There will be moments on Monday night when Adrian Peterson is revered in the city in which he became an NFL star.
But perception and reality often are two different things.
Ex-Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss said there’s an extra incentive for Minnesota defenders to "tee off on Adrian Peterson." They were never able to hit him in practice.
Moss knows firsthand what this is like. So does former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, who was overcome by nauseating anticipation the day he returned to play in Green Bay.
"He was just distraught with his emotions playing against his former team," ESPN analyst Jon Gruden said of Favre. "I’m sure Adrian’s going to have a lot of those same emotions going into the stadium as a visitor."
In the build-up to one of the most anticipated nights in his career, Peterson will attempt to keep his routine and not make the moment bigger than it is.
But even for a professional, that sounds easier said than done.
"When it's time to kick off, man, it's extra," Moss said. "I mean, it's extra."
Peyton Manning’s return
Manning had 19 months to prepare for his football return to Indianapolis. In the end, it didn’t make it any easier.
The Colts released him after the 2011 season, following his fourth neck surgery. He was the franchise player, a future Pro Football Hall of Famer whose presence likely made the Lucas Oil Stadium a reality.
People named their children after him even as his highly publicized free-agency tour of 2012 ended with him signing a four-year deal with the Broncos.
So it wasn’t just another game.
The sellout crowd booed the Broncos as the team took the field and a Sunday Night Football prime-time audience settled in. Then the Colts played a 90-second video tribute on the stadium’s video boards before kickoff as an emotional, somewhat uncomfortable Manning looked on and waved to the crowd from the Broncos sideline.
After starting the season 6-0, the Broncos suffered their first loss in Indy, 39-33. Manning finished 29 of 49 passing for 386 yards, to go with three touchdowns and an interception. He was sacked four times and suffered an ankle injury on one of those sacks -- by Robert Mathis -- that bothered Manning for the remainder of the season.
"Hopefully, we'll have a chance to play these guys again, because that would mean we made the playoffs," Manning said. "I think if there is a next time, it may be a little bit easier just because it was somewhat of an emotional week and it can be a little bit draining, I will say that."
There was no rematch that season.
Brett Favre’s return
After playing 16 seasons with the Packers, Favre returned to Green Bay as a member of the Vikings on Nov. 1, 2009.
Every time the Lambeau Field crowd booed, Favre did something to shut them up.
From the beginning of the night, when a plane circled over the stadium towing a banner that read "Retire 4 Good" to his triumphant walk off the field as a winner in purple and white, Favre’s return to Green Bay as the enemy couldn’t have gone any better for the quarterback shunned by the Packers a year earlier.
Sure, there were cheers from those who admired Favre for his 16 years, three MVPs and one Super Bowl title with the Packers, but those who viewed Favre as a traitor -- even though it was the Packers’ choice to jettison him, not the other way around -- ultimately made the most noise.
"It was about what I expected, I guess," Favre would say after the game. "It was probably worse every time I took the field. But I consider it a good thing. It's better than saying nothing, I guess."
In the end, Favre had the last word with his game-clinching fourth touchdown pass of the game -- a 16-yard strike to Bernard Berrian for a 38-26 win. With a hug from Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell -- Favre’s former teammate in Green Bay -- and an emphatic double-fisted pump, Favre walked towards the visitors tunnel with the redemption he so badly sought.
"Packer fans cheer for Packers first, I know that," Favre said. "I hope that everyone watching in the stadium tonight said, 'You know, I sure hate that that joker's on the other side. But he does play the way he's always played in his excitement and his passion for the game.' As long as I play, that's not going to change. And I think that's what people have admired about me throughout my career. That's all I can do.
"What I've done here speaks for itself."
Favre would play one more time as a Lambeau Field visitor -- a 28-24 loss on Oct. 24, 2010, shortly before he retired for good.
When he returned to Lambeau in the summer of 2015 to see his number retired, he joked about his first game at Lambeau with the Vikings.
"I’ll say this, I’ve also run out of that tunnel," Favre said while pointing toward the path to the visitors locker room, "and that was scary."
Favre then turned toward the Packers’ tunnel.
"I’d much rather go out of that tunnel right there," Favre said.
Randy Moss' return
After playing his first seven seasons with the Vikings, Moss left for Oakland in 2005 and returned to Minnesota as a member of the Raiders on Aug. 14, 2006, for a preseason opener.
I covered that game as a beat writer for the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, and the truth is that I don't remember a single moment from that night. It was completely forgettable in that regard.
I went digging through written and visual coverage of the game and was shocked to see surviving photographs of a stadium at near capacity. If this game had been an unusually lively affair, I would have remembered it for its uniqueness, if nothing else.
Regardless, whatever antipathy that might have existed between the sides had dissipated in a year's time and the malaise of the preseason action.
Before the game, Moss -- at the time a candidate to make preposterous statements at any moment -- said, "What I accomplished in Minnesota is way, way behind me." In reading back over the Star Tribune's coverage from that evening, it appears there was almost no one in the stands when Moss first jogged onto the field for early workouts. He received polite, but in no way hearty, cheers during pregame introductions and was done for the night midway through the second quarter.
Raiders coach Art Shell, in fact, yanked Moss earlier than intended after seeing him stomp his feet when quarterback Aaron Brooks failed to spot him wide open in the end zone. Only then did the drama level rise.
"It kind of [ticked] me off for me to be taken out during the series," Moss said after the game. "I wasn't even in the flow of the game. Just by them throwing me a couple balls, that doesn't mean I was in the flow of the game. ... He made a decision, he's the head coach and I've got to live with it."
By then, fans who had turned out for the game had long since departed. A new era was beginning in Minnesota -- the night marked Brad Childress' first game as the Vikings' new coach -- and Moss was headed toward one of the least productive seasons of his career. If nothing else, it was a reminder for the Vikings and their fans of the headaches that had prompted the trade in the first place.
Tim Brown’s return
After playing his first 16 seasons with the Raiders, Tim Brown returned to Oakland as a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 26, 2004.
"It was probably the weirdest week of my career, man," said Brown, who said there were a couple of times during that Week 3 game when he actually found himself heading toward the Raiders' sideline by mistake. "I mean, really going back to junior high school, there was not anything that I could relate it to. To be in that situation where I’m about to go play against the organization or the team that I loved for 16 years was straight-up weird. It was weird."
Brown said he didn’t have a lot of animosity toward the Raiders, even though he wasn’t too pleased with the way things ended and thought coach Norv Turner was "sheepish" in the way he let him go. But Brown was 38 years old and knew, "I wouldn’t be able to play forever." So he spent one final season reunited with former Raiders coach Jon Gruden in Tampa before calling it a Hall of Fame career.
Brown admitted the experience messed with him a little bit. He said he always had prided himself on being able to tune out everything else but couldn’t do it that time in Oakland, particularly with so many friends on the other team.
"I was constantly in that mode all game of, ‘I’m not playing for the Raiders anymore.’ So I was surprised by that. But it just shows you how strong that bond was," said Brown, who didn’t even realize that he was sitting on 99 career touchdown catches until Gruden reminded him before the game.
Sure enough, Brown caught No. 100 against the Raiders -- his only TD catch that season -- on a 16-yard pass in the fourth quarter, when Oakland was leading 30-6 en route to a 30-20 victory. Brown finished the contest with four catches for 41 yards.
-- Mike Triplett