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Holmes Is Back as the Chief Threat

Running back, who was the Ravens' first 1,000-yard rusher, returns to his former stomping grounds in Baltimore, this time carrying the ball for undefeated Kansas City.

September 28, 2003|Ken Murray | Baltimore Sun

Priest Holmes, a quintessential underdog for much of his NFL life, is coming back, big-time.

Back to Baltimore, where he crafted the skills that make him one of the league's most exciting players, where he mentored the young man who would replace him, where he arrived, almost unannounced, as an undrafted free agent in 1997.

What a long and marvelous journey -- from Baltimore to Kansas City -- it's been for Holmes, who is to the Chiefs what Marshall Faulk has been to the St. Louis Rams, minus the Super Bowls.

Today, when the Chiefs face the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore will gain a new appreciation for that journey. But earlier this week, the Chiefs' running back played down the intrigue of his return visit.

"Emotionally, I won't really get caught up in that because it's play by play for me," Holmes said. "It's about doing the things necessary to get there and that's doing my play study, getting my treatments and massages. It's just a matter of me making plays, being aggressive and trying to get our team up early in that game if possible."

Holmes, 29 and a seven-year veteran, could conjure up plenty of inspiration for this game. Even though he was the Ravens' first 1,000-yard rusher in 1998, he was essentially ruled out as a featured back in 2000 when the Ravens drafted the bigger, more physical Jamal Lewis.

Yet, Holmes insisted he is not motivated to have a statement game here. Maybe that's because he already made it when he led the league in rushing in 2001, or with his second straight Pro Bowl in 2002, or with the contract extension he signed earlier this month.

The contract could be worth $35 million over seven years and awards him $10 million in guaranteed money.

The best thing about the contract, Holmes said, was not that it finally placed him among the league's elite backs, but that it gave him financial security and the chance to retire as a Chief.

"It wasn't even for the recognition, because I think my whole career has been built upon overcoming obstacles," he said. "So that recognition only comes with me overcoming things."

Holmes was a precocious prep talent in San Antonio, Texas, and a starter at the University of Texas before an injury and the arrival of Ricky Williams made him a backup as a senior. A strong showing in the Big 12 championship game that year earned him a free-agent contract with the Ravens. In his second season with the team, he rushed for 227 yards in one game and 1,008 for the year.

Yet, when Brian Billick became coach in 1999, Holmes knew his future was elsewhere.

"Basically, it was very easy to see," he said. "I think Billick came in (and) his approach was to have a larger back in the backfield in our division. We had Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis, even Eddie George, so trying to match up back-to-back, on paper I didn't match up with them as far as size and stature."

Holmes became a free agent after the Ravens' Super Bowl season and signed with the Chiefs. Blessed with a willingness to work and an insatiable appetite to learn about his craft, he was an overnight sensation in 2001.

Finally in an offense that capitalized on his skills, Holmes led the league in rushing with 1,555 yards and caught 62 passes. The Chiefs spread the field, put him in space and he ran wild.

Last season, he scored 24 touchdowns in 14 games -- two off Faulk's league record of 26 -- before a hip injury ended his season.

What does he mean to the Chiefs?

"I think he means the same thing to our franchise that Marshall Faulk meant to (the Rams) in '99 and what Wilbert Montgomery meant to me in 1980 (with the Philadelphia Eagles)," Chief Coach Dick Vermeil said. "Without those kind of players, very few coaches look very bright.

"You've got to have those kind of guys if you're going to be a successful football coach and a successful football team. We're fortunate to have him, we appreciate him, and we also appreciate what kind of person he is."

With Holmes showing the way, the 3-0 Chiefs lead the NFL in scoring. They haven't been 4-0 since 1996, and that really is his inspiration.

"The motivation really isn't because I'm going back there to play," he said. "The motivation for me is being 4-0, and that would be based on any team we play."

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