Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mindful of the Moment

By Ronald N. Guy Jr.

The image is still vivid in my mind.  He lurked in the post-game tunnel watching the victor’s elation.  He needed to soak it in and to make a permanent entry into his mental Rolodex.  Players were just starting to file off the field.  Confetti still helicoptered in the air throughout the New Orleans Superdome.  The crowd was out of its mind.  It was Mardi Gras in January and to some exponential factor.

Despite the pure, unrestrained joy that filled the cavernous dome, Adrian Peterson was angry.  He was hurt.  Surrounded by raucous celebration, he was a despondent loser. 
Peterson’s Minnesota Vikings lost the 2010 NFC Championship Game 31-28 to the New Orleans Saints.  On the precipice the Super Bowl - the point of all the workouts, drills, practices, games and the physical and psychological brutality of an NFL season – the Vikings and their All-Pro running back, fell oh-so-cruelly short. 

Peterson was just 24 years old at the time but had already established himself as the best running back in pro football.  With an aging but still productive Brett Favre at quarterback and plenty of surrounding talent, there was every reason to believe Minnesota would make another championship run the following season. 

That’s why Peterson had to watch New Orleans, the eventual Super Bowl champions, celebrate.  He wanted to see what the prize looked like.  He wanted to experience the pain and use the imagery and his raw emotions as added motivation to ensure that next season would be different.
It was - very different.    

Minnesota won just six games the following year.  As often happens, Favre got old very quickly and tossed only 11 touchdown passes against 19 interceptions in just 13 games.  As for Peterson, he’s been running uphill in pursuit of the elusive do-over ever since.  In 2011 he suffered a severe knee injury and ended the season on injured reserve.  Three years later he was suspended for 15 games after pleading no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault.  And last year, Peterson sustained another knee injury and played just three games.  In all, and despite Peterson’s personal brilliance, Minnesota has managed just two winning seasons since that 2009-2010 campaign and has won exactly zero playoff games.

Peterson, now at the NFL graybeard age of 31, faces an uncertain future.  Last week, Minnesota declined to pick up an option in his contract, thus making the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, and arguably its best player ever, a free agent.  Peterson still has a chance to climb the mountain, but it will likely be as a role player and not with the Vikings.

As the saying goes, the victors get the spoils, among which is society’s fascination.  Whether it’s just a personal affection or our rebellious, competitive American DNA, we are winner-obsessed.  But the defeated teach as much as, if not more than, the victorious about the power of moments.  The winners are validated as individual players and as a team; those that lose, as Peterson did in 2010 or as the Atlanta Falcons did this year, are left with a bitter taste and the arduous task of getting back to that big game, that big moment again.

When I think about Peterson in that Superdome tunnel, in that extraordinary moment and his uneven and unsatisfying journey since, I think about everyday life and unremarkable moments.  An average day at work.  Carryout pizza dinner night.  A soccer game on a Saturday morning.  Another triple-digit round of golf.  Such things barely leave a trace memory and certainly not one as vivid as the haunting image of a broken and beaten NFL running back in the losers tunnel after a conference championship game. 

But they should.  Every moment in life is this unique confluence of time, people and circumstances.  None can be recreated.  Each is a single entry on our personal scroll.  Each is worthy of an appreciative pause, as Peterson did in the Superdome tunnel, to take account of it all – the place, the people, the experience – not necessarily to celebrate victory or defeat, but simply to remain mindful of the extraordinary pleasures found in the routine.      

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