View images from the 10th annual Adrian Peterson Day held in Peterson's hometown of Palestine, Texas.
PALESTINE, Texas — Adrian Peterson enjoyed a warm welcome home during a blazing hot — or quite normal for East Texas this time of year — weekend.
The Vikings running back Peterson greeted members of his hometown with heartfelt hugs, his trademark firm handshakes and plenty of smiles as Palestine held the 10th annual Adrian Peterson Day.
It's sort of a big family reunion, where if you aren't family, you quickly feel like you are because of the hospitality extended. Attendees ranged from residents of nearby neighborhoods to folks who traveled a couple hundred miles.
"Hello, everyone. I really appreciate the support. This is the 10th year, and every year, we've had an amazing turnout, so many great supporters," Peterson told attendees at Reagan Park. "It's always great to be around your home base and friends and family that you grew up with. I just wanted to let you know again that I appreciate the support you guys have shown me over the years. God willing, we'll be here another 10 years."
This year's event started with a parade through downtown and Old Town Palestine and was followed by activities for young people and autograph and photos in the park, which included carnival rides and games for young people, cotton candy and snow cones, as well as barbecue.
It continued a tradition that started in 2007, before Peterson played his first snap with the Vikings, as a way to recognize Peterson's achievements at Palestine High School and Oklahoma. Seven Pro Bowls, an NFL MVP season, 11,675 career rushing yards and 102 total touchdowns later, Peterson views the day as another way he can give back to the community that helped shape and support him.
This spring, after flash floods hit Palestine hard, Peterson committed more than $100,000 to relief efforts for people who lost their homes. He said the number is about double that, through donations made by him and others.
Tragically, six people, including four children and Giovanni Oliva, a former teammate of Peterson's, died in the floods.
"It's crazy just to think he's gone. He's definitely one of those guys that I remember well," Peterson said. "He's always had a beautiful smile and a great spirit about him and was just a good guy. Seeing him in those football pads, looking like Olive Oil with pads on, is the memory I always go back to. It really put things in perspective and makes me appreciate not taking anything for granted."
Members of the town are recovering from heartache and reconstructing businesses and homes.
Peterson said he is proud of the resiliency that's ingrained in the people of Palestine and he is pleased to help.
The up-close and personal interaction for Peterson with family, friends and fans is part of what Carol Pegues and Michelle Thompson hope for when they begin planning each year's event.
"We wanted to make sure he knows he's loved and that we give him recognition, and now he has turned it around," Pegues said. "He's giving to his community during Christmas, Thanksgiving, book bags when school starts.
"He does this stuff with love, so anytime you do something for him, it's love," Pegues added. "He never turns anyone down. I looked at him today and started saying, 'Let's go.' He's not going to leave until that last person gets that autograph."
Thompson added: "We want to continue this, and maybe we'll have a new Adrian Peterson in the future. We want to make sure everybody gets their education first, and strives, and puts God first."
Festivities extended into the night at a dinner party with dancing and laughs during a comedy show. Peterson's wife, Ashley, surprised her husband with an artistic purple glass sculpture to celebrate the onset of his 10th NFL season.
"It was amazing, and the turnout we had with the kids, it was just an amazing day," said Peterson's mother, Bonita Jackson. "Ten years in the league is an honor and a blessing to be still full-bodied and be able to still perform in the way that Adrian is performing. We're very proud."
Peterson's father, Nelson, added, "It's a very exciting time. It's been a fast 10 years, but thank God everything is good."
Nelson's handshake might be stronger than that of his namesake's. He is helping his son positively impact the community through the All Day Athletic Association, which sponsors sports activities (three football teams, three basketball teams, a volleyball team, a track team and cheerleading opportunities) for Palestine youth.
Steve Eudey, Peterson's former youth-league coach and his family made the trek from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to continue the tradition.
"This day is real special," Eudey said. "It kind of started off as a tribute to Adrian and has turned into more of him giving back to the community. He does a fantastic job of that. He loves all of these people."
Steve's son, Trent, played quarterback and enjoys the opportunity to reconnect.
"He's real accessible, real personable, kind of remembers where he came from and doesn't 'big time it,' " Trent said.
Pegues said she believes young people can be positively influenced by observing Peterson's approach.
"It's exciting because it shows the young people that, you know, you can become famous in many different ways, but Adrian, you just see the love that he gives back and the respect he gives God," Pegues said. "I'm thinking that all the young people who see this, no matter what they do, they can be a doctor, a lawyer, whatever, just give God the glory because that's what he does. It's easy for him because he knows where he came from, he knows it's God that got him where he is."