View Full Version : Joe Posnanski: Priest Holmes isn’t ready for story to end

08-26-2007, 09:34 AM
Joe Posnanski: Priest Holmes isn’t ready for story to end

“This whole thing is like a sea of water. And I’m a Navy Seal. I’m out of the plane. I’m in the air. I’m committed. There’s no turning back. But I’m excited.”

We are about to try once again to dive into the mind of Priest Holmes. Nobody would blame you if you skipped the rest of this story and headed straight for the sanity of the outdoors page. Everybody will understand if you’re entirely baffled or frustrated by Priest Holmes. You have already made up your mind about him. You’ve read enough about him. You want to move on. All understandable.

Hey, even Priest Holmes thinks so. He does not mind that so many people think this crazy football comeback of his is a stunt, a bid for more money, a grab for fame. He respects that some people interpret a few of his odder decisions — say, watching a Chiefs game in a suite while eating nachos or sneaking home to be with family while teammates play a preseason game — as selfish or the opposite of leadership. He knows that some of the things he says sound strange and creepy to people (like that whole bit he said about coming back to football after seeing it in a dream).

He shrugs about all that.

“If people don’t understand,” he says, “maybe it isn’t for them to understand.”

See, it’s that kind of “Kung Fu” quote that has made Priest Holmes a mystery to just about everyone, including many of his closest friends. So why go in? Well, for me, I’m fascinated by the guy. I can’t help it. He’s like the world’s hardest Sudoku puzzle. For more than 10 years now, Priest Holmes has beaten more odds than the MIT blackjack team. No one could deny that there is something extraordinary about him.

And I believe there’s something mesmerizing here. A short while before training camp, Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson called up Holmes. They had talked on occasion during the 22 months that Holmes was out of football, but now Peterson needed a definitive answer about the future. He suggested that Holmes could announce his retirement and the Chiefs could have a special ceremony for him and Will Shields during the Green Bay game.

Holmes said: “Well, actually, I’ve thought about it. I think I’ll go to training camp.”

That’s just how he said it, too — like he was deciding to go to Wendy’s instead of McDonald’s. Why would a thoughtful, 33-year-old man who has done everything there is to do in pro football come back after 22 months and risk injury and humiliation to play again? Money? Fame? Unfinished business? No, there has to be something more.

“There are a lot of reasons,” Holmes says. “I’ll explain this to you, if you want.”

He smiles to himself as he goes over the words to use.

“It’s like I’m a character in this book,” Holmes says.

Hey now, you can’t say we didn’t warn you. With Priest Holmes, you are not going to get the answers you expect. The outdoors page is still waiting if you want to turn back now.

“People have too much self-doubt. They give up too early. People say to me: ‘Priest, this is too hard. I can’t do it.’ I won’t hear that. I’ll tell them: ‘Look at me. You are looking at greatness.’ I’m proud to say that. Is that arrogance? Am I conceited? No, don’t misunderstand what I mean. You’re looking at greatness not because of what I achieved on the field. It’s because I have never, ever given up. And I’m not giving up now.”
You’re still here? OK, well, let’s begin by looking back one more time over Priest Holmes’ amazing life so far. You’ve already heard his story — more than once, no doubt — but to understand, you have to feel his story. For instance, go back to 1995. That was the year when Holmes, while playing for the University of Texas, blew out his ACL.

That should have ended things. Holmes was an undersized back to begin with. He did not have blazing speed. He was not even a starter. Then he blew out his ACL in spring practice. That’s the time when dreams end and real life begins.

Only, Holmes went on. He came back. He got 59 carries his senior year. He was not drafted by any NFL team, of course. He went to Baltimore and — inspired by veteran running back Earnest Byner (a 10th-round pick himself) — he made the Ravens as a special-teams player. The next year, he somehow forced his way into the starting lineup. He rushed for 1,000 yards.

And then he blew out his other knee.

OK, that’s ending No. 2 for his story. Undrafted free agent blows out knee a second time. Only it didn’t end. Holmes came back again, this time to become the best third-down back in the NFL. He won the Super Bowl with Baltimore that year. He then signed with Kansas City in 2001, and though few remember it now, he signed to be a change-of-pace running back for Tony Richardson.

