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By Thomas Wheeler

Professional sports and action figures have always been an interesting mix. Arguably, the most successful modern incarnation of the combination would have to be World Wrestling Entertainment, the WWE, which by its own admission is "sports entertainment", although one certainly cannot deny the athletic capabilities of its performers.

The presence of other sports in the world of action figures has tended to be a little harder to define. In all likelihood, the first major presence of this would have to be Mattel's Big Jim action figure, introduced in the early 1970's as an alternative to the more military-oriented G.I. Joe (even if Joe had become more of an "Adventurer" by this time). Among the various costume sets that could be purchased for Big Jim were those representing a wide range of sports, including baseball, basketball, football, boxing, and even race car driving. However, Big Jim was not a member of any actual professional sports team, nor did his outfits represent any such teams.

Perhaps the best known entry into the world of action figures from the world of professional sports would be Kenner's Starting Line-Up series. Although not especially poseable, and so the term "action figure" is probably something of a stretch, this line covered virtually every conceivable professional team sport around, even including soccer, and for years produced a wide range of skillfully-made figures representing the top names in a wide range of professional sports. These figures continue to be regarded as highly collectible to this day.

When Starting Line-Up concluded its multi-year run, McFarlane Toys picked up the ball -- pun intended. And since doing so, they have produced their own line of figures from various worlds of professional sports, but like Starting Line-Up before them, it's a bit of a stretch to call them action figures. They're more like statues. They're superbly detailed, and are excellent representations of the sports, teams, and players upon which they are modeled. But they're not really "action figures" as the term is defined.

I'm not that big of a sports fan myself, although I do enjoy watching the National Football League, the NFL, when it's in season. Between that and being an action figure collector, I've thought it would be nice if there were actual action figures of some of the more notable football players.

A few years ago, a different company than McFarlane started producing a line called "NFL RePlays". These WERE actual action figures of notable football players, and I acquired a couple of them, and found them to be very decently made. Even so, I did sort of wonder why McFarlane Toys hadn't gotten in on the act. Certainly McFarlane Toys knew how to do excellent, well-articulated action figures when they wanted to. Their HALO lines are proof enough of that. How hard could it be to do football players?

Well, apparently someone at McFarlane Toys agreed, because I discovered a series of action figures called NFL PLAYMAKERS, produced by McFarlane Toys, and featuring fourteen of the top names currently in the NFL (an opinion I'll admit is likely to differ among some fans. I'm not here to start an argument).

They certainly looked impressive, so I decided to bring one of them in and see how they were. I chose ADRIAN PETERSON of the MINNESOTA VIKINGS, for several reasons. Even casual football fans have likely heard of him. I rather like the Vikings despite being from the Michigan area to begin with (but what are the odds of a Detroit Lions player ending up in this toy line?). And I sort of liked the idea of having a football player action figure in a purple uniform. Purple seems to be a color that doesn't turn up all that often in the action figure world -- a Power Ranger from Jungle Fury, Cobra's Techno-Vipers, and some Star Wars toys affiliated with Mace Windu notwithstanding.

So, for the uninitiated, who is Adrian Peterson? Allow me to provide some background information on this superb NFL football player, courtesy of a little online research.

Adrian Peterson is a running back for the Minnesota Vikings. He was selected by the Vikings with the seventh overall pick in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft.

He played college football at the University of Oklahoma. While there, Peterson set the NCAA freshman running record for 1,925 yards as a true freshman. As a First-team All-American, he also set a freshman record by finishing as the runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting. Peterson finished as the school's third all-time leading rusher./

Following his stellar first pro season in which he set an NFL record for the most rushing yards in a single game -- 296 -- Peterson was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Peterson was then awarded the MVP award for his performance in the Pro Bowl and became only the fifth player in NFL history to have more than 3,000 yards through his first two seasons.

On October 17, 2010, Peterson became the fifth fastest player to run for 5,000 yards, doing so in his 51st game. Peterson has the second highest average yards per game total in NFL history with a minimum of 50 games, with an average of 95.9 yards per game.

In the 2007 draft, Peterson was the first running back selected that year. At the time, he was healing from a broken collarbone which he had suffered in a college game, but he stated during a press conference that he believed it to be about 90% healed, adding, "A lot of teams know that, and I don't see it stopping me from being prepared for the season."

He came into the professional world with high expectations of himself. In an interview with IGN following the NFL draft, he said, "I'm a player who is coming in with the determination to turn a team around. I want to help my team get to the playoffs, win... and run wild. I want to bring people to the stands. I want people to come to the game to see what I can do next. Things like that can change the whole attitude of an organization. I want to win."

