Now he's getting paid like it, too.
Peterson agreed Saturday to a contract extension with the Vikings that includes $36 million in guaranteed money and as much as US$100 million over the next seven years if he plays that long with Minnesota.
"It means a lot, man," Peterson said. "It shows from ownership and just this organization, that they recognize that. They recognize the (player) that they have. It means a lot.
"But money don't make you. It's hard work. Continuing to work hard and my focus is going to continue to be to help this team."
The deal came five days after the Vikings locked up linebacker Chad Greenway to a lucrative long-term contract, the latest in a line of millions of dollars doled out to top players by owner Zygi Wilf since he and his family purchased the franchise in 2005.
Peterson has begun the final year of his rookie deal on a $10.72 million salary and was in prime position for a big pay day.
After setting the NFL's single-game rushing record with 296 yards against San Diego in 2007, Peterson has been picked for the Pro Bowl in each of his four seasons. He's already second in Vikings history behind Robert Smith with 5,782 yards rushing for his career, and his 54 touchdowns over the last four years are the most in the league over that span.
"Adrian loves playing for the Minnesota Vikings," his agent, Ben Dogra, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "Deep inside he wanted to finish his career with the Minnesota Vikings."
Already making major money this season, Peterson was in line for an even bigger salary in 2012 if the Vikings used their franchise tag to keep him from unrestricted free agency. He was content, then, to let the negotiations between Dogra and the Vikings work themselves out — and not protest any lack of progress.
"He said, 'Look, I'm under contract. I'm just going to play,'" Dogra said. "He never contemplated holding out. He understands the business side of things. He's very smart like that. He only knows one speed in life, and that's all out. That's why they call him, 'All Day.'"
Chris Johnson sat out for more than a month until the Tennessee Titans worked out a deal with their star running back that will pay him up to $56 million over the next six years, including $30 million guaranteed. And DeAngelo Williams of the Carolina Panthers recently got a contract worth as much as $43 million over the next five years with $21 million guaranteed.
But Peterson's new deal, essentially a six-year extension through the 2017 season, when he will be 32, easily surpasses those.
"You sit back and go, 'Hey, I've got 36 million guaranteed. That's not going anywhere,'" Peterson said. "I'm sure you'd be pretty comfortable, too. Comfortable, but not relaxed, because it's not going to take away from how I play this game, my passion about this game. I'm in this position because of how I play this game."
Even if Peterson lasts only five more years, not a given with the wear that running the ball in the NFL puts on a player's body, he'll get $65 million.
"Adrian's performances on the field have given fans so much excitement since he first joined us as a rookie," Wilf said in a statement released by the team. "His talent and determination are remarkable and we are proud to have him be a part of the family for years to come."
The Vikings open the season against the Chargers on Sunday in their first meeting since Peterson's 296-yard game. There was some doubt about whether Peterson wanted to stay with the Vikings, who are coming off a disastrous 6-10 season and aren't being labelled Super Bowl contenders this season.
But Peterson lauded the organization, particularly Mark and Zygi Wilf, who told both Peterson and Greenway early last season that he was going to keep them in Minnesota.
"He said 'I want to make sure you guys are going to remain Vikings for your careers,'" Peterson said. "He stayed true to that today. He stayed true to his word."
NOTES: The Vikings signed rookie tight end Allen Reisner to their active roster, elevating him from the practice squad, in time for Sunday's game. That gives them four tight ends. Backup guard Seth Olsen was waived to make room. Both Reisner and Olsen played at Iowa. ... Peterson has four of the top five single-game rushing performances in Vikings history, with 180, 192, 224 and 296 yards. Chuck Foreman rushed for 200 yards in a game in 1978.