Peterson set to add to family legacy with Steelers

There are numerous instances available of football families, ones in which seemingly everyone born was designed in a lab with the DNA to be a football star.

There are few whose DNA runs quite as deep as that of new Steelers veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson.

Steelers fans are quite aware Peterson's first cousin is former Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden, who helped the team win a pair of Super Bowls in the 2000s. McFadden's mother is Peterson's great aunt.

Soon after signing with the Steelers earlier this year, Peterson chose McFadden's former number, 20, to wear with the black and gold to honor his cousin.

But that's not where Peterson's NFL bloodlines stop. Another cousin, Walter McFadden, also played cornerback in the NFL, spending time with the Raiders, Jaguars, Bengals and finally the Steelers in 2012, though he never suited up for the team in a regular season game.

Peterson also counts among his relatives former NFL wide receivers Sinoice and Santana Moss, as well as current Colts running back Zack Moss.

But perhaps more so than any of his relatives, Peterson was born to play football. It's almost as if the 32-year-old Peterson was designed in a laboratory to be a cornerback, something to which his eight Pro Bowls, three first-team All-Pro berths and 34 career interceptions would attest in his 10 seasons with the Cardinals and two with the Vikings.

"I was literally always this size since I was in high school," Peterson said of his chiseled 6-1, 195-pound frame. "They used to call me 'Man Child' in high school because I was literally the same size I am now."

And that caused some people to question just how old Peterson was, even when he was a 16-year-old in high school.

When Bryant McFadden was a member of the Steelers, he and many of his teammates would go to Florida each year to work out with trainer Tom Shaw. McFadden invited his younger cousin, one of the top cornerback prospects in the country, to the workouts.

"Myself along with Ike Taylor, James Farrior, Ricardo Colclough, a laundry list of pros would all go to Orlando to train for training camp. I said, 'Pat, I want you to come with me to get some good work with some pros.' Pat came there with me for a few weeks," McFadden recalled. "I remember the first time Ike saw Pat. I introduced them, I said, 'Hey, this is my cousin Pat.' He said what's up to everyone and Ike said, 'What team do you play for?' Pat was like, 'What do you mean.' Ike said, 'What organization are you with?' I said, 'No, Ike, he isn't in the league. He's about to go to college.' Ike said, 'No way. You're lying.'"

It didn't help that Peterson not only held his own there, he outperformed some of the other attendees.

"All those guys are yoked. They've got their shirts off. So, I ended up taking my shirt off, too. We ended up racing. That's why Ike thought I was older than I was," Peterson said.

"I was keeping up with him and one time I ended up beating him. He was like, 'Hey, what year is he in college?' BMac was like, 'Nah man, he's just a junior in high school.' Ike was like, 'Hell no. He ain't in high school. I want to check his birth certificate.'"

Taylor wasn't the only person who couldn't believe how good Peterson happened to be.

He was one of the most coveted players in the 2008 recruiting class. Every college in the country wanted him as a cornerback, even though he dabbled in playing running back in high school at Blanche Ely High School in Pompano Beach, Fla.

Peterson's reasoning for not spending too much time on offense, even though he could have easily been a star on that side of the ball, was simple.

And it was driven by watching his older cousin.

"BMac, he was the one that started it out for us. Then you have Walter McFadden, then myself. I guess it was just appealing to us. All of us were really fast," Peterson said. "We had a unique skill set on the offensive side of the ball. But you have to depend on so many people on the offensive side of the ball. You've got to have a good quarterback. You've got to have a good line to protect the quarterback to get the ball down the field. 

"When I started watching Bryant play, the swag that he had, he told me, 'You control your own destiny at cornerback. If you want to be as good as you want to be, go out there and shut down receivers.' As a receiver, if you want to be as good as you want to be, you need a good cornerback. You need a good offensive line. You need a good play caller. There's so much that has to go into being a prominent offensive player. Defense just came easier to me. And at the end of the day, I felt like I control my own fate. Also, I could play as long as I wanted to, versus taking blows instead of giving the blows."

So, even though his cousins on his mom's side of the family – the Moss branch – were all offensive players, Peterson chose his father's side of the family, the defensive branch, to emulate.

It was largely because Bryant McFadden was more like an older brother to Peterson as opposed to a cousin.

"No question," McFadden said. "With all of us having the love for football and seeing what I did in high school, because when I was in high school, (Peterson and Walter McFadden) were extremely young. Me becoming the No. 1 corner in the nation, they caught wind of that. I went to Florida State and they started following me."

Good choice.

But where he would choose to go to college to play football was a difficult choice.

The Moss brothers had both played wide receiver at Miami (Fla.). Bryant McFadden had starred at Florida State. Walter McFadden went outside the state of Florida to attend Auburn.

Peterson could have gone to any of those schools and dozens of others.

Everywhere Peterson went on a recruiting visit, the coaching staff would point out the history of the school's defensive backs. That was all well and good, but Peterson wanted to create his own path.

He wasn't interested in being the "next great corner" at any school. He wanted to be the defensive back other players looked to when they spoke about a certain school.

So, he chose to go to LSU.

"Trendsetter. That was my goal going there," Peterson said. "I had all of the big Power 5 schools coming after me. But what caught my eye at LSU is that they had never had a Jim Thorpe winner. Every school I went to, USC, Florida State, Miami (had them). When I saw that, you've got all these guys at major universities who are Jim Thorpe winners, but LSU doesn't have one. On top of that, the whole secondary was leaving. So, it was very easy for me to go in there and play right now. The rest was history."

He not only won the Thorpe Award, he also won the Chuck Bednarik Award as college football's top defensive player. To this day, only three players have won both the Thorpe and Bednarik. Michigan's Charles Woodson did it first in 1997. Then came Peterson in 2010, followed by current Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick at Alabama in 2017.

