Friday night, U2 played Minneapolis, and chiming, staccato arpeggios filled U.S. Bank Stadium. David Howell Evans, more commonly known as The Edge, created vistas of cascading sound without once resorting to the kind of lengthy, single-note leads that we associate with guitar gods.
No one who has played a guitar or revered Jimi Hendrix would argue that The Edge is the greatest guitarist who ever lived. What we can say is that his greatness is unique.
Monday night at U.S. Bank Stadium, Adrian Peterson will return as a Saint and Randy Moss will return to join the Ring of Honor. Like so many of the best athletes to perform in Minnesota, neither can claim to be the greatest ever, yet both were uniquely great.
Peterson can’t match Emmitt Smith’s raw production, Barry Sanders’ gymnastics, Gale Sayers’ grace or Jim Brown’s eye-test dominance. Now 16th, Peterson will need a productive season to pass Brown and move into the top 10 of the NFL’s all-time leading rushers, and Peterson likely will become the latest power back to fade quickly toward the end of his career.
Peterson never developed into a deft receiver, although Saints coach Sean Payton is the latest coach to predict improvement. Peterson was rarely a good pass-blocker, didn’t always follow blocks intuitively, and he wasn’t as fluid as most great runners.
He damaged his legacy in Minnesota by beating his son with a switch, complaining about the backlash and looking uninterested in the Vikings’ fortunes toward the end of 2016, when he seemed more intent on setting himself up to play for his next team.
What he did better than anyone else in memory was run with a combination of power, speed and relentlessness that made him look different from any other back.
To quote Brad Childress, Peterson ran like a rolling ball of butcher knives. Vikings defenders used to tell me they weren’t sure exactly how to try to tackle Sanders. For Peterson’s opponents, the question often became, especially late in games, whether they really wanted to try.
Moss, too, proved himself unique. He may have been the most talented receiver in NFL history. He may even have been the most influential, given that his arrival changed the way division opponents positioned and drafted defenders.
Moss’ arrival in 1998 transformed the Vikings franchise. He helped the team to two NFC title games in his first three seasons, and changed the Vikings experience. Before Moss, Vikings audiences looked a lot like Gophers audiences — older, quieter people who had kept tickets in the family for decades, and who sat on their hands and booed Bob Schnelker. After Moss, a younger, wilder crowd treated football weekends as 54-hour parties arranged around the game.
Moss, like Peterson, damaged his reputation among anyone not invested in hero worship with a series of silly or defiant acts. He annoyed the Vikings brain trust enough that they traded him. Imagine how difficult Moss had to be to prompt a team to trade him while he was in his prime.
When he returned for a cameo in 2010, Moss conducted a news conference after a loss in Foxborough, Mass., in which he praised the opposing coach and organization and criticized his original franchise.
That was pure mutiny, as was Moss walking off the field in Washington at the end of the 2004 regular season.
Just as Peterson and Moss were unique, for better and worse, there never has been anyone quite like Kirby Puckett, a short, burly bad-ball hitter who was also a Gold Glove center fielder and champion.
Karl-Anthony Towns could become the most mobile and versatile 7-foot-center we’ve seen. Byron Buxton might become the most unique combination of long-stride speed, fielding prowess and power in baseball history. Miguel Sano might become the largest great player in history, a 285-pound defensive end with the skills to play third base.
Monday night at the West Bank, you’ll see video reminders of Moss’ talents, and perhaps Peterson providing an on-field homage to his Vikings career. Neither was the Jimi Hendrix of his position, but both could make the Metrodome ring.
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at MNSPN.com. On Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org