The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

September 23, 2013

NFL star comes to Morrison

Chance meeting brought ex-Bear to rural Illinois

By Brenden West
Assistant Sports Editor

---- — MORRISON, Ill. -- So, a Morrison man walks into a bar during a Cubs game...

That’s how Jon Kophamer remembers it -- it being mid-June on the Wrigley rooftops. The day -- the 22nd -- happened to be his wife’s birthday, but in fact he would be the one to receive the surprise.

The Mrs. went to the bar below for a cool down, Kophamer said, where she discovered some kind of commotion.

“She doesn’t know a football player from any other guy,” Kophamer said. “She texted me, so I came down there, and I looked and I said, ‘Well, that’s Adrian Peterson.’ “

Not the 2012 Most Valuable Player Adrian Peterson, who, by this point, was enduring summer workouts to improve upon his breakout year with the Minnesota Vikings. Rather, the same named, same positioned, man who, for eight seasons, wore the navy blue and orange about as well as anyone in the now closed Lovie Smith coaching era.

Actually this Adrian Peterson turned out to be a particular treat for Kophamer who is, in fact, a die-hard Chicago Bears fan.

“I just went over there and sat down with him,” Kophamer said. “He was there promoting his book (”Don’t Dis My Abilities”). We started talking and I asked him if he does speaking appearances. He told me he did.”

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Three months later, a well-dressed, well-mannered, rock solid, braided-haired man attended service at the Ebenezer Reformed Church in Morrison. It’s been four year’s since Peterson last wore No. 29 for Chicago, but he nonetheless looks just fit enough to snap off a 20-yarder against the best the sport has to offer, maybe even knock over an opposing kick returner on a 50-yard dead sprint up the Soldier Field sideline.

(Later in the day, Kophamer asked Peterson “Who was the hardest hitter you ever faced?” Peterson replied: “Probably B.J. Raji on the Packers. ... But I doled out some of the hits to you know.”)

His career ended just recently enough where he’s still privy to the goings on of the Chicago operation. One of his closest teammates was kick returner Devin Hester, whom Peterson called up last week to congratulate on a record-setting day for the Bears’ special teams. Another, fullback Jason McKie, is Peterson’s neighbor.

He spends his days mostly on speaking engagements and as a “stay at home dad,” with a fourth child on the way. It’s a quieter time now compared to making a livelihood off the game. Those were days when he delivered punishing blows on special teams and got significant carries during the 2005 and 2006 seasons -- Smith’s coaching prime with back-to-back playoff appearances and a trip to Super Bowl XLI.

On Sunday, though, Peterson spoke to the Morrison congregation about how his faith in God has helped him achieve the football dream. Although he’s been to nearly every major city as a pro, Morrison actually felt more like home, reminding Peterson of his hometown Alachua, Fla.

“I’m reaching more cities now than I did when I was playing,” Peterson said. “I get more free time now. Monday through Sunday was dedicated to work. Now, I have a lot more free time to reach the outside communities.”

After church, Peterson sat at a table outside, posed for pictures, signed autographs and sold copies of his autobiography. He then had a Subway lunch with locals before heading to the Morrison Sports Complex for some training exercises with the Morrison youth.

Those locals called Sunday their “Super Bowl.”

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Pat Carney, like Kophamer, is also a Morrison resident and also a die-hard Bears fan. He’s not one to cross his Adrian Petersons. In fact, he’s one of the few people in the world to own an official Chicago Peterson jersey, which he proudly wore during the service.

“I liked the way he ran,” Carney said. “I became a big fan, and I enjoyed the heck out of today.”

Others in the congregation share Carney’s impressions of the ex-Bear.

“How often do you get an NFL player in a small town like this,” said Keith Hamstra, a church elder, like Kophamer. “It was a good day for the life of the church.”

Said Gerry Norman, the church pastor: “I thought it was excellent. He really held the attention of our congregation. I just laugh because we’ve started referring to this as our Super Bowl and we pulled it off.”

Kophamer hasn’t had a chance to read Peterson’s book, even though he was the first Morrison man to own a copy. When he came back home, he brought his idea to bring an NFL star to Morrison to the other Ebenezer church elders and “Don’t Dis My Abilities” has been passed among them ever since. He’s only just now received the book back.

What made a Morrison man think a pro football star would travel two hours to spread a message?

“I was thinking of kids,” Kophamer said. “He’s got just a good message for Christian life.”

Kophamer said he’s developed a relationship with Peterson in the months leading up to Sunday. The two exchanged phone numbers after meeting up in a Cubs bar in Chicago and now talk on a week-to-week basis.

“We became, I’d say, pretty good friends over this,” Kophamer said. “I’m hoping to have him back.”

The running back showed small flares of his athleticism on the practice field in Morrison. The children -- over 50 on hand -- tried their best to imitate him.

How did Peterson find God? In fact, despite all the accolades he received in his life -- all-time leading rusher at Georgia Southern University, eight-year pro career, NFC champion -- Peterson dealt with adversity from a very young age. Now, he said, his mission is to inspire others, to demonstrate they can conquer their obstacles.

For as long as he can remember, Peterson has dealt with a stutter. He endured harsh teasing in grade school, but translated those ensuing frustrations into successes elsewhere.

“I didn’t allow it to beat me, and I was still able to reach all my goals to go to college and make it to the NFL,” he said. “That’s why I now share my message -- to help others who are struggling.

“I think I know now that God has a plan for me and it was more than all-time leading rusher, more than eight year career with the Bears. It was to inspire.”

In all likelihood, a 30-minute workout -- even with an NFL player -- isn’t going to turn 6- and 7-year-olds into professional athletes. But Peterson’s final words to the Morrison youth, he hopes, will still inspire them to succeed in ways he did.

After working up a good sweat, the group gathered near the south Morrison end zone, where the ex-Bear imparted his reason for being in rural Illinois.

“Anything that society sees as a disability, you can achieve your goals and overcome it,” he said.