“Oh yeah, they expected T-Rich to carry the load,” Holmes says. The first two games, Richardson and Holmes got the same number of carries. In the third week, though, Holmes forced his way into the lineup. He rushed and caught passes for more than 200 yards. He went on to lead the NFL in rushing that year.

OK, stop. That part has been told so many times that it barely registers. But this is impossible. Priest Holmes, an undrafted and undersized running back who had severely injured both knees, led the NFL in rushing. The next year, he was even better — he was better than just about any running back had ever been. He had more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 13 1/2 games. He was on pace to score 30 touchdowns.

And what happened? He injured his hip so badly that, as Holmes explains it, two doctors told him to give up football. So that’s ending No. 3.

He came back from that injury in 2003 and set the NFL record for most touchdowns.

When you put it like this — one improbable comeback after another — it seems ludicrous, like the Black Knight from Monty Python who keeps fighting even after both of his arms have been cut off. Holmes was badly injured again in the middle of a fabulous 2004 season (it was his right MCL this time), and he came back again and was awfully good in a shared backfield with Larry Johnson in 2005. He got hurt again.

This was a different kind of injury. There was no pain. There was only a prickly numbness that buzzed through his arms and legs when he was hit just right. The numbness came often that year — once every game, at least — and it was scarier than the pain. Finally, he took a massive hit, and Holmes says he remembers nothing at all about the next 30 minutes or so. It wasn’t that he blanked out. He simply wasn’t there.

“What was I doing?” he asked his friend Tony Richardson.

“You weren’t doing anything,” Richardson said. “You were just staring at the field like a zombie.”

Well, that wasn’t good at all. The doctors located a neck problem, but they could not pinpoint what, exactly, the injury meant. They told Holmes a lot of different things, but mostly they told him to rest. The world “paralysis” came up too many times to ignore. Priest Holmes rested for 22 months. He didn’t talk to his football friends. He didn’t come out to watch his old team play. He didn’t return phone calls.

“There were things I needed to do,” he says. He doesn’t go any deeper.

That finally brings us up to the moment, and Priest Holmes is out on the field wearing shoulder pads and a helmet. He’s running a few plays, and he’s all alone except for the rookie quarterback throwing him passes. He’s sweating in the heat. He looks tired. He looks old. And if there was ever a moment to ask “Why,” it would be this one.

“Don’t you see?” Holmes asks. “This is a great story.”


“Many people are not willing to risk. That’s the simple truth. I’m here to risk. If this was a poker table, I’m all in. I hear people say there’s good risk and there’s bad risk. I disagree. I think that if you’re living, and you have an opportunity to make your mark, you should choose to make your mark. I’m still living.”

| Priest Holmes


This whole “character in a book” thing is not just some odd analogy for Priest Holmes. He honestly seems to see himself this way. He talks about this wild comeback as “a new chapter,” like he was an author who had looked over his manuscript and finally said: “Something’s missing. I need one more amazing comeback in here.”

“So you see this as your biggest chapter?”

“No, I wouldn’t say this is the biggest one,” Holmes says. “I think it’s just another chapter. This is a path I’ve gone down many times. Is it bigger than coming out of the NFL undrafted? Is it bigger than coming to a new team as a backup and leading the NFL in rushing? Is it bigger than coming back from a hip injury that people said would end my career and setting the NFL touchdown record? I don’t think so. It’s just another chapter.”

This may be bigger. He’s coming back after 22 months of doing, in his words, nothing. He’s returning to a team that has Larry Johnson, one of the two or three best running backs in the NFL. Few think he can do it, and few understand why he would even try.

He shrugs again.

“It’s no different,” he says.

Money comes up. Holmes says that he likes money. He likes talking about money. But he says this comeback has nothing to do with money (and this seems to make sense since he signed a contract to pay for the minimum veteran’s salary).

“It doesn’t bother me what people believe,” he says. “But I’m risking a whole lot more than any number they can put on a contract.”

He then tells a story. When he hurt his hip in 2002, he had an insurance policy that would have paid him $15 million for a career-ending injury.

“That’s tax-free,” Holmes says with a smile. “I could have taken that. I had doctors tell me that my career was over. Believe me, I thought about it. But at the end of the day, that’s not why I’m here on this earth.”

He then talks about inspiration.

“The biggest reason I’m here is to help this team get to Glendale (site of the Super Bowl). I think I can do that a number of different ways. I think I can help this team on the field. The way I feel about football is this: You don’t lose it. You just have to wake it up. I’m waking it up now. I can help this team.

