11.06.2007

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.”

45 Comments:

At 11/06/2007 1:10 PM, Blogger goathair said...

Best Ufford post I've seen. Well done.

Oh, and Manning has an identifiable hitch in his delivery.

 
At 11/06/2007 1:12 PM, Anonymous MaxwellDemon said...

Like everyone else here, I struggle daily with the true definition of FD. Purple J may have captured it on Sunday; my personal football revelation this weekend, however, was seeing an obese defender take the ball 60-odd yards for a TD. Shaun Rogers is as ill-designed for running as Adrian Peterson is born to do it, yet therein lay the beauty.

 
At 11/06/2007 1:30 PM, Anonymous Disciple of Clyde said...

I just hope he doesn't have to die for our sins. And by "for our sins" I mean Tavaris Jackson and Brooks Bollinger.

 
At 11/06/2007 1:31 PM, Blogger Five Pound Bag said...

FD + KSK = worlds are colliding!!

I agree with what you're getting at, but Peterson is the Second Coming not of God but of Eric Dickerson. The upright style, the size to run through people and the speed to run past them, the unerring ability to set up, read and react to blocks are all straight out of the Dickerson mold.

It also helped that Marlon McCree couldn't take a proper angle if Pythagoras himself sat on his shoulder to guide him, but never mind that.

 
At 11/06/2007 1:32 PM, Blogger MC Welk said...

And here I thought "PJ" was 101 Vodka, ginger ale and a splash of grape juice.

Why doesn't KSK market a prayer rug? http://ag.arkansas.gov/newsroom/index.php?do:newsDetail=1&news_id=111
It couldn't be any less effective than FD's SWAG shirts.

 
At 11/06/2007 1:53 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i compare AP to lebron, but better, in that he's functioning at full capacity. both are so impossibly statuesque that it's like watching a trophy in action; how could you not make a legend out of someone like that?

as i told matt, tomlinson might be my favorite running back ever. but next to peterson, he just looks like a human being rich in aptitude. peterson, like bron, seems to connote something even more grandiose.

 
At 11/06/2007 2:12 PM, Blogger Captain Caveman said...

I already regret the Brady-Manning comparison. My desired point was that the representation of style in throwing a football pales in comparison to the different ways running backs move the ball.

5-lb Bag -- I see some of the Dickerson similarities, but I maintain that AP does it with an added bit of grace. Something about the way he runs makes it look effortless.

 
At 11/06/2007 2:25 PM, Anonymous Hate said...

Steve Hutchinson now owns the TD record (since broken) and the yardage record.

The back upon which myths are made. Put the guy in the hall now. At least get him in some commercials (I'm looking at you, Chunky Soup)

 
At 11/06/2007 2:59 PM, Blogger Big Daddy Drew said...

Peterson is the Second Coming not of God but of Eric Dickerson. The upright style, the size to run through people and the speed to run past them, the unerring ability to set up, read and react to blocks are all straight out of the Dickerson mold.

Purple Jesus does not fucking run upright, god dammit. Watch the video. My boy goes lower than a bail bondsman.

The man runs like Super Mario after swallowing a Starman.

 
At 11/06/2007 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adrian Peterson is Rakim Allah. That is all.

 
At 11/06/2007 3:48 PM, Anonymous rogers said...

"Over at the opposite end of the blogorhood’s intellectual spectrum" is right. I'm really surprised how great this post is, considering how Deadspin/KSK along with ESPN have come to embody everything I don't like about sports coverage.

 
At 11/06/2007 3:48 PM, Anonymous berts said...

Is it a coincidence that AD is from Palestine?

 
At 11/06/2007 3:58 PM, Blogger Captain Caveman said...

Steve Hutchinson now owns the TD record (since broken) and the yardage record.

Hutch will get his plaque in due time. And while the Vikes' o-line is excellent, you can't give them all the credit when defenses are stacking 8 and 9 in the box due to Minnesota's atrocious passing "attack."

@rogers - Faint, damning praise is still praise. I'll take it.

 
At 11/06/2007 4:01 PM, Blogger Big Daddy Drew said...

Ufford, you should know that my onanism is never, EVER half-hearted. When I masturbate, I give it my all.

 
At 11/06/2007 4:02 PM, Blogger Unsilent Majority said...

we cover sports?

 
At 11/06/2007 4:55 PM, Blogger Ty Keenan said...

Let this post be evidence that you still have to be smart to write stupid shit well.

You're so right on this, Matt. Other players have all his tools, but no one looks as natural as Peterson. Shoals's "maximized LBJ" comparison works for me, which brings up the question of what a better Adrian Peterson could possibly look like.

 
At 11/06/2007 5:12 PM, Anonymous matt said...

his abbr. is AD...not AP.

as in ALL DAY.

