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Vikings still wowed by Peterson's rapid recovery

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Vikings still wowed by Peterson's rapid recovery

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Most days, Adrian Peterson went through rehab drills looking as if he were never injured.

No one could've foreseen the rapid recovery Peterson has made since that bionic left knee of his was severely damaged near the end of a lost 2011 season for Minnesota. No one could have predicted these weekly gallops down the field and through the NFL record book.

With two games to go, Peterson needs 294 yards to break Eric Dickerson's all-time single-season rushing record. He is 188 yards from becoming the seventh player in league history to reach 2,000 yards in one year.

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Dec. 24, 2011:

The Vikings were playing at Washington the day before Christmas, a meaningless matchup between teams well out of postseason contention. The end of a routine 3-yard run early in the third quarter by Peterson, the throwback thoroughbred the Vikings have hitched their franchise to in a league now dominated by the forward pass, ended with excruciating pain.

Redskins safety DeJon Gomes dived at his lower left leg to take him down, tearing Peterson's anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in the process. Peterson, lying face down on the grass, knew immediately ``something bad'' had happened. By the time head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman and team physician Dr. Joel Boyd raced over from the sideline, Peterson was screaming, ``Why me? Why me?''

Sugarman and Boyd performed the Lachman test, where the leg is pushed and wiggled to gauge the stability of the ACL.

``It was just gone,'' Sugarman said. ``So now your worst nightmare is confirmed.''

By the time the game was over, Peterson's attitude had already turned. His knee in a brace, sitting in the training room, he asked Sugarman, ``Hey, what do we do next? Where do we start? How do we get better?''

``His grieving was very short-lived,'' Sugarman said.

The rehabilitation of one of the best running backs in NFL history began.

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The winter:

The first three months of the reconstructive knee surgery recovery are always the hardest, and even for Peterson this was no different. The mornings were dark and cold. Most of his teammates were gone. There were occasional text messages Sugarman had to send to encourage Peterson not to let up. The swelling had to subside first, before he could start the process of restoring his range of motion. The pain from both the incision and the bone that had to be broken to allow the ligament to be replaced was intense. But as soon as Dr. James Andrews performed the procedure in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 30, Peterson was ready.

``I had in my mind from the moment I got out of surgery that I was going to be back, that I was going to be good and healthy,'' Peterson said.

In three weeks, he was walking. After six weeks, he began to jog in the pool. At eight weeks, he was sprinting, with the jets turned on for resistance. Then, 10 weeks after the operation, he ran on hard ground for the first time. Peterson and Sugarman were the only people on the indoor field at Winter Park that day.

``The first time I have a guy run after an ACL, they look like they have marbles in their shoe,'' Sugarman said. ``He probably had done it on his own without telling me before that, I would guess. But the guy took off and ran across the field like, `Whoa! He looks totally normal.' This isn't supposed to happen. So that was awesome.''

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The spring and summer:

On the first day of the team's conditioning program in late April, the players lined up for sprints. Peterson was working with Sugarman on the side when he saw what was going on. Granted permission to participate, Peterson jumped in line with the rest of the runners. His exhausted teammates wore expressions of disbelief.

``He finished in first four different times,'' head coach Leslie Frazier said.

Peterson also spent time at his offseason home in Houston, where he worked with physical therapist Russ Paine at the Memorial Herrmann Sports Medicine Institute. Paine picked up where Sugarman and his staff left off.

When Peterson showed up for his sessions at the clinic, the other athletes rehabbing there stared in amazement as he sprinted at the top speed levels of the treadmill. When he lined himself up at the leg press machine, he asked that the prescribed weight be doubled.

``I really wasn't playing around. I was on a mission,'' he said.

After 14 weeks, the drills advanced. Sugarman rolled a soccer ball as Peterson shuffled from side to side in a sand pit, trying to catch it like a goalie and throw it back in the same motion. He ran tight circles around hula hoops on the turf. He sprinted forward as Sugarman held him back with a bungee cord. Sometimes, for fun, they chased each other around the training room on stools with wheels so Peterson could strengthen his hamstring muscles. Or they'd stand on small red discs and toss a ball back and forth.

``He was terrible at it. He just hates to lose at anything,'' Sugarman said. ``So it's great when I can beat him at something.''

