few friends who have special experiences and relationships that involve Adrian Peterson’s rookie season for the Sooners, along with a candid thought of my own. Kick back and relax as we reflect on All Day’s incredible freshman year at OU.
Fast Times At Palestine High
I still remember Peterson as a preps phenom — before his days at Oklahoma — at Palestine High School. In 2004, he had the audacity to say on the record that he not only could play in the NFL as a high school senior but also could outrun the entire Dallas Cowboys roster. For most, that’d be considered a cocky comment from a kid who simply had no idea. But as we’ve seen from Peterson in past years, he is everything he originally advertised. He who laughs last, right?
Damon Sayles, ESPN Recruiting – @DamonSayles
First-Game Jitters? Child Please
When you talk about Adrian Peterson’s herculean freshman season at Oklahoma, the first game that comes to mind is his epic performance in the Cotton Bowl on that rainy October day when he gashed the Sooners’ rivals from south of the Red River for 225 yards. For me, though, what really sticks out was watching him the first time he ever donned the crimson and cream.
Bowling Green was in town for OU’s home opener on a steamy Saturday morning, and the Sooners were scuffling by in an uninspired performance. But the buzz around the stadium cranked up a couple notches when the recruit touted as the best high school running back since Eric Dickerson took the field. He fumbled and stumbled around the field in his first few plays, looking a lot like the frat boys I had seen the night before coming out of the bars on Campus Corner.
The jitters finally wore off in the third quarter, and we all got a chance to see what all the hype was about. The left side of OU’s line opened a mammoth hole in the Bowling Green front, which AD blew through. A couple Falcons’ hands might have touched him en route to a 35-yard touchdown run, but it only took a couple strides to see that: 1) no one would stop him from getting to the end zone on this particular play; and 2) the Sooners had found the perfect running back. Players who were that fast at that size with that strength only existed heretofore in the memory sticks of stoned Madden gamers.
It wasn’t even close to the most spectacular highlight of his college career. But it was our first glimpse of AD’s greatness.
Allen Kenney, Blatant Homerism – @BlatantHomerism
Shock And Awe
2004 was special for me because I was a sophomore at UNC. We were having a year that saw us beat #4 Miami and make it to a bowl game for the first time in a couple years. Things were good in Chapel Hill.
Through all of that, we didn’t watch as many games live as most folks so my Peterson experience was during the week. When we posted up in the players’ lounge, watching his highlights just wowed us. Seeing this guy, who was our age, playing the same sport we played, do super human things was ridiculous.
USC and Reggie Bush were big news, but for us Peterson was still the most amazing guy that we got to see. There were guys on my team who played with Julius Peppers, and they would still watch AD highlights and say wow. Bush was a phenom, but Peterson was one of those guys, in the lounge or a meeting room, where defensive guys would just say, “Man, I’d have to chop up them legs; he too strong, boss.”
Michael Felder, Bleacher Report – @inthebleachers
Getting To Know Adrian
I met Adrian Peterson, the person, before OU Memorial Stadium introduced me to Adrian Peterson, the football player. I was with a huge group of friends during the very first week of school. It was a Thursday night, so that means college night. We were leaving Clint Ingram’s house headed to the legendary and currently “Nothing Was The Same,” Campus Corner. I’m walking to my car solo because I’m a closet loaner, and everyone else piles into the other cars. But Adrian gets out of Clint’s car and trots across the street to jump in the car with me.
Now, this is only the second time I’ve interacted with this kid. I asked him why he got in the car with me, and he said, “Well, I saw that you were riding by yourself.” I was shocked. Here is the #1 HS player in the country and the most highly touted freshman to come to OU since Billy Sims, and he gave a rip about someone he barely knew. I just thought to myself if he treats complete strangers this way, imagine how he treats his teammates.
Later in the season, after his great Texas game and after his breakthrough Oklahoma State game, I saw Adrian Peterson jumping up and down on the sidelines going crazy. Did something great happen on defense? Naw. Was it a close game and the offense made a great play? Nope. It was a blowout, and AD had made light work of whomever we were playing. My apologizes for not remembering. What I do remember is “The Deal” (that’s the nickname the football team called him) cheering on his teammate, Tashard Choice. The running back whose playing time he essentially took early in the season. (I still think OU should have played both Choice and AD, but that’s another conversation.) A star freshman in the thick of the Heisman race, cheering on his teammate in garbage time. That’s what comes to my mind when I think about Adrian Peterson’s freshman year. He’s the same person off the field as he is on the field, DAMN GOOD.
Richard Boadu, 6Magazine – @6magazine
The Best Damn Freshman In The World
I don’t care who won the Heisman in 2004 (Matt Leinart), Adrian Peterson was the best player in college football that year. Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston might claim the throne as being the kings of college football as freshmen, but no one ever did it as a freshman quite like Adrian Peterson did.
Maybe it’s because Adrian Peterson didn’t play quarterback. Maybe it’s because he had to fight for Heisman votes with his own future Heisman-winning quarterback in Jason White. Maybe it was never meant to be, because USC did beat the bejesus out of Oklahoma in the national championship. It doesn’t matter. All Day, to this day, will always be the greatest freshman football player that ever lived. It’s not even close.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”