Peterson began his outstanding rookie season announcing the ambitious goals of being named Offensive Rookie of the Year and rushing for over 1,300 yards during the course of the year. His breakout game came on October 14, 2007, against the Chicago Bears, highlighted by a three touchdown performance and a then-franchise record of 224 yards rushing on 20 carries. Peterson established additional team records for a rookie during this game, which included the most 100-yard games rushing and the longest touchdown run from scrimmage. He also set an NFL rookie record with 361 all-purpose yards in a single game. His 607 rushing yards through the first five games of the season is second in NFL history only to Eric Dickerson.

Three weeks later, on November 4, 2007, Peterson broke his own franchise record as well as the NFL single game rushing yard record when he rushed for 296 yards on thirty carries and three touchdowns against the San Diego Chargers. In addition, it took him past 1,000 yards rushing for the year after just eight games. His 1,036 rushing yards represents the best eight-game performance by a rookie in NFL history. In honor of Peterson's record-breaking performance at that game, the jersey he wore that night was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

At the end of the season, Peterson finished in second place in rushing yards, 1,341, behind LaDainian Tomlinson, who finished with 1,474. But, hey, if you're going to lose to anybody, Tomlinson is no slouch.

At the end of the 2008 season, Peterson finished leading the league with 1,760 yards, which makes the third most yards in a second season behind Eric Dickerson and Chris Johnson. In Peterson's first thirty games, he had 3,101 yards, which marks the third best start to a career for running backs behind Eric Dickerson and Jim Brown.

Prior to the start of the 2009 season, NFL and ESPN analysts unanimously named Peterson the best running back in the NFL today. However, the arrival of Brett Favre on the Vikings team brought some speculation about Peterson's role in the offensive. As it turned out, Favre worked well into the offensive through the first half of the season, re-establishing Peterson's ability with a passing attack.

Peterson finished the year fifth in rushing, and was voted to the Pro Bowl as the starting running back for the NFC combined team.

For the 2010 season to date, Peterson opened strongly, with 392 yards and three touchdowns through the first three weeks. In week six, he went over the 5,000 yard career rushing mark in a game against the Dallas Cowboys. By week 13, Peterson had rushed for 1,123 yards with 11 touchdowns, despite a rather disappointing season for the Vikings.

According to his father, Adrian Peterson was a hyperactive toddler, ramping up his activity while others his age napped. Is this really a shocker to anybody? His dad nicknamed him "All Day", which was later shortened to "A.D.", a nickname he still uses today.

Now, anybody want to say this guy doesn't deserve an action figure? And I do mean ACTION figure. Somebody with this sort of running capability deserves more than a plastic statue.

So, how's the figure? Really extremely impressive. The people that did the NFL RePlays figures did an extremely capable job with their figures, and I'd have to say that McFarlane Toys has done an extremely capable job with this new PlayMakers line.

Adrian Peterson stands about 4-1/4" in height. That is, the figure does. The real Adrian Peterson stands 6'1" in height and weighs around 217 pounds according to the online data, so he's not someone that I particularly want upset with me. It's not as though I could outrun him.

Anyway, it's a good height for his action figure, and arguably makes these PlayMakers figures -- height-wise, anyway -- just about compatible with a wide range of similarly scaled action figures, including Star Wars, Marvel Universe, G.I. Joe, and a few others -- just in case any of them should happen to need football players for some reason.

The facial likeness is excellent as far as it goes, but at the same time, the figure is wearing a football helmet that covers much of the head and guards the lower portion of the face. The helmet is not removable. I would suspect that the head was molded, painted, and then the helmet was put into place. Of course, the figure is supposed to represent Adrian Peterson playing football, so naturally he would be wearing a helmet -- although I have to say that I've seen a shocking number of helmets go flying on the field this year. I think one matter of business during the off-season that the NFL needs to look into is the quality of chin-straps on these things.

The painted detail on the face consists of eyes, eyebrows, and a slightly unshaven look. All of this has been done superbly well. The helmet is excellent, although I tend to think that the protective grid across the front is a little thick on the sides, which makes the overall helmet look a little wider than it would in real life. The helmet is purple, of course, and has been given a glossy finish, which is a nice touch, and entirely appropriate. Of course, the Vikings' helmet logo is present on both sides of the helmet. The chin strap and a few other details are done in white.

Adrian Peterson is dressed in a standard professional football player's uniform for the Minnesota Vikings, which includes a purple shirt with white and gold trim, white trousers, purple and white socks, and black gloves and boots. The detail on all of these sections, both in sculpting and in painting, is almost agonizingly precise, and I would suspect has been mandated so by the NFL and their Players Association.

The shirt is mostly the traditional dark purple of the Minnesota Vikings. The sides of the shirt have a narrow band of white, outlined in gold. There is another narrow band of gold around the collar. Peterson's number -- 28 -- is imprinted on the front and back of the shirt, in white, outlined in gold. The numbers also appear in white on his shoulders, also outlined in gold, and his name, PETERSON, is in white at the top of the back of the shirt.

Additionally, the word "Vikings" appears on the front of the shirt, above the number, in very small print, and above this is a tiny NFL logo. How small are these details? The word "Vikings" is all of 1/8 of an inch long, and the NFL logo isn't even 1/16 of an inch.

