Adrian Peterson has exceeded expectations on the field, but fans are still getting to know the man off it.
No one blinked. The pool game continued without interruption in Adrian Peterson's basement. Across the room, digital football players still darted on a video screen. Upstairs, cabbage kept right on boiling over the stovetop. Family members never looked up from their chores.
Only the words still hung in the air.
Peterson, the Vikings' newest star, had been asked to reveal his long-term plans for his budding career. Amid the noise, he turned stoic.
"I want to be the best player to ever play this game," he said, pausing for effect before measuring his next pool shot.
Relatives and friends who pass through Peterson's new home in Eden Prairie are accustomed to high expectations and laid-back fun. But for the Vikings and their suffering fans, everything he says and does these days is suddenly worth watching.
Peterson, a rookie who has the most rushing yards among NFL running backs as midseason approaches, is now shouldering the Vikings' hopes in an otherwise disappointing season.
Away from the game, Peterson, a high school legend in Texas and collegiate record-setter in Oklahoma, is a homebody whose idea of a big day is taking Adeja, his 2-year-old daughter, to Valleyfair.
"He knows he's a good football player," said his mother, Bonita Jackson. "He always has been. He doesn't have to prove it to anyone. So he's just down to earth and can be humble. Sometimes I think all he really wants to do is just have fun with his family."Earth tones and memorabilia
The Vikings' first-round draft pick in April, Peterson started his career by rushing for at least 100 yards in four of his first five games. After his second, a 102-yard effort in a Sept. 23 loss at Kansas City, Peterson planned a quiet Sunday evening at the five-bedroom house he shares with his brother Derrick and a rotation of other family members and friends.
Offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie had other ideas. It was McKinnie's birthday, and he knew there was only one way Peterson would attend a gathering that McKinnie had planned.
A few hours later, two buses of partygoers pulled into Peterson's driveway.
"I was a little surprised, but I set the ground rules," he said, starting with the instructions on his welcome mat: Wipe Your Paws.
Indeed, the house appeared intact a few weeks later on a brisk October night. Peterson lounged comfortably on a leather couch in a living room that defies the tastes of most 22-year-olds. He and Derrick handled the decorating after moving in two months ago, and Adrian said: "I wanted it to be comfortable, and I wanted it to be me."
This, then, is Adrian Peterson: earth-toned colors in every room. A wall of leather-bound magazines, mostly Outlook and Eclectic. ("Haven't read one," he says, "but I might.")
There are a pair of twin beds and a closet full of toys for Adeja, who lives with her mother in Texas but visits often. The master bathroom includes the requisite whirlpool and walk-in closet, as well as the slightly eccentric pair of Julius Caesar busts imbedded in the walls.
"Sorry it's a little messy in here," Peterson says as he removes a single tissue from the floor.
Downstairs, the basement walls are purple and the ceiling is painted black in honor of his new team. A Vikings logo covers one wall. Draped over a chair in the corner is the jersey Peterson wore Oct. 14 in Chicago, when he gained a team-record 224 yards and scored three touchdowns. It is grass-stained and smells foul.
"I'll never wash this," he says, holding it close to his face. "I don't want to forget what it was like."
Aunt Ola and Uncle Larry, just arrived from the family's hometown of Palestine, Texas, are busy in the kitchen. Tonight's menu includes boiled cabbage, macaroni and cheese, cornbread and sweet potato pie.
The garage houses a Range Rover and a BMW 760, but from outside the home looks like many others in suburban Eden Prairie.
"Where I came from, we lived in apartments, or in a house that was never anything to brag about," said Peterson, whose rookie contract guarantees him $17 million. "I always dreamed of making it into a nice house. But I didn't need anything really big or crazy. Just something that feels right."