We've been burned too many times by the words "absolutely incredible." Now we're here. So we wondered. And kept wondering. I probably received 700 "Do you think Peterson is doing this legitimately?" e-mails in November and December. Some were funny, some were thoughtful, some were crazy. All of them made me think.
Did I Google photos of Peterson's Oklahoma head and compare them to his Minnesota head? I did. And felt like a loser the entire time. Until I mentioned it to a buddy.
"Oh, I've done that," he said. "Everyone does that. That should just be a website. Before/after photos of athlete heads. They should all be in one place."
And I found myself nodding. That's a great idea for a website. He's right.
Does that make me a bad person? Am I damaged? You tell me. At the Grantland office, it's been something of a running joke: I call it my "Pee In The Cup" list. I never wrote about that list because ESPN Me overruled Sports Fan Me (smartly, in this case). Just know that it doesn't take much to get added to the list. Some of my favorite ways include …
• Skip the Olympics (which has much stricter drug testing) in your prime for any dubious reason and you're on the list.
• Enjoy your best season in years in your late 30s, four or five years after your last "best season," and you're on the list.
• If you're a skinny dude who miraculously managed to add 20 pounds of muscle to your scarecrow frame, you're on the list.
• If you chopped down the recovery time of a debilitating injury to something that just didn't seem possible a year ago, you're on the list.
• If you were really good and really ripped at a really young age, and now your body is breaking down much sooner than it should be breaking down, you're on the list.
• If you're exhibiting a level of superhuman endurance that has little correlation to the endurance of any of your competitors, you're on the list.
You're on the list for reasons that, sometimes, aren't even your fault. You're on the list because of mistakes your peers made, because the media foolishly trained itself to look the other way, because we learned the hard way that "absolutely incredible" usually comes with a catch. You're on the list because your players union negotiated ironclad drug-testing rules, ostensibly to protect your rights, but really to protect your right to cheat without being judged. You're on the list because our President claims to be a big sports fan but refuses to get involved, and apparently would rather see every sport go to hell over risking political capital and doing something about it. You're on the list because we don't have blood testing in your sport yet, or biological passports, or anything else that would allow us to know if you were competing fairly or unfairly. You're on the list because it's 2013 and we still have our heads stuck in the sand.