You want detail? Check the gloves. Although Adrian Peterson is holding a football in his right hand which can't be removed -- and the football is very nicely made and detailed as well -- one can see on both hands that the gloves are black, with grey palms, and little white stripes on each joint of the fingers on the back. Both hands have been molded at that each finger is separate (although they do not move), and each finger has three little white stripes on it. Even thinking about what it took to accomplish this gives me a headache.

Adrian Peterson's football pants are mostly white. They have a stripe down the sides of the legs, mostly purple, outlined in gold, tapering to a thin gold line above the knee, and then continuing. These details had to cross four different parts of the figure assembly. That must have been fun. At the top of the stripes, at their widest point, is a white section that features the Vikings' team logo, the Viking head. This small detail is slightly over 1/16 of an inch wide. There's also a tiny NFL logo on the front of Adrian Peterson's pants, not quite 1/16 of an inch.

Below the knees, Adrian Peterson has these high purple socks, and then more traditional athletic socks, in white, that have been sculpted with a very effective "knit" look. The uniform is completed by solid black athletic shoes, superbly detailed, including laces and even spikes underneath. Despite this latter feature, the figure stands very capably on his own.

So, what about the overall figure design and articulation? It's impressive, if possibly just a little over-engineered in a few respects, especially the legs. Still, I believe that what McFarlane Toys was trying to accomplish was an action figure with the best possible level of articulation it could manage, that also allowed for some of the notable specifics of the average football uniform, particularly those broad shoulder pads. How do you get around that?

McFarlane Toys did a very capable job of this, by making a sort of "shoulder swivel" that keeps the topmost part of the shoulder pads as part of the upper torso, and then putting a fairly standard rotational shoulder socket in at the point of the swivel. It works reasonably well, although it does look a little ungainly if you try to pose the figure with his arms elevated too far. There's an upper-arm swivel right at the point where the short sleeves end, elbow articulation of course, a lower arm swivel above the glove, and even a wrist articulation within the glove area itself on each arm.

Curiously, McFarlane Toys chose to give the figure a mid-torso point of articulation rather than the waist. I don't really know why. Fortunately, the uniform numbers are printed above the point, so they don't split if you move the torso, but the stripes printed on the sides do. I would imagine that this body was created for all of the figures in the NFL PlayMakers line, and not all NFL team uniforms are designed the same way, but it still sort of begs the question -- why not the waist instead? Visually, it's a better break point.

The legs are interesting constructs. They move forward and backward at the hip. Just below the hip and further down the leg before you get to the knees are two swivels. The knees are double-jointed, and the ankles move back and forth and have a rotation. This results in a pair of legs capable of movement that not even the real Adrian Peterson could imitate. The figure moves well and poses well, don't get me wrong. But the assembly structure of allowing him to do so is one of the stranger ones that I've seen.

Of course, the head is also articulated. The package boasts "Over 20 Moving Parts!" Well, if we take each articulation point separately, that's something of an understatement. It's more like 26.

Any complaints? Just one, really, and it's one that I've encountered on McFarlane Toys' figures before. Some of the parts tend to stick, and the figure feels just fragile enough so that I don't really want to force the issue. The head is cocked at a slight angle, and the upper left arm is stuck at the swivel. Maybe the "boiling" trick will work to loosen them. I've always been a little reluctant to try that myself, but perhaps I should.

Overall, though, it's an excellent action figure. Well designed, if a little over-engineered here and there, perhaps; certainly well painted and detailed. I believe any fan of NFL Football, the Minnesota Vikings, or Adrian Peterson would be pleased with this figure.

The figure comes on what I am certain is a common card back, with a paper insert inside the bubble that denotes that this is Adrian Peterson. The back of the card has a checklist, and just so you know, the other players available in this line include Adrian Peterson's current teammate, quarterback Brett Favre; Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals; Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers; Jay Cutler of the Chicago Bears; Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Pulamalu of the Pittsburgh Steelers; Peyton Manning of the Colts and Eli Manning of the Giants -- just so there's no sibling rivalry over this; Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints; Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets; Jason Witten and Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys; and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Heck of a lot of quarterbacks in there...

With the 2010 football season in its final few regular weeks as I write this review, I don't know how long this line may continue to be readily available, but one would hope that it will be successful enough to return next season, perhaps with some new players!

So, what's my final word? I'm impressed. I have nothing bad to say about the NFL RePlays figures, but these PlayMakers might be just a bit better. And at the very least, they certainly qualify for the definition of ACTION figure better than most of the sports-related merchandise in the toy aisles. That gets my attention right there. McFarlane Toys has done a really great job with these figures, and any of them would certainly receive my recommendation, as does this one.

The NFL PLAYMAKERS action figure of ADRIAN PETERSON of the MINNESOTA VIKINGS definitely has my very enthusiastic recommendation!