Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson may have ran away with the NFL.com Rookie of the Year honors, which were doled out at a Super Bowl Media Center Press Conference in Arizona, but back in early December when the 49ers hosted the Vikings, it was the 49ers rookie linebacker Patrick Willis who came out on top.
Willis, the NFL's leading tackler led his unit with 8 tackles and a fumble recovery in that game, while Peterson, the then-leading NFL rusher, finished with only 3 yards rushing on 14 carries. It's a game that both players were asked about immediately following Thursday's award presentation.
"After training with Adrian and studying film on him, I knew what his work ethic was like and that he was capable of making a big play at any moment," recalled Willis of the match-up. "I knew I had to do my responsibility, but then just also always watch him too. One time he came around the outside and I knew it was the hit that everyone was waiting on, and the next thing I know one of my teammates hit him. I was just thinking, 'man, you were lucky because that was it.' But, the next play I caught him on a counter play and I knew he was looking for that hole to bust it out, but there I was. He is a good player and I knew when I hit him, I had to come with it or it wasn't going to be pretty."
Although Peterson vowed revenge in the next match-up, he didn't seem to hold a grudge against his past training partner and fellow rookie Pro Bowler.
"He's an outstanding player, an outstanding talent," said Peterson. "I had to come with it too. Those guys really, really were focused on stopping the run that game. I learned a lot and took a lot from that game. I went back and watched that game and looked at myself to find out what I could have done to have had a better game or to have helped my team more."
Both rookie talents vastly improved their respective teams in 2007, so much so that they inspired nearly 440,000 fan votes for this year's award via NFL.com or Sprint wireless service, which shattered last year's total of 363,500.
"It's a great honor to be up for this award with these other guys because they all made great contributions this season," said Willis. "I think the class of 2007 was well represented this year."
Peterson and Willis joined Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, Buffalo Bills running back Marshawn Lynch, and offensive tackle Joe Thomas as the five finalists for the award with voting taking place over the last month.
Following the official nfl.com Rookie of the Year press conference, Willis headed to the set of the NFL Network for a segment with Peterson, Rich Eisen and Marshall Faulk, just one of many interviews slated for the 49ers linebacker over the next few days.
"So far it's been amazing," said Willis. "I did interviews all afternoon and it's been hectic, but it's also exciting to see so many athletes and get a chance to meet them. Also, everywhere you go you see signs for the Super Bowl and you can see the excitement for the game. This is what everyone strives for and to see it all up close definitely motivates you that much more to want to get your team here."
Willis won't be playing on Super Bowl Sunday, but the rookie has another football game coming up as he's Pro Bowl bound as of Monday.
"I'm really looking forward to Hawaii," said Willis. "This Super Bowl week is more about fun, but at the Pro Bowl it's more about business. You are there to play a game and put on a show."