 
At 11/06/2007 5:15 PM, Blogger Bethlehem Shoals said...

i'm fine with being wrong about football nicknames

WV: vulqln: fancy, self-cleaning fabric made of vulcan eyes

 
At 11/06/2007 5:19 PM, Blogger BW said...

look, everybody knows Jesus is white.

MCGUFFIE MIXTAPE!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x4IJ17ODo_s

 
At 11/06/2007 5:27 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Nice post, Ufford.

I would also like to jump in on the Eric Dickerson comparisons. Someone needs to dig up the 2,000 yard season footage, and compare it side by side with AP's performance this year. You'll see a lot more similarities than differences.

But in my opinion, the most FD running back is Barry Sanders. The difference being that where AP uses his speed to blow past defenders, Barry used his quickness to make them miss, even when they were within two feet of him. That to me will never be matched. It's also why he had so many negative carries - once in a while the defender would guess right, sort of like a goalie on a penalty kick in soccer.

If AP was a basketball player, he would be Durant's potential.

Cold War-era Soviet architecture is much cooler than Cedric Benson.

 
At 11/06/2007 5:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

AD folks, AD, not mad at Darkos, angry at the NYTimes & Journal for repeatedly fucking it up & getting paid hansomely.

I'm pretty certain Dostoevsky foretold the AD story 150 years ago.

 
At 11/06/2007 5:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post was utterly fantastic. If the NFL has interesting things like this to offer us, I whole-heartedly welcome the necessary guest lectures.

wv: attmup - A toast to Matt Ufford, please!

 
At 11/06/2007 6:09 PM, Anonymous berts said...

sml - cold war soviet architecture is not cooler than Cedric Benson. think Kruschev standard apartment complexes. they are a scourge on Eastern Europe. worse than the plague, and only built to last 30-40 years. it's been 60.

any cool soviet architecture was produced before Stalin and soviet realism--if you're in NY sometime soon, check out the photo exhibit at the MoMA.

 
At 11/06/2007 6:48 PM, Blogger BreadCity said...

"(I would, however, be unsurprised if he ran on water)"

That would be a good sacrilegious advertising campaign: WALK ON WATER, RUN ON GATORADE.

 
At 11/06/2007 7:09 PM, Anonymous db said...

Great post, I'm with Shoals on the LBJ comparison, there is the skills, and then there is the physical dominance. Actually, I think LBJ would also be that offensively dominant if basketball wasn't so reliant on the combination of threats among the other 4 players to give him some room, or if there was a bigger court.

 
At 11/06/2007 7:45 PM, Blogger stopmikelupica said...

Berts: My comment was more an indictment of Cedric Benson than a compliment to Soviet architecture. I'm somewhat familiar with it (I've been to Eastern Europe). They're basically projects, but longer than taller.
I have been meaning to check out the MoMA photo exhib (thanks for the headsup!).

 
At 11/06/2007 8:02 PM, Blogger cian said...

great post! to extend the religious metaphor, adrian peterson does not *believe* - in the truest religious sense of the word - he can be tackled.

 
At 11/06/2007 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The new 20 second timeout article simply smacks down Chad Ford's article on Kobe's inflated trade value. I highly recommend it.

 
At 11/06/2007 11:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

18pts/7reb/6ast/5st/4blks for contract-year Josh Smith. Nice to see something out of him even in a loss.
Also, and this has been bothering me for a while:

Dwight Howard plays solid man defense, but the guy is not a premier shot-blocker, he is a premier athlete with size. He lacks the innate ability to trick an opponent into thinking they can beat you, and setting your body in a way which you can get back and block the shot. It's not that he's a bad weak-side shot-blocker (he's "above-average" for sure). Perhaps his defensive game is to "honest"? He plays strong, obviously, and he can move well for a guy his size, but he just doesn't have that Camby/Mutombo/Early-Shaq ability to be like "Psyche! Gotcha!"

At this point, if he got a defensive POY, it would be dishonest. (And don't give me that "People play off him because they know he's a shot-blocker!" argument. People KNEW what a motherfucker Mutombo was in the paint, and they knew his reaction after the coup de grâce.)

 
At 11/06/2007 11:14 PM, Blogger T. said...

anon@11am - I never realized this until I had the privilige of watching him every game, but what makes Mutumbo so very very dangerous, is not only is he amazing from the weak side (most shot blockers are) - but he is by far the most amazing man-on shot blocker I've ever seen. It's only because more teams don't run their offense through their center that he wasn't averaging something like 4-5 blocks per game. Most good shot blockers get theirs from the weak side. Mutumbo gets them all.

WV: lqcxv - Loquatious Cervix? I got nothing.

 
At 11/06/2007 11:31 PM, Blogger Black and Blue Jor said...

You gotta love Purple Jesus. -Except when Phil Simms commentates. He shouts everything and saying his name would just be a long southern drawl of "A Tree in Beat Her, Son!"

-Wait...that ROCKS!

 
At 11/07/2007 12:11 AM, Anonymous Freddie said...

