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Adrian Peterson stood among his peers at NFL Honors in February, turning and waving to acknowledge the cheering crowd.

Up to that point, Peterson had accomplished nearly everything a professional football player could accomplish; he was a seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time first-team All-Pro and the league's most valuable player in 2012. He was a member of the NFL's 2010s All-Decade team and a finalist for the NFL 100 All-Time team.

Whenever Peterson decides to conclude his illustrious career, he'll be a first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famer.

But on that day in Miami, Peterson accepted an honor that did not have to do with how many yards he rushed for or how many touchdowns he scored.

It was Peterson's combination of productivity and personality that made him so beloved in Washington the past two years. He was durable, reliable and consistent -- all while serving as a role model for his younger teammates and a leader in the locker room.

Peterson, who was released Friday, will go down as one of the greatest running backs of all time, yet he displayed the work ethic of an unproven rookie and the humbleness of just another player trying to help his team win. He's handled every situation with integrity and represented the franchise in the best possible way.

To Peterson, life is all about inspiring and uplifting others, and that's been his main objective throughout his 14-year NFL career. He certainly made his presence felt with Washington.



In Washington's game against Tennessee on Dec. 22, 2018, Peterson took his first carry of the fourth quarter and barreled downfield for a five-yard gain. The play itself was insignificant, but within the greater context, it was historic.

With that rush, Peterson became the oldest 1,000-yard rusher in 34 years.

For Peterson to achieve this milestone was remarkable, as he spent the previous two seasons with three different teams and rushed for a combined 601 yards. Fewer than three weeks before the 2018 campaign, Peterson was still a free agent. It was not until Washington lost its top running back in the preseason that it signed Peterson to a one-year deal.

In the regular season opener, Peterson carried the ball 26 times for 96 yards and a touchdown. Two weeks later, he eclipsed the 100-yard mark and found the end zone twice.

Peterson ended up rushing for at least 96 yards on seven occasions and even scored a 90-yard rushing touchdown -- the longest in his career and the longest in franchise history.

The 33-year-old Peterson finished the year with 251 carries for 1,042 yards and seven touchdowns; no one else had more than 43 rushing attempts.

"Being able to coach a guy like Adrian Peterson -- a Hall of Fame type guy -- was actually one of the high points in my career personally," said former head coach Jay Gruden.

While the team named Peterson as its offensive Offensive Player of the Year for his efforts, Peterson was not satisfied with his overall performance. It was a "decent season," Peterson said. In his mind, he should have rushed for 1,500 or 1,600 yards.

That mindset, coaches and teammates say, is part of what's made Peterson so successful.

"Anytime [people] say, 'Coach, I can't believe you're coaching AP. How is that?' I just sit back and watch the show," running backs coach Randy Jordan said in March. "He's probably one of the [hardest working] guys, humble; he's not who he is because somebody handed it to him."



Peterson's performance in Week 15 of the 2019 season versus Philadelphia did not look like anything special. He finished the game with 66 rushing yards and a touchdown on 16 carries, and his last positive play of the game resulted in a one-yard gain.

But Washington's game on a brisk December afternoon was a historic moment for Peterson. His one-yard gain pushed him past Curtis Martin for fifth all-time in career rushing yards; his 10-yard touchdown tied him with Walter Payton for fourth all-time in rushing touchdowns; and his 16 carries made him just the 10th running back in NFL history to reach 3,000 career rushing attempts.

It was a momentous occurrence for Peterson, who placed himself among the league's greatest running backs in three categories during one game. But the then 34-year-old Peterson had made such accomplishments almost commonplace in his 13th season by either tying or passing multiple Hall of Fame running backs in the record books.

It didn't take long for Peterson to start climbing up the all-time rushing list. After being inactive for the season opener, Peterson was Washington's starting running back in Week 2 against the Dallas Cowboys. His highlight of the game came during Washington's first score when he ended a nine-play drive by plowing through Dallas' defense for his 107th career touchdown, passing Jim Brown for fifth on the all-time rushing touchdown list.

