Washington Redskins running back Adrian Peterson is now one degree of separation from Jim Thorpe and two from Pop Warner and Dwight Eisenhower.
When Peterson ran 64 yards for a touchdown Sunday against the New York Giants at age 33, he became the second-oldest player to run for a touchdown of 60 or more yards.
The last time a player at that age did that was in 1921, when Thorpe – yes, that Jim Thorpe – ran for an 80-yard touchdown at age 34 for the Cleveland Indians against the Columbus Panhandles.
He played for Warner – yes that Pop Warner – at the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pa., and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Carlisle beat an Army team 27-6 in 1912 that had a cadet named Dwight Eisenhower, who said in 1961 when he was president of Thorpe, “He never practiced in his life, and he could do anything better than any other football player I ever saw.’’
The next year, Notre Dame went to Army and won 35-13 by featuring the forward pass with Gus Dorais throwing to Knute Rockne – yes, that Knute Rockne. That game is remembered for popularizing the forward pass in college football.
Carlisle didn’t need to pass. It had Thorpe.
He was so famous that he named the first president of the forerunner of the NFL, the American Professional Football Association (AFPA) in 1920. It adopted the NFL name in 1922 although the NFL will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2020.
Thorpe didn’t really serve as president for two years, but the fact they gave him the title to give the new pro league some cache shows the respect Thorpe had from his peers. He was elected a charter member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Thorpe may have been the best athlete of the 20thcentury. He won the gold medal in the pentathlon and decathlon in the 1912 Olympics. He was stripped of his medals because he had been paid for playing semipro baseball. In 1983, 30 years after his death, the medals were restored.
In fact, he was so good in track and field that Warner didn’t want him to play football, which was a brutal game in those days, because he feared he would get hurt.
But when Warner gave him a chance and when nobody could tackle him, he became a football player.
He played several seasons of major league baseball, but his wasn’t his best sport. He hit only .252 in his career.
He also played some professional basketball a couple of decades after Dr. James Naismith invented the game in 1891. He barnstormed with a team of mostly Indian players as they were called then.
Today, Thorpe would be signing multi-million dollar contracts, but there wasn’t much money in sports in those days and he died in poverty in 1953 while suffering from alcoholism.
Peterson is the third 33-year old to run for a 60-yard touchdown. Former quarterback Steve Bono ran for a 76-yard touchdown in 1995 and Rocky Bleier did it in 1979 when he ran for a 70-yard TD. They were both a couple of months younger than Peterson is now, so he is the second-oldest.
Peterson, who will likely join Thorpe one day in the Pro Football HOF, is remarkably durable for a running back in today’s game. He has 127 carries for 587 yards and four touchdowns and caught nine passes for 151 yards this season.