AD, until his inevitable season ending injury.

And Kierkegaard was no asshole.

 
At 11/07/2007 12:47 AM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

Running backs might be the FD position in the NFL, but basketball players don't tend to break records in their rookie years. The fact that playing with style in football doesn't seem to require the same maturation process as basketball makes it a little like comparing beer versus single malt scotch.

 
At 11/07/2007 12:58 AM, Anonymous fix_the_knicks said...

sorry, rereading that last comment i feel like i come off as kind of a hater -- it was a great post, and I like football (just like I like beer). I just feel like basketball, with longer careers and a deeper learning curve, makes for more interesting narratives.

 
At 11/07/2007 12:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://www.nba.com/media/DwightGlassHoward300.jpg

Oh my. Dwight may not be a DPOY, but look this picture. Well, just look at Rashad McCants' face. I can read his lips: Oh snap!

Dwight (28p/16r) and Chris Paul (19p/21a) both came close to 20-20 games tonight. CP3 also only had 2 TO's. That's sick.

 
At 11/07/2007 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That picture if great. Also, so is the html line.

I never did like the "Young Thunder" nickname, if NBA.com wants to call him Dwight "Glass" Howard, then that's what I'm gonna do. Now let's see if he wins the rebounding title this year. I say KG yanks enough rebounds out of Ray Allen's hands to win the "rebounding title", the only title he's got a shot at.

 
At 11/07/2007 1:18 AM, Blogger Raskolnikov said...

Hey Sartre, don't call Kierkegaard an asshole.

 
At 11/07/2007 4:09 AM, Anonymous Kaifa said...

I'm not a football fan and hadn't seen anything of Peterson yet. Amazing moves and a great article as well.

Wanted to point you to a Kobe article by Lazenby who makes some very repetitive points but also someuseful MJ comparisons:

http://hoopshype.com/columns/kobe_lazenby2.htm

 
At 11/07/2007 7:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

brad childress = judas

 
At 11/07/2007 7:58 AM, Blogger swing4 said...

Yeah, the dude can run.

More to the point, how do you not have a book deal yet? Damn good work.

 
At 11/07/2007 10:47 AM, Anonymous VATigersFan said...

I'm a football history neophyte compared to most of the folks that have addressed this above, but could we compare PJ to Walter Payton? "Sweetness" is right up there with "Purple Jesus" as far as nicknames go, and when I watched the highlights from the San Diego game, I kept having flashbacks to NFL Films highlights of Payton's 275-yd performance.

 
At 11/07/2007 11:35 AM, Blogger lost said...

sml- barry used his unmatched lateral quickness to decelerate and accelerate sideways in the backfield causing defenders to stop and leaving them grasping for air.

AD (!) uses his unmatched quickness along the anterior/posterior axis to decelerate and accelerate while running forward causing defenders to break stride and leaving them grasping for air.

Barry could squat 800 pounds- rare for a powerlifter his size, let alone an athlete. Peterson clearly possesses similarly unique muscular power.

From an athletic and Newtonian standpoint it simply a fallacy to say that AD is using 'speed' to beat defenders. He is bursting into space with acceleration, which should be analogous to quickness. His quickness should be more impressive as he is not accelerating from zero as Barry so often did.

He apparently also possesses superior speed but it is his acceleration which puts him in position to use it, i.e. between the defenders and the goal line.


Barry always seemed to be struggling mightily against the fascistic order and meticulous planning that characterizes football. He would dart around trying to create entropy out of X's and O's, confident that he was more prepared to deal with disorder than his opponents. Occasionally, his efforts would fail and we saw him drown in a sea of linebackers, safeties, and persistent ends.

Peterson, on the other hand, is simply unencumbered by schemes, formations, and field position. He is calculus to the coach's trigonometry. Somewhere in the third derivative, the defenders' eyes deceive them. They think he's stable, when he was really just at an inflection point. Yet he creates the impression of simply striding forward, gliding across that which engulfs other men.

AD is ostensibly human. He has roughly the same upright gait as Oprah or any of the ambulatory. I mean, he appears to walk among men, but be not bound by the same laws as we.

Barry, on the other hand, is unequivocally human. His style of constant conflict and his deconstruction of defenses always made it seem more like he earned it, and that it was very important to him. That is what I hope could be characterized as 'most FD' so I gotta agree with you there.

 
At 11/07/2007 11:59 AM, Blogger lost said...

rogers et al.

KSK&Freedarko=the only sports blogs i bother with

there's shadows of a false spectrum argument in the corner of my mind. shit my transcript claims i know. something about the far-right and the far left approaching one another as personal and economic freedom converge.

i feel the same way about the analytical and the asinine.

but: 'fuck ESPN' applies in both venues.

(except truehoop)

 
At 11/08/2007 7:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. i'm obviously not smart enough to be reading this

 
At 4/13/2009 4:00 AM, Blogger 平平 said...

^^Thanks!!

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