Once, in Silicon Valley, I heard Joe Costello -- a founding light of "electronic design automation" and now CEO of the lowercase think3 -- give a talk about the difference between seeking success and avoiding failure. Studies of crashes during aircraft landings under difficult circumstances, he said, showed that pilots who made bad mistakes when approaching an airfield and crashed, but lived to tell the tale, reported that they had been focused on avoiding obstacles. Pilots who made difficult landings without incident reported they had focused solely on the runway. Business and artistic success, Costello continued, follow the same pattern. Setbacks result from constantly trying to avoid obstacles, worrying about what might go wrong. Achievement results from keeping your eyes glued to the prize and endlessly repeating to yourself, "I can do this." Or, as I once wrote, "Keep your gaze in the distance, and though you will stumble, you will reach your destination."
These thoughts came to mind when Tiki Barber said on NBC's "Football Night in the Known Universe," or whatever its formal name is, that rookie Adrian Peterson of Minnesota keeps his eyes straight ahead, looking only down the field, ignoring tacklers. Watch tailbacks: Most are darting their heads from side to side trying to figure out where problems are. Peterson says he is always looking at the goal line and driving his legs, ignoring tacklers. His runs have this quality: maximum power toward the goal line, pay no attention to the obstacles. The great Walter Payton once said he could never remember the numbers of those who hit or missed him because he was looking down the field and the rest was a blur. (That's a paraphrase.) Peterson seems to have this same success-focused running style, plus he's bigger and faster than Payton was.
And yes, Peterson was still on the field with 1:04 remaining and the Vikings ahead by 18 points, setting his 296-yard single-game rushing record on a 3-yard run when Minnesota should have been kneeling. But aren't you glad he got that final carry? When Payton set what was then the single-game record -- 275 yards -- in 1977, he carried the ball on the Bears' final snap, too.
No runner can have a record-breaking day without great blocking, which Peterson got. On his 65-yard touchdown run -- a toss left -- left tackle Bryant McKinnie and left guard Steve Hutchinson opened a huge hole at the point of attack, then wide receiver Robert Ferguson blocked one defender downfield, stayed with the play and blocked a second defender. (Downfield blocking by wide receivers is essential to long rushes.) On Peterson's 46-yard touchdown run -- a toss right -- right tackle Ryan Cook and tight end Jim Kleinsasser opened a huge hole at the point of attack, then Ferguson and slot receiver Aundrae Allison made perfect downfield blocks.