There's a little of that going on these days in Philly, and in Minnesota, where Adrian Peterson is preparing to play in his eighth season. For most of those seasons, AP has been the acronym for the game's undisputed best running back, excelling for a mercurial team that has run through several head coaches, racking up his yards in offenses, at least lately, guided by a stream of quarterbacks discarded from other places: Christian Ponder. Matt Cassel. Josh Freeman.
But last year, Peterson, then 28, began to show his age, and perhaps so did LeSean McCoy. In his best season as a professional, the 25-year-old McCoy unseated Peterson as the rushing champion, accumulated 2,146 all-purpose yards, and helped his team return to the playoffs.
It was clear to him who the best running back in the land was. And frustrating to him that it was, at best, murky to everyone else.
"I think AP has been the best back for so long, and he's been doing it for so long, that's why he automatically gets the best running back," he told ESPN last month. "But the last 3 years? I've been All-Pro, first-team, twice. I never leave the field. I block. I catch. I never leave the field. I don't have anybody do my job; I do it myself. Tons of credit goes out to Adrian Peterson. I'm a big fan of his, for sure. But I feel I'm the best."
Like Rollins' boast, McCoy's words have been interpreted as a taunt by some, a lack of proper respect even. Peterson, to his credit, seems mostly amused, treating McCoy's claims the way a father responds to a son bopping him across his shins with a foam bat. If there is such thing as a verbal pat on the head, then Peterson issued it when he said, "I definitely started laughing . . . If you watched it, you know he didn't believe it when he said it. So I've got to tell the youngsters,'Next time, say it with your chest, man. Say it like you mean it!' "
But, oh, McCoy means it. He made that clear when he met yesterday with the Philadelphia media after one of those awfully named organized team activities.
"Check the numbers," he said repeatedly. "Look around, look on tape. As a back, I'm doing everything. I'm running, I'm catching, blocking, third-down guy. There's nothing that I won't do, and there's nothing I can't do. Over the last 3 years I don't think there's a back who has been more productive."
You know the next chapter. At least you should. Peterson will be asked about McCoy all summer long, and there will be speculation - already is, in fact - that he will use it as motivation. McCoy will wear the bull's-eye, the way Rollins did all through the summer of 2007. It started out bad for the Phillies that spring, and for Rollins, after he made an error in an early-season loss at New York. But the Phillies beat the Mets seven straight times in the last 2 months of the season and caught them with that miracle September run and all those second places became emblematic not of a team with mental-toughness issues, but one going through a maturation process.
Oh, and Jimmy, wearing that bull's-eye all season long, won the National League MVP Award.
Yesterday I asked McCoy whether he expected something similar was in store for him in the coming months and season.
"I don't know," he said. "I don't know how people might take that.
"It was a question I was being honest about," he said. "I can't worry about how other people think about it. If anyone else was interviewing me on that, I would say the same answer. And that's why we work every day. And that's why I work to perfect my game. So that if there is an issue and people want to prove me wrong on the field, that's who you take it out on.
"So, really, I don't mind it at all."
On Twitter: @samdonnellon