View images of the Vikings signing autographs for 10-year-old Abigail Niebauer at training camp.
MANKATO, Minn. –Abigail Niebauer has Adrian Peterson's back, and the Pro Bowl running back has hers.
When 10-year-old Abigail saw Peterson for the first time after training camp practice Friday, she wrapped her arms around him and held on tight.
Abigail and her family live in Denver, Colorado, but she proudly wears her purple No. 28 jersey to school in the heart of Broncos territory. Her choice of team – and love for the game of football – has caused Abigail to be bullied by classmates, but she refuses to turn her back on the Vikings.
"I just show my anger through playing football," she adds. "I use a lot of Adrian's moves to get touchdowns.
"I love Adrian Peterson, and I love watching the Vikings so much," she adds. "I love standing up for them."
Recently, Abigail wrote Peterson a letter. The first line read:
*Dear Adrian Peterson, You may not be a Hall of Famer, but in my heart you are… *
When Abigail learned this week that she would get to meet her hero, she could hardly contain her excitement.
"It was a dream come true," she told me excitedly.
Abigail hasn't always been a football fan, but she's been bleeding purple for the past five years.
"I used to be a huge soccer fan, but once I was 5 years old and I saw Adrian Peterson make a touchdown, the magic happened," she says. "I just started loving football, and it was awesome."
Peterson spent several minutes with Abigail, encouraging her and sharing advice. The two posed for photos, and he told her to always follow her dreams; to realize how important she is; to keep playing football; and, of course, to keep rooting for the Vikings.
"There are so many kids that deal with bullying like her, and people will look at them and think they're different because of something that they're passionate about or love," Peterson says. "I just wanted to encourage her to stay true to herself."
Abigail made the trek to Minnesota with her mother's best friend, "Auntie" Christine Stang, who introduced Abigail to the Vikings among her Broncos-fans family. A native of Minnesota, Stang attended Vikings games with her grandfather as a child and remembers meeting players like Rich Gannon. She wanted Abigail to have the same experience, so the two planned a road trip to Vikings training camp long before they heard they'd be meeting Peterson himself.
Stang looked on as Peterson and Abigail were deep in conversation with one another on the practice field, and she lifted her glasses to dry her eyes.
"When you're growing up, it's really hard to find an identity, especially if you just don't fit in," Stang said. "For Abigail, it was like she found this identity when she didn't fit in because no one's a Vikings fan, and she just kind of got to own that. Her family and I have gotten to see her come out of her shell, and it's really been amazing."
Stang took Abigail to the October 2015 Vikings-Broncos game in Denver, during which Abigail firmly corrected a Broncos fan near her about Blair Walsh's season stats. She knows her stuff.
When asked if the Broncos are her second-favorite team, Abigail just scoffs.
"There's no such thing as second-favorite teams," she said, grinning from beneath the brim of a Vikings hat.
Although Peterson is entering his 10th NFL season and meets thousands of fans every year, he said stories like Abigail's continue to touch his heart. When Abigail told Peterson proudly that she "mimics his moves," Peterson's smile mirrored the 10-year-old fan's.
"That means a lot to me – it means she's dedicated and strong-willed," Peterson said after instructing Abigail to "keep using those moves and score more touchdowns on those guys."
"It's humbling […] how you can affect so many people without even realizing it. I'm just blessed to be able to be in this position to have young girls and boys look up to me," Peterson said. "It continues to impact me. It keeps me motivated, and it just goes to show that God is still using me."
Abigail snagged one more bear hug from Peterson before he left, and he told her to keep her head up.
This weekend, Abigail will make the 12-hour journey back to Denver – where her guinea pig named "Adrian Peterson" and goldfish named "Kyle Rudolph" are waiting for her – but she'll never forget the day she met her hero in Mankato, Minnesota.
"When you're growing up, you have these few life-changing events," Stang said. "She's never going to forget this – Adrian said the most amazing things to her. When times get tough, she's going to remember that this amazing man told her to never give up."