EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Adrian Peterson will play in a home playoff game Sunday for the first time in six years, on the best Minnesota Vikings team since the 2009 group that lost the NFC Championship Game to the New Orleans Saints in overtime. That game remains the closest Peterson has come to winning a Super Bowl -- a goal he says would render his career incomplete if it goes unmet.
Peterson became just the third 30-something NFL rushing champion in league history, and its first since 2004, when he finished with 1,485 yards last Sunday. He plans to play into his mid-30s, in hopes of gaining the 6,680 yards needed to eclipse Emmitt Smith's career rushing record. Yet if Peterson breaks that record without a ring, and leaves the game as the best running back never to win a Super Bowl, he said "it wouldn't sit well."
"Any sport that you play, you want to get that gold medal, you want to win that basketball title, the World Series, you want to win," Peterson told ESPN in an interview Wednesday. "It's all about winning a championship, any sport you play. It's not about going out there and breaking every record, and you're happy and you can settle with that. It would definitely be unfulfilling.
"[If I win a title], I can ride off in paradise -- once I got that ring, having those memories, something to show my kids and my grandkids, and accomplishing that ultimate goal. Since I was 7 years old, I dreamed about playing in the NFL and winning a championship. I didn't dream about Emmitt Smith's record until I got older and I was able to see records and different milestones I could surpass. At that age, I was thinking about winning a championship."
That goal, more than any, other figures to consume the second half of Peterson's career. He rested at the end of several games this season, he said, to keep himself fresh for the playoffs, even though a few more carries could have gotten him the extra 65 yards he needed (along with a Vikings playoff win) to avoid triggering a $1 million de-escalator clause in his 2016 contract.
Asked what he's most proud of in his return season, Peterson cited the NFC North title the Vikings won Sunday night in Green Bay, after the team first set that goal in training camp. And this week, ahead of the Vikings' NFC wild-card game against the Seahawks, Peterson has been one of the team's veterans telling younger teammates not to assume postseason opportunities will come along every year.
"Anytime you're one game away from going to the Super Bowl [in 2009], and you lose in that fashion -- when you know you were the better team -- it haunts you," Peterson said. "It's something that, now, since it was so long ago, it's not right there at the top of your brain, but it's always got a spot there in the back.
"You can kind of take things for granted. That was a spectacular year we had. We had some great talent. To assume this would be our first trip back -- [in 2012, when the Vikings lost a wild-card game in Green Bay], I don't know if you can even count that one -- I never would have thought that. That's something that, as veteran guys, we want to make sure we preach to these young guys: Make sure you take advantage of these opportunities, because they're slim to none. We've got some rookies coming in that get to taste the playoffs. We've got guys that have been in the league 10 years that haven't played in a playoff game. We've been harping on that this week."
Peterson, who played his first NFL game in 13 months in September after missing 15 games last year in the wake of his indictment on child injury charges, said he never had any doubts about whether he could still play at a high level. But when he got back on the field -- particularly in a season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers, in which he was held to just 31 yards -- Peterson said he wasn't where he wanted to be.
"And I feel like, still with that, I was better than all the rest of the running backs," he said. "But I saw there were things I could still improve on."
The running back ran for 134 yards the next Sunday against the Detroit Lions, and posted 126 yards and two scores the following Sunday against the San Diego Chargers, on the day his son, Axyl, was born. He feels his breakaway speed is as potent as it's ever been, though opportunities for breakaway runs, like his 80-yard touchdown in Oakland, have been somewhat infrequent.
When the Vikings' season ends, Peterson should have a relatively tranquil offseason after the turmoil of last year, when he was waiting to be reinstated by the NFL and trying to sort out his feelings about returning to Minnesota. This offseason, he said, he's planning to visit Italy with his wife, Ashley, on a honeymoon the couple has been waiting to take since they were married in July 2014. Peterson said he also plans to take an international mission trip with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, which provides hearing aids to people in need.
Former teammate Sidney Rice sent Peterson a hyperbaric chamber several weeks ago, and the running back said he might try it to help with offseason recovery -- once it all arrives.
"He forgot to send the most important piece -- the oxygen [hood] that goes with it," Peterson said.
"But I think I'm going to try those things. It's all part of, your body's an investment. If those things can help with recovery, and things like that, I'm all into it."
Otherwise, he said, his training regimen won't change now that he's in his 30s. After playing all 16 games, and leading the league in carries, Peterson doesn't feel the need to alter what continues to work for him.
"I feel like I don't have to do anything new," he said. "I haven't felt like, 'Now that I'm 30, I need to do more conditioning, this and that.' Just go out, and whatever I do, put my best foot forward, when it comes to my training and conditioning and taking care of the body and things like that. That's what I did this offseason. It worked out pretty good. I'll stick to that -- do better than I did last offseason, as far as working out, and see what the results are."