"He was the first one that paved the way for us," Peterson said of Brown after the game. "This one means a lot more than the other ones will when I pass them because Jim Brown is a guy I looked up to. I've talked to him on several occasions, just the look in his eyes when I'm talking to him, it's like '[Wow.]' That is just motivating to me."

Six weeks later, Peterson traveled to Minneapolis for a Thursday night game against the Minnesota Vikings. It was one of the rare moments for Peterson to face Minnesota since the two sides parted ways in 2017. Still, he was excited to play against the team that drafted him seventh overall in 2007.

"I was there for a decade, and still to this day…I have fans that come to [Washington] games that are die-hard Vikings fans," Peterson said. "They're Adrian Peterson fans. So the love is always going to be there."

Washington lost the contest, 19-9, but Peterson had another strong performance with 14 carries for 78 yards. It was his third straight game rushing for at least 75 yards, and he moved past Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson for sixth on the all-time rushing list during the game. The announcement flashed on the big screen at U.S. Bank Stadium, prompting the crowd to give Peterson a roaring ovation.

Peterson's path to further cementing himself as an all-time great culminated against Philadelphia in Week 15, but he was never one to bask in his personal accolades. He always wanted his teammates to share in the celebration.

Peterson was also quick to share his success with others and recognized those who helped him along the way. He did that after he tied Payton's career rushing touchdowns with a 10-yard run that gave Washington a 21-17 lead. Once the game had ended, he gifted the touchdown ball to then-rookie receiver Terry McLaurin, who made a crucial block that made Peterson's run possible.

"Terry, here's a token of appreciation," Peterson wrote on the ball. "Great block youngster, you made it happen."



Practice had just ended during Washington's training camp in August, and Peterson was in the middle of a conversation with Geron Christian Sr. on his blocking technique.

Peterson had taken an interest in Christian's progress entering his third season. Christian worked out with Peterson over the offseason, and he always appreciated any advice he could get from the veteran.

"He's been around a lot of great tackles, a lot of great linemen," Christian said, "and he's just been doing it for a long time."

Peterson's affect on Washington went beyond what he did on the field. He was a mentor for younger players who needed advice and a guiding voice for those who wanted to have a long professional career. That kind of contribution was invaluable to players and coaches alike.

"In those situations, you need somebody to step up," said head coach Ron Rivera. "I did reference Adrian because he is a pro. Hopefully our young players took that to heart."

Count Antonio Gibson, who had been excited to meet Peterson since he was drafted, as one of those players. He grew up watching Peterson and remembers being in awe of what he accomplished on the field. Once Gibson joined the same team as one of his idols, he planned on taking every opportunity to learn from him.

"I know he knows so much being in the game that long," Gibson said. "I know he's got a lot to teach, and I'm willing to ask him for it."

And even though he made it clear he was competing with his teammates, Peterson was always willing to share tips on how they could improve.

"I want to see those guys prosper, I want to see those guys take their game to the max, to their potential," Peterson said in June. "I'm not that guy that's going to withhold something, to get myself an edge. A lot of these guys look up to me and still do at a young age. I'm going to do my part."

That is what Rivera wanted out of Peterson when Washington chose to exercise his club option in February. Rivera was taking over a young team, and he respected Peterson's experience and his place in NFL history.

"Adrian is a true pro," Rivera said Friday. "I was fortunate to just be with him this summer. But watching the way that he handled himself, handled the other players around him, epitomizes him as a football player."

Although he played in Washington for two seasons of his illustrious career, Peterson left a lasting impression with the burgundy and gold. He consistently shattered records and gave fans a reason to cheer every Sunday. Rivera's time with Peterson was brief, there is no doubt in his mind on how Peterson will be remembered.

"He will go down as one of the best backs to play in this league. He'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer."

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