Peterson started training camp in Mankato, Minn., on the physically unable to perform list. His protest unsuccessful, he realized the importance of taking the process slowly. Those precious last few degrees of flexion in the knee took several months to return. The cutting, stopping and restarting he has to do for his job required nothing less than the full explosive ability of the joint. The muscles around the knee that atrophied after the surgery needed to be recalibrated, with quadriceps, hamstrings and calves in the proper strength proportion to one another.

Peterson began to be integrated into practice, though, with fans and coaches holding their breaths,

``He just dominated the rehab. It was ridiculous,'' Sugarman said.

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The opener:

Peterson was in the backfield on Sept. 9 as he planned all along, and he ran like he never left, carrying the ball 17 times for 84 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime victory over Jacksonville. He got the game ball afterward, which he gratefully passed on to Sugarman.

The ligament was as strong as ever, as good as new, but that didn't mean the Vikings weren't still nervous, wondering how Peterson would perform.

``I don't really worry anymore. But the first part of the season I was worried sick,'' Sugarman said.

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The rest of the season:

Peterson felt right after the Sept. 23 win over San Francisco, when he woke up the morning after feeling the usual post-game soreness. He truly began to take off on Oct. 21, when he hit the 150-yard mark in beating Arizona. He's passed the 170-yard mark in four of the last six games, twice surpassing 200 yards.

``He was never going to let this injury be an excuse for him not to be at the level he was at, and I think all the people saying he couldn't do it gave him more drive,'' defensive end Jared Allen said. ``That's the competitor in him, and that's why we love him here.''

Peterson jumped in the cold tub to recover after Sunday's game at St. Louis. He's still been doing stretching and strengthening exercises on his left leg. Other than that, there's nary a sign of his injury left.

Sugarman has received all kinds of correspondence from coaches and competitors in all levels of athletics, wondering what their secret was. But Peterson hasn't really rewritten the ACL rehab manual. He's just added another remarkable chapter to his exceptional career.

``His ability to heal is probably different than mine or yours. His work ethic. His determination. His faith. He just has all these factors that, when put together, allowed him to accomplish what he has almost a year out from this terrible injury,'' Sugarman said.

``I don't think it's quite fair for everyone who tears their ACL moving forward to compare themselves to Adrian Peterson. They're setting themselves up for, in most cases, an unrealistic expectation.''

Peterson, who is 27, has stated his desire to break Emmitt Smith's record for career rushing. He'd have to play a long time to do that. But after his performance this year, that mark is just as achievable for him as the rest.

``It just depends on how long God blesses me to play,'' he said. ``I might go far and play `til I'm 40. I don't know.''

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Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter:http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

Chris Cooley remembers mostly positive reaction to Redskins' name from Native Americans

With the Washington Redskins' name change dominating headlines across the sports world, former players have been asked a multitude of questions to get their thoughts on the team's controversial nickname.

One of those has been, "Do you remember people having a problem with the name while you were on the team?"

The answers have, of course, been mixed. Santana Moss told NBC Sports Washington's Matt Weyrich that he first noticed a problem years into his Washington tenure getting off the team bus in Seattle, while Brian Mitchell has said he's been dealing with the negative reaction around the name since the start of his career in 1990.

On Thursday, former Washington tight end Chris Cooley joined the Kevin Sheehan show on The Team 980 and described his unique experience receiving feedback from Native Americans on the team's name.

"It's probably time to change the name, and we're in that world where you can change it, but it doesn't mean that I believe it had anything to do with anything racial. It didn't," Cooley said. "Guys I played for didn't believe that, over 75 tribes that I traveled to didn't feel that way six years ago when I went to those reservations and 30 or 40 more that I went to by myself.

"You know what, it's completely fine if you change your mind on something like that," Cooley said. "And I'll be all for it, but when I was with the Washington Redskins I don't believe anybody felt it was a racially driven name."

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Cooley traveled to several reservations across the country to gain an understanding of a culture his former team's likeness was representing. Instead of having to tie his opinion to polls and other methods for gathering a group of people's opinion, he got his information straight from the source.

"The overwhelming majority was, 'Don't forget us,' 'Don't care,' 'That's fine but I'm a Cowboys fan,'" Cooley said. "It was just a conversation that was had very comfortably."