“The other way, though, is by showing the younger players that they can do anything. Look at me. I’m here. I don’t have to be here. I could have retired. I have money. I have records. I have fame. But I’m here, making something out of nothing. If the guys can tune into that, I think I can help them find their own path.”

So, if he wanted to help the younger players, why did he disappear for so long? Why would he not stand on the sidelines with his teammates? Why was he not more of a presence and a leader? He smiles.

“That’s not the way I lead,” he says. “I’m a football player. I’m not a preacher. I’m not a psychiatrist. I’m not going to gather everyone up in a huddle and say, ‘Come on guys, we’re going to the Super Bowl!’ Anyone can chant that. I don’t chant.

“What was I going to do when I was hurt? Stand on the sidelines? Cheer on the guys? How does that help anybody? I’m a football player. I play. That’s the only way I know how to lead. And when I can’t play, I disappear. It’s best for everyone.”


“I look at it like we’re all climbing a mountain together. I’ve got my backpack on — in there I’ve got all my struggles, all my pain, all my discomfort, all my own indecision, all my own doubts, stuff like that. I’m packing it all, and I’m going over the mountain because I want to see what’s on the other side.

“I think a lot of people look at the mountain, and they see how high it is, and they say: ‘You know what? I’m going to set up camp right here. This looks nice. There’s a river over here. I’ve got a roof over my head. I’m going to enjoy where I’m at.’ That’s fine for them. That’s not for me.”

| Priest Holmes


Can Holmes do it? Well, the odds — Holmes’ lifelong nemesis — are against him. The Chiefs already have star running back Larry Johnson, they have Michael Bennett, they have talented rookie Kolby Smith. Holmes is still on the physically-unable-to-perform list. He still hasn’t practiced with the team.

“I like him,” Chiefs coach Herm Edwards says. “But I don’t really know him. He has done a lot in this league, and it’s obvious he’s a very special person. But he’s got to prove he can play.”

Edwards tells a funny but telling story. Before a meeting, Holmes and Edwards bumped into each other. And Holmes said, out of the blue, “You know what coach, I like you.”

“He’s different,” Edwards says. “I had a comeback, too. I was going to say: ‘You know what Priest? That’s great. But I’m the coach, and all that matters is if I like you.’ But I didn’t say that. There’s just something unique about this person.”

Holmes says it will all work out. He talks about how he doesn’t care about what role he plays. He can help the team by picking up blitzes and catching the ball out of the backfield and running the ball a few times every game as a change of pace, the role he played during Baltimore’s Super Bowl.

There are some people who think that after he takes a couple of hits, he will see what’s facing him and walk back into retirement.

“I have to admit, I find that laughable,” he says. “Are there people out there who know more about taking hits than I do? Guess what: I know what it feels like to take a hit. I know what it takes to beat the odds. I know how hard you have to work to play in this league. I’m not sure what people think, but I didn’t come here to sell coffee or make clothes or do interviews. I came here to play football. I made that decision already.”

Then he talks some more about how much it will inspire people — not just teammates, but also kids across the country — when they hear his story. He says there are too many negative stories out there. Here’s a positive story — the story of a man coming back against impossible odds one more time.

“Nothing is unachievable,” he says.

And so that leads to the final question, the obvious one: What happens if he doesn’t beat the odds this time? What if he fails to make the team and has to return to retired life? Holmes looks confused, as if the question is being asked in Portuguese.

“Nothing is unachievable,” he says again. “I’m living proof.”

the Talking Can
08-26-2007, 09:47 AM
gee priest is special

08-26-2007, 09:50 AM
Dear Priest,

You were once a great RB. I hope you still are. Now shut up and show me.


08-26-2007, 09:52 AM
The real problem with this whole "Priest drama"...there is no real drama when you already have a stud RB who is fully healthy and ready to play. I'm rooting for Priest but not really overly concerned about whether he makes it onto the team or not. I wish him the best for sure, but thats about it. NOW, if LJ was gone for some reason and all we had at RB is injury prone Bennett and a couple of young unproven guys I would be intently watching the whole Priest Holmes saga. Nothing personal, its all about the football.

08-26-2007, 09:52 AM
I love Posnanski's articles on Priest.

They don't lionize the guy, they don't demonize him. They don't turn him into a cartoon character to fit whatever narrative the author's looking for.

