FD Guest Lecture: WWPJD?
Ladies and gentlemen, Matt Ufford. You know him from Kissing Suzy Kolber, With Leather, and the absolutely indispensable The Prelude
Somewhere in the archives of this website rests a discussion, or possibly discussions, of how FreeDarko’s soi-disant ideal of style can be applied to the NFL, wherein the authors and commenters -- if memory serves, which it often doesn’t -- came to a general consensus resembling this: The NFL has Stars, yes, but football’s dependence on highly specialized roles working together to accomplish success reduces the ability of a single individual to take over a game. But running backs, it was argued and largely agreed upon, displayed the FD tenets of style, substance, and imagination on the canvas of athleticism with the most regularity (It’s true: I could watch silhouettes of NFL running backs at work and identify them with ease, but I can’t tell the difference between Tom Brady’s and Peyton Manning’s mechanics in the pocket).
When Shoals asked if I’d be interested in writing about a certain pro running back in Minnesota, I was inexplicably struck with dread. Superficially, a FreeDarko post about Adrian Peterson shouldn’t be too hard – announce that the rookie is Truth with a capital T, find a way to call Kierkegaard an asshole, and congratulate myself on the shiny execution of a hollow argument. Problem is, what AP does on the gridiron doesn’t translate to the confines of language.
Peterson’s style defies metaphor, a unique quality among running backs. When I think of Marion Barber, I picture a wrecking ball and pistons. Reggie Bush is a stillborn Barry Sanders, LaDainian Tomlinson is a river of electric current, and Shaun Alexander in his prime was the hippopotamus ballerina from Fantasia. Cedric Benson is Cold War-era Soviet architecture.
Peterson can’t be caged by such comparisons; you may as well try to tackle him in the open field. He possesses every tool a running back could possibly need: a field vision that can only be called prescient, an extra gear that he effortlessly slides in and out of to render established defensive geometry obsolete, the moves to make people miss in tight spaces, and speed and power that seem almost understated—the result is not the jaw-dropping flashiness of LDT or Barry Sanders, but a chameleonic, graceful efficiency dedicated solely to moving the ball forward.
Over at the opposite end of the blogorhood’s intellectual spectrum, we’ve taken to calling him Purple Jesus, and I want to believe there’s some accidental meaning in that despite our methodology. Simply because the nickname was borne of a victory-mad, beer-fueled Big Daddy Drew in between bouts of half-hearted onanism to particularly provocative beer commercials doesn’t mean it can’t shed light on what makes Peterson so special. Penicillin’s discovery was an accident, and the Rosetta Stone was found at a construction site.
I don’t want to push a sacrilegious agenda: Purple Jesus won’t give sight to the blind, raise the dead, or turn water into wine (I would, however, be unsurprised if he ran on water). But there’s something of the supernatural in the way he runs, something beyond the quicksilver and thunderclaps and burning magnesium of his effortless style. The sprawled bodies of missed tackles in his wake are the product of something more than fast-twitch muscles, a rigorous off-season weight program, and the bioelectric current running from his ocular nerves to his brain. God’s handiwork isn’t necessarily limited to the perfection of a Mojave sunset or the Technicolor life of a coral reef. Watch these videos, and find me a better adjective than “Biblical.”