Adrian Peterson on his future, criticism, legacy and more

MANKATO, Minn. -- Before the Minnesota Vikings kick off the preseason with the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game on Sunday night, Adrian Peterson sat down for a conversation with ESPN.com about his return to the field. Sitting in head coach Mike Zimmer's golf cart and chomping on three pieces of gum he swiped from the coach's dashboard, Peterson offered candid thoughts on his future in the NFL, how he deals with criticism after his suspension last season, and how he wants to be remembered.

First, from a football perspective, I know you talked a little bit last year about the amount of extra work you've been able to do, not having all the endorsements and offseason appearances. How much stronger do you feel like you are?

Adrian Peterson: I definitely feel stronger, having the extra time to let the body rest, for one, and then train even more. In season, you probably lift twice a week, just to keep things sharp and keep your strength up through the season. But having the type of time I had, I was able to push my body to the max, knowing I had enough time to recover and be ready for OTAs [organized team activities] and camp. I feel stronger. I feel more explosive. Mentally, that was the biggest thing. I was able to grow stronger mentally, and it’s been showing, when I’m in the weight room and when I’m out here as well.

You mean the mental part of it has been showing, or the physical part?

AP: Well, both. I look at it as, the physical part has a lot to do with the mental part.

You mentioned it when you first got down here, how much stronger you are mentally. How is your perspective different?

AP: I’ve always enjoyed the game for what it is. But I would say just now, going into it, it’s even more of a game to me. I just realize it for what it is, because life is way bigger than football, the NFL, the Hall of Fame, things like that. Life is way bigger than that. That’s why I think I’ll be able to come out here and just enjoy it more.

Is that the biggest thing about how this changed you?

AP: Just as a person. Going through everything and realizing that hey, you can get kind of caught up when you’re the face of the franchise, and they’ve got you all over NFL Network. But one thing to put in perspective: You realize you’re just a small piece. In the big scheme of things, they’re going to do what’s best for them. It puts things in perspective. That’s kind of how I look at things now. It’s like, I don’t owe the NFL anything. It’s a privilege for me and every other guy that’s on this field. For them, without us, they don’t make a dime. That’s how I look at it now.

Do you want to get back to the point where people are that enamored with you, or do you not look at that as being as important anymore?

AP: I really don’t look at it as being important, even though I feel like that’s still what it is. It’s not that important, and really, to be honest, it never really was. God blessed me with a talent and this is the position I have. But feeling like I have to do this or do that to revamp who I am, I don’t think I have to.

After this weekend, the next time you might be in Canton is when you're going in [to the Hall of Fame]. It's kind of odd to think about that, but what do you want people to say about you when you're being inducted?

AP: "He was the hardest-working person I’ve ever seen, a great teammate, just willing to make the sacrifice for the greater good. And the best player to play the game."

At this point, to be remembered for your whole career, more than what happened last year, is it about gaining a bunch of yards, or do you feel like you have to do a bunch of stuff off the field to remind people what you're about?

AP: I feel like it’ll be fun to get back to doing what I do on the field. Off the field, I’ll just continue to do what I’ve been doing. People, unfortunately, just the media world -- no disrespect -- but I feel like it feeds off negative energy. That’s what sells. It’s sad, you know? I was looking at my Twitter, and I sent out this message about this little infant that was struggling with this disease. I sent it out. I had a nice little message to write on there, about how it touched me. It got no more than 20 retweets. But you send out a picture of something negative, or something that just means nothing, it gets over 500, 700 retweets. I understand that about the world we live in. To me, it’s like, "Have you guys seen the stuff that I’ve done before this?" You probably haven’t, because you’re not looking up stuff like that. You just want to look up the wrong things. To me, it’s like, I don’t have anything to prove. I’ve just got to do what I’ve been doing. I’m the type of person that, I don’t feel like, when I do things, the spotlight has to be on it. I like to bless people and do things without the world knowing about it, because I’m not in it for the glory. I do it because it comes from my heart. As long as I keep doing that, I’m satisfied.

I suppose if you wanted people to know more about that, you could publicize more of it.

AP: I could.

It doesn't sound like that's why you want to be doing it.

AP: That’s why I say it’s bigger than football. People will get online and look up Adrian Peterson highlights, but they won’t go to the All Day Foundation. In this world, in the media, they’re so quick to judge someone when they really don’t know them. You want to judge me? OK. Look up things I’ve done in the community, or look up things I’ve done for different AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] track teams or basketball teams and things like that. And then you can sit there -- even though it’s wrong to judge -- but you can at least have a better judgment of, "He’s not a bad guy." You know what I’m saying?

One thing I've noticed -- you've talked about how much you enjoyed your time away from the game. If you wanted to catch Emmitt Smith, you'd probably have to play until you're 35 or 36. Do you want to play that long? Or after you've had some time away, are you thinking, "Maybe I don't want to stretch it out that long?"

AP: I think if I’m blessed to play [that long], I’ll get a feel. I think I’ll go off my gut feel. I think I can play for a long time, but I’m just going to take it one year at a time and see how I feel, because I did enjoy myself, realizing how much I was missing, as far as my kids. Just doing simple stuff, taking them to school, picking them up, that was fun to me. I missed that. Unfortunately, it’s during football season. So that could bring my career to an end earlier than expected.

I assume at some point this year, you're going to hear boos, or people saying things. Have you figured out how you deal with that, or has any of this prepared you to deal with that?

AP: I look at it like this, this is how I always put things in perspective: In your opinion, who was the greatest man to walk the earth?

In my opinion? Jesus.

AP: OK. They hung him from a cross. They crucified him. They beat him. (Sighs). Come on. Who am I? That’s how I always put things in perspective. If they’ll do that to the greatest man to ever walk this earth, who am I? So for people to sit here and have signs and say this and say that, to me, it is what it is.

If you wanted to play until you're 35 or 36, that takes another contract. Do you feel like the relationship with the Vikings is good enough where you'd trust them to make that happen?

AP: I do. I do. I feel like the relationship is that good. The big thing is -- because it is a business -- is still being productive, being able to perform at a high level. I feel like if I do my part, they’ll do their part.