They reveal him as an amazingly strange person, one who talks like he's actually committed to a mental institution, but who's personal history of achievements indicates otherwise.

08-26-2007, 09:56 AM
good read...now everyone on the board is going to be pro-priest

08-26-2007, 10:43 AM
1. I admire and respect what Holmes has done in his career (maybe even moreso than what he has done for the chiefs). No one loves the underdog more than I do. No one respects wile more than I do.

2. This is a fluff article designed to deflect criticism from Priest's stupid comments and his shameless self-promotion while also trying to justify his presence in training camp.

3. What! "It's "not for some of us to understand?" Gimme' a break. That's a major deflection. Oh no, we're not capable of recognizing hypocricy, we have wrongly preconceived notions in our heads. Thanks for the insight.

4. Wendys? Puhleeze. Whims are the product of self-serving people and not people who look at the bigger picture.

5. The "Holmes Story" has always been a "great story" according to Priest Holmes. How bouts we have a great "Chiefs story" instead. The one thing that has become apparent over the years is that Priest Holmes is definitely a self-promoter.

I like, admire, and respect Holmes. But he's trying my patience with his constant "I'm a strange bird that will transform life for everyone" schtick.

08-26-2007, 10:50 AM
I'm a Priest fan. I hope he makes it back. I wish him the best regardless of the outcome.

08-26-2007, 10:54 AM
His ego is proving people wrong, he gets off on this..... He's been thru alot, how could you not pull for the guy to make it back.

Crap, I would have done called it quits..... probally would have took the 15 Mil.

L.A. Chieffan
08-26-2007, 10:56 AM
Posnanski is a good writer. You guys are lucky.

08-26-2007, 11:30 AM
Priest is one strange dude, but I hope he can pull it off and make the team.

Easy 6
08-26-2007, 11:38 AM
Priest is one strange dude, but I hope he can pull it off and make the team.


08-26-2007, 11:46 AM
Priest made Lamar smile
he always wanted a franchise back
he got 2 -back to back

08-26-2007, 12:04 PM
Priest, shit or get off the pot.

08-26-2007, 12:08 PM
Priest is on a publicity tour around the city. Saturday morning I saw him co-host an early morning TV show on one of the local affiliates around 4:00 AM. What's going through his mind? I don't understand any of it and frankly, I'm too bored to care.

08-26-2007, 12:13 PM
Priest is on a publicity tour around the city. Saturday morning I saw him co-host an early morning TV show on one of the local affiliates around 4:00 AM. What's going through his mind? I don't understand any of it and frankly, I'm too bored to care.

If he'd put half that effort into staying a part of the team, even a little (assuming a neck injury doesn't stop you from standing on the sidelines), I'd be inclined to care.

I still don't know what he's up to, and frankly I don't care. This shit is past old, and the team's got enough real problems. I wish Herm would cut him and end this crap yesterday.

Rain Man
08-26-2007, 08:08 PM
LJ and Priest will be like having Ali and Frazier working together. There's no way we can lose.

Ultra Peanut
08-26-2007, 08:12 PM
Joe Posnanski: Priest Holmes isn’t readyI stopped reading here.

08-26-2007, 08:20 PM
One of the best to ever wear a Chiefs uniform.

Deserves any and every opportunity available to him.

08-26-2007, 08:22 PM
Priest good luck to you PUP release, injury settlement, or somebody pick him up, barring injury to Bennett /K.Smith
I really don't see him on the field in a Chiefs uni.

08-26-2007, 08:35 PM
Priest is one strange dude, but I hope he can pull it off and make the team.

Absolutely and as I have always known, he leads on the field not through words or by being a sideline cheerleader.

08-26-2007, 08:46 PM
...he leads on the field not through words or by being a sideline cheerleader.Then why doesn't he just shut up? Seems like he's all words these days.

08-26-2007, 08:47 PM
I stopped reading here.

Wish I had.

08-26-2007, 09:00 PM
Then why doesn't he just shut up? Seems like he's all words these days.

I imagine becaues the media is seeking him out, not the other way around.

08-26-2007, 10:20 PM
I imagine becaues the media is seeking him out, not the other way around.

Just because they seek you out, doesnt mean you have to open you mouth.

Its all calculated. Priest is not the kind of guy to do anything without it being well thought out.