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After completing one of the most incredible comeback attempts in NFL history, Chiefs running back Priest Holmes decided his body couldn’t take any more hits. With his three sons next to him, Holmes sat in front of the media Wednesday and announced his retirement. He sounded at peace with his decision.
His value to Kansas City’s franchise might never be re-paid.
In the spring of 2001 the Chiefs picked Holmes up in free agency, fresh off a Super Bowl victory with the Baltimore Ravens. They felt he was an average back with good, but not great ability. After all, at the University of Texas he was Ricky Williams’ backup, and that’s how most scouts perceived his potential NFL future. It was the primary reason he came into the NFL as an un-drafted free agent in 1998.
Some 8,172 rushing yards and 94 touchdowns later, every NFL team feels foolish for ignoring him. Every team but the Chiefs, of course, who signed Holmes to a contract after a recommendation from former Ravens quarterback Trent Dilfer. It was a slight risk at the time, signing a running back with an injury history who had lost a starting job to Jamal Lewis, but now it may go down as the best free-agent signing Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson ever made.
“Anyone who has seen Priest Holmes play knows he’s given everything he possibly could to this game,” Peterson said proudly Wednesday. “For that we will always be in great debt to him.”
In 2005, San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman hit Holmes coming over the middle on a short run, shelving the running back for the next two years.
It was a blow that should have ended his career, but Holmes felt otherwise. He had unfinished business and approached the Chiefs last June about coming back. Not many thought he’d play another down in the NFL.
Everyone was skeptical, except Holmes and Peterson. The 34-year old running back came to River Falls for training camp with a lean body and started getting in shape. After several grueling months, he was finally cleared to practice in October.
He made his debut against the Oakland Raiders in Week 8. Holmes carried the ball a few times that day and it was clear he had something left in the tank, but that all changed when Larry Johnson went down in a game against the Green Bay Packers. Holmes was elevated to starter, a load he could not carry.
”To all the fans that have witnessed and watched me grow over the seven years that I’ve been here in Kansas City, it’s been a great journey,” Holmes said Wednesday. “It’s not so much about what I’m looking forward to, but at this point it’s looking back to the day that I came here.”
And from that day, Holmes put in the work to help the Chiefs win football games every weekend. He took no shortcuts, earning every yard, reception and touchdown through dedication.
With three boys at his side Wednesday he looked to the next stage of his life, one that began to come into focus Monday morning when he ran the hill for the last time at Arrowhead Stadium. It was then that he decided perhaps his sons and family were the most important aspect of his life.
When he couldn’t shake the symptoms that left him uncertain about his future in 2005, he decided the comeback had to end.
“When I walked away from the field on Sunday, later in the game, and also when I returned, it was one of those situations where I really had to look at the situation for what it is,” said Holmes. “There are two very important tools that an athlete must have. One is his shoulder pads and the second is his helmet. Unfortunately it comes to a point where the helmet does not provide the protection that I need.”
“That’s like any soldier going into war not having that shield or not having that weapon in order to defend or to protect or fight.”
Though he didn’t say it, Holmes probably realized this football team had little chance to reach the Super Bowl. But he was thankful to everyone in the organization, including the field crew and the equipment managers, who Holmes joked never could find him the perfect pair of cleats.
As his final gift to the team, he spent several hours in the film room on Monday with rookie running back Kolby Smith. Holmes stressed that it was the beginning for the rookie runner now. He wanted to make sure Smith watched the game film of the loss in Indianapolis so he would learn from it.
And that was the primary reason Holmes returned to the Chiefs this year. He wanted to show the young players what it takes to become successful in the NFL, to show them first hand what you can do if you put your mind to it and are willing to work relentlessly.
Holmes’ last comeback won’t go down as one his greatest accomplishments, but it may have been the finest moment for him personally. He went out on his own terms and left a legacy for each and every young player in Kansas City’s locker room.