In three seasons at LSU, Peterson reset the standard for what a defensive back should be. He recorded seven interceptions, including four in his final season to go with 135 tackles, while also starring as a punt and kick returner as a true junior.

His number 7 has become one LSU's top playmaker has worn since Peterson left the school and announced he would declare for the 2011 NFL Draft.

It would have been nice to join McFadden with the Steelers, but given where the team was picking in the draft, there was little chance of that.

After Peterson ran a 4.34 40-second dash at 219 pounds at the NFL Scouting Combine while also displaying a 38-inch vertical jump, there was little doubt he would be one of the top picks in the draft.

That didn't stop Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin from attending the LSU pro day.

Tomlin already knew all about Peterson. He had heard all about him through McFadden and had met him previously.

"Coach Tomlin, being a football aficionado, he was always entertaining the conversation, asking me questions," McFadden recalled. "With Pat doing what he did in high school and then eventually going to LSU, being more on the national stage where Mike could actually watch, he was like, 'Man B-Mac, everything you said about your cousin, you were dead on.'"

Thirteen years later, Peterson is a member of the Steelers.

Tomlin appreciates those who play the game at a high level and do so the right way. Peterson has always done that.

A true shutdown cornerback in his prime, Peterson is no longer that guy. But the other things he brings to the table are valuable, particularly considering the Steelers selected two young cornerbacks, Joey Porter Jr. and Corey Trice, in this year's draft.

"The intangible quality, his football character, his love and passion for the game. I think that is just something to be learned from," Tomlin said. "We had the benefits of a guy like Joe Haden with a similar resume and love and passion for the game. So Pat P is a guy that brings something beyond his resume and playmaking capabilities, which is an asset to football teams. When guys can be living examples of what to do, how to go about this professional football business, I just think we all benefit from that. He is that. I think that's something that I've known about him, even prior to him being in the National Football League. That guy is a football lover, and an appreciator of this game. I think his actions reflect that. I think that's some of the things that made him very attractive."

And Peterson isn't ready to hang up his cleats anytime soon, though he knows he's not a guy who is simply going to line up and follow the opposing team's top receiver any longer like he did for so much of his career.

"And I don't want to be. There's not much tread left on the tires, but I'm definitely putting myself and my body in the best position possible so I can continue to be as successful as I want to be," said Peterson, who has trimmed back down to 195 pounds at this point in his career. "We know the older you get, you lose a step. I understand that. But I'm not losing this (pointing to his head). I'm still sharp. I still see what offenses want to do and attack me. I understand the scheme. I believe that is something that is going to help me stay in the game as long as I can. My mental part of the game is sharper than my physical attributes."

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

A student of the game, he wants to continue to play cornerback as long as he can, and then perhaps transition to a role of more of a safety, much the same way Pro Football Hall of Fame players Rod and Charles Woodson did.

Both Woodsons were premiere athletes who got by later in their careers by putting eyes on the quarterback and reading what the offense wanted to do.

Peterson has the knowledge to be a player like that. But he isn't done playing cornerback just yet.

Though Tomlin and Peterson have spoken about him doing more than just playing cornerback outside the numbers, he will still primarily play cornerback.

"My goal was always to get at least 14 at cornerback. That was always my goal," Peterson said. "If you go back and look at the guys in the Hall of Fame, those guys played 12-plus years. So, if you're having that body of work and sustaining it for that period of time, nine times out of 10, you're in the Hall. Even in high school, I said, 'If I want to be in the Hall of Fame, if I want to be one of these guys, I have to be good. But two, there has to be longevity.' That defines greatness. You can't just be good for a year or two and then fall off the face of the earth and then we don't hear about you any more."

If Peterson retired today, he'd likely be headed to the Hall of Fame. He was a member of the NFL's All-Decade Team for the 2010s, which is voted on by the selection committee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his rankings on Pro Football Reference's Hall of Fame monitor is very high.

Peterson's Hall of Fame monitor score of 84.80 is ahead of 12 other defensive backs already in the Hall of Fame, while his Weighted Career Approximate Value score of 101 is already ahead of the score for the average defensive back already in the Hall.

He's already broken through some other barriers, winning the Thorpe and Bednarik awards in his final season of college – only two other defensive backs have done that, Charles Woodson and current Steelers teammate Minkah Fitzpatrick – but winning a Super Bowl and earning a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are still on his to-do list.

McFadden, who has done a podcast, "All Things Covered," with his younger cousin the past few years, feels one of those goals is covered. Now, it's about taking care of the other.

"That's what he wants," McFadden said. "I think if it was to end today, he would be a Hall of Famer based on what he's done as an individual. But ultimately, he wants that sticky Lombardi, as we call it. I remember on our podcast, I told him, 'Not to put pressure on you, but the last family member who wore 20 in Pittsburgh, brought in two sticky Lombardis.' I'm not saying that's the standard, you've got to get two. But if you can get your hands on one, I think that would be a big feel-good story in terms of our family and what we've been able to do, having three NFL cornerbacks that were all drafted, one is a Hall of Famer.

"We've got a Super Bowl champion in the family. If we can get another Super Bowl champion in the family for the same organization, for the Pittsburgh Steelers? You're talking about one of the more prestigious organizations in all of sports. Helping that organization get No. 7? Oh my goodness. That would make me tear up a little bit if that were to happen, knowing how much that means to him. And also bringing another championship to the city of Pittsburgh. You know how it is there. You will forever be remembered in the eyes of that city. That's how diehard our fans are. That's what he wants. That's why he's willing to do anything he can to help the team grow and flourish to be able to get to that sticky Lombardi."