Jim Brown says Adrian Peterson could break NFL rushing record

By Chris Tomasson St. Paul Pioneer Press Jim Brown knows all about being the NFL rushing king. Nobody in history has held the career rushing title longer than Brown, who had it from 1963-84. Emmitt Smith is the current rushing leader, having set ...

By Chris Tomasson

St. Paul Pioneer Press

Jim Brown knows all about being the NFL rushing king. Nobody in history has held the career rushing title longer than Brown, who had it from 1963-84.

Emmitt Smith is the current rushing leader, having set the mark in 2002. But Brown said Vikings star Adrian Peterson could top it one day.

“If he wants that and he dedicates himself and he has good fortune, that’s a great possibility,” Brown said in a phone interview with the Pioneer Press from his Los Angeles home.


“I think if he sets his goals and he understands his circumstances and he knows what it takes, that he can be successful. I’m not saying that he will break the record, I’m just saying it’s a possibility.”

It won’t be easy. Smith ran for 18,355 yards in 15 years before retiring after the 2004 season at 35. Peterson, who turned 29 last month, has 10,115 yards in seven seasons.

Peterson spoke about breaking Smith’s record after gaining 2,097 yards in 2012, the second most in NFL history. But he didn’t help himself in 2013 when his total dropped to 1,266 during a season in which he missed two games and most of another because of injuries.

Brown likes Peterson a lot. That’s saying something since the Hall of Fame running back never has routinely handed out compliments, having once criticized Pittsburgh star Franco Harris for running out of bounds.

“He’s a great football player,” Brown said of Peterson. “He’s always been a real fine gentleman and a great worker. His running style and the effort he puts in is unbelievable. I have the greatest respect for him. … I like his attitude as a runner. I like the fact that God gave him a body that’s big enough and he’s fast enough.”

Brown rushed for 12,312 yards with Cleveland from 1957-65 before retiring at 29 to become an actor. He reached 10,000 yards in 98 games, the second-fastest in NFL history, while Peterson became the third-fastest when he got there last season in his 101st game.

Brown has met Peterson on several occasions and considers him a friend. Nelson Peterson, the running back’s father, said his son has chatted with Brown at awards banquets, and Brown invited him to his home in the summer of 2009.

Brown and Peterson did a story for the Sporting News in which the hall of famer interviewed the star who then was entering his third season. Nelson Peterson said he and his son were at Brown’s house for four to five hours for that.


“Adrian really enjoyed being there,” Nelson Peterson said. “It was an opportunity to talk to a legend. He asked him a lot of football questions such as whether (Brown) switched hands with the ball, and he said he didn’t have time to switch hands. He said that he really enjoyed Adrian’s running style.”

Nelson Peterson, though, said the often-ornery Brown almost ended the interview at one point.

Brown had asked Peterson to name his greatest game, and he mentioned a 2008 win over Green Bay. A Sporting News representative then jumped in to ask about the 2007 game against San Diego, when Peterson set an NFL record with 296 yards rushing

“You know Jim,” said Nelson Peterson. “He wanted to cancel the interview when the guy interrupted. He said you had agreed he was going to ask the questions and it was going to be running back to running back.”

Brown did complete the interview. It became a cover story.

Three years later, Peterson was on a lot of magazine covers. After battling back from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in 2011, he came within nine yards in 2012 of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards.

“The season that he had overcoming the injury was once in a lifetime, because I think it takes a lot of courage and a lot of dedication to do what he did,” Brown said. “In that one year, he showed me something I don’t know who else could have accomplished. That’s something that takes a great person to do.”

Peterson is on a short list when it comes to great backs currently in the NFL. With the passing game becoming so prevalent, the Vikings are one of the few teams in recent years to primarily have been led on offense by a runner.


Brown, though, doesn’t see that as being an impediment for Peterson’s future.

“If you have the best talent at any position and the right coach to coach it, I think you would win Super Bowls,” Brown said. “The whole thing about whether it’s a league dominated by running backs and quarterbacks, those things speak for themselves because football is the ultimate team sport, and when you have the talent that talent has to be utilized.”

Since Brown believes Peterson could break Smith’s record, he obviously believes he will continue to dominate. But it remains to be seen how healthy Peterson, who underwent groin surgery in January, can remain into his 30s.

Peterson would have to gain 8,241 more yards to break the mark. Smith ran for 7,121 yards after turning 29. Walter Payton, who held the NFL all-time rushing record from 1984-2002 and is now second with 16,726 yards, ran for 7,118 after that birthday despite losing 11 games due to NFL strikes.

“That means a lot coming from a guy like Mr. Brown,” Nelson Peterson said of Brown saying Peterson could break Smith’s record. “He’s been around the league and seen all the different types of backs come and go. That really means a lot.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.

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