Cooley emphasized going to reservations alone in order to get honest answers from its residents. If he were there with the Redskins in a larger group, he feared he wouldn't get the same feedback as if he were alone. Ultimately, after speaking to hundreds of Native Americans, the Wyoming native got a similar response to his questions.

RELATED: NEW NAME REPORTEDLY WON'T INCLUDE NATIVE AMERICAN IMAGERY

"We would go to casinos, we would go to rodeos, and [I'd] ask them like 'Hey how do you feel about the Redskins' name?'" he said. "People would tell us, and it was more than 9-to-1 that felt positively about it, at least on the trips that I went."

However, as Cooley acknowledged, people can and are allowed to change their minds. The response a few years ago may have been positive, but that may not be the case anymore. 

According to a report from the Associated Press, more than a dozen Native American groups sent a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell asking the league to force Washington to change its name. 

So, in the end, Cooley isn't going to be "an old man on the front porch" as he called it, and push against change just to keep things the way they were. 

"Times change with people and all I'm saying is I don't feel like in my time there it was ever racially driven," he said. "But I'm also not going to sit here argue for it. If people want it changed then let's change it."

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Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Redskins assistant coach witnessed former Raider Barret Robbins' early mental-health issues

Sports Uncovered is a six-part weekly podcast series that explores the stories that took the national sports world by storm. The newest episode, The Mysterious Disappearance That Changed A Super Bowl, dives into how Oakland Raiders star center Barret Robbins missed Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003 after 24 hours of partying. 

Barret Robbins was just a junior at Texas Christian when his manic episodes began. 

A potent mixture of steroids, alcohol and marijuana left the future NFL offensive lineman in a daze. It felt like he was sleepwalking. Driving to Austin from his school in Fort Worth, not really knowing what he was doing, seeking some level of attention, he smashed the window of a car dealership. 

Robbins had no intention of taking anything. But it looked like he was trying to burglarize the place. So, Austin police arrested him. It was so out of character, his TCU coaches, including current Redskins tight ends coach Pete Hoener, weren’t sure what to make of the episode. 

“My first inclination on something like that with him was ‘Man, he must have been really drunk,’” Hoener told NBC Sports Bay Area for the sixth episode of NBC’s Sports Uncovered podcast. “You know, been with the wrong person or something.”

Robbins went to jail and then to rehab before being allowed to play his senior year at TCU. But it was the beginning of a descent that continued long after Robbins failed to post for the Raiders’ appearance in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. 

The latest Sports Uncovered podcast by NBC Sports takes a look at Robbins' infamous Super Bowl disappearance and what has happened to him since then. Listen to the full episode below or by subscribing wherever you get your podcasts:

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Who knows if the outcome would have changed? Oakland lost 48-21. But Robbins’ life has never been the same. One of the best offensive linemen in football was out of the NFL by 2004 and left alone to deal with the depression and bipolar disorder that plagued him since college. 

The incident at the car dealership led to a diagnosis of depression by the TCU medical staff. Robbins’ story is difficult to listen to. He spoke with NBC Sports Bay Area for a 2011 interview that serves as the basis for the podcast, but otherwise few know his whereabouts now, including his former Raiders teammates. 

Robbins told NBC Sports Bay Area he likely had episodes before that one in college. But nothing where he ended up in trouble. It wouldn’t stay that way. He managed a nine-year career in the NFL before things fell apart. 

That saddens Hoener, who left TCU in 1997 and has spent the past 20 years as an assistant in the NFL, including nine with Rivera on the Carolina Panthers’ coaching staff and again this season with the Redskins. 

Hoener knew Robbins when he was just a teenager. The answer when odd things happened to a player back then was he must be drinking too much. Robbins just didn’t have the same support system that would be in place today for players at almost any level of football. Mental health is treated so much differently now. It might have made a difference for Robbins. 

“I think the thing that’s come of all this is there’s much better communication now with the medical staff and psychologists,” Hoener said. “And everybody up through the college level – maybe even the high school level – up through our level. So that a lot of those things don’t slip through.”

Want more Sports Uncovered? Check out Sean Taylor, the NFL superstar we didn't get to know, also part of the Sports Uncovered podcast series.

To never miss an episode, subscribe to Sports Uncovered and get every episode automatically downloaded to your phone. Sports Uncovered is also available on the MyTeams app, as well as on every major podcasting platform: AppleGoogle PodcastiHeartStitcherSpotify, and TuneIn

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