By Dan Pompei

The game between the Browns and Vikings this Sunday won't look much like a Browns-Vikings game from 50 years ago.

With one exception.

Then and now, there is this running back who plays like a man among boys. A back too big and powerful to be so fleet of foot. An athlete with the courage and determination of a comic book hero.

Adrian Peterson is Jim Brown.

It took 42 years for there to be another like Brown, but he is here, finally, gloriously.

And if Peterson is another version of Brown, he offers no apology.

"Some of my game is patterned off his style," Peterson said Thursday. "What he brought to the game for the running back position and the mark he left, he's always going to be that guy who running backs look at and say this is how I want to play the game and these are the things I want to accomplish in the NFL."

They are alike in their ability to dominate defenders, games and eras the way few have in the 94-year history of the National Football League.

Brown had 39 percent more rushing yards than the next closest player during his career, Green Bay's Jim Taylor. Peterson has 22 percent more rushing yards than the next closest player in his career, Tennessee's Chris Johnson.

Peterson has not quite reached Brown's level. But he isn't far from it. In 91 games, Peterson has rushed for only 448 yards fewer than Brown did in his first 91. 

"I don't focus on the records," Peterson said. "I just focus on trying to be the best who ever played. And he's a guy I would have to pass in order to be able to do that."

Both seem to have been born with unfair advantages, and both have enhanced those advantages with dedication and industriousness.

Brown's playing weight was 232. His former teammate Paul Wiggin, who now is a pro personnel consultant for the Vikings and had a hand in drafting Peterson, played defensive end at the same weight.

Physically, Brown would be atypical of running backs today, but he was extremely atypical of running backs in his time and place. 

And he used his gifts well, the way a miner might use a sledgehammer. "Jim had a knack for taking on the tackle and fighting through it that was a little different from Adrian, who has that jump cut and all of those kinds of things," Wiggin said. "Jim would get to the obstacle and switch the ball around and beat people up with his hands and drive through them with his feet. He was a different runner when he got there."

That is what Peterson admires most in Brown. "The physical way he ran the ball," Peterson said. "Tough yards. That down and dirty football. Being a north and south runner."

Peterson weighs about 218, which makes him almost small by comparison to Brown. But his quickness and speed give him an edge.

Peterson ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the 2007 scouting combine. He fires off 25-yard runs as routinely as most of us shoot off text messages.

Brown was not exactly a ponderous runner, however. Wiggin said he saw Brown challenge many teammates to races, and he never saw Brown lose one.

Their similarities go beneath the flesh to the heart. And really, heart is what makes both men so special.

Brown ran with a fury that made him seem even bigger, stronger and faster than he was. Peterson has some of the same.

"There probably isn't any runner in today's game who is capable of matching Adrian's aggressiveness," Wiggin said. "There are backs who run as hard as they can. But he has something special."

Even Brown, who is not quick to throw bouquets, stands in admiration of Peterson. "This guy has unbelievable determination if you ever watch him," he told Dan Barreiro on Minnesota's KFAN last year. "He's going after it. He wants to get it. He's not backing off at all. He's not thinking about anything but getting it. And that's really beautiful to watch."

Peterson's refusal to back off was evident in his rehab from his ACL tear. Nine months after surgery, he was not only playing, but he was playing well enough to have the second most prolific rushing season in NFL history.

"What Adrian did last year is the most phenomenal thing that's ever happened in sports," Wiggin said. "I watched that kid work out. I never saw anyone work like that. He made it back and was MVP besides."

Last season 50 percent of Peterson's yards came after contact, according to Stats. 

One man against Brown never was a fair match. "There was this one play that he won't remember, but I will never forget," former Cowboys linebacker Chuck Howley said in Mike Freeman's book "Jim Brown: The Fierce Life of An American Hero." "He was running an end sweep, and for once he was just a little off balance, just for a second. That allowed me to catch up, and I was able to grab him from behind. It was the one time I tackled him one-on-one. Those are things you remember about playing Jim Brown. The times you could tackle him alone. Usually, it took a gang of guys to get him down."

Those memories are blurry now. But watching Peterson run makes them seem a little clearer.


Dan Pompei has covered more than 500 NFL games, including 26 Super Bowls. He is one of 44 members on Pro Football Hall of Fame selectors board and one of nine members on the seniors committee. He was given the 2013 Dick McCann Award by the Pro Football Writers of America for long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football. Follow him on Twitter @danpompei.