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Priest Holmes: A Class Act

Old 10-04-02, 05:50 AM
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Priest Holmes: A Class Act

http://espn.go.com/magazine/vol5no21holmes.html

The man is waiting quietly for his autumn red Lincoln Navigator to come out of the car wash. He's standing alone in the shade, less than five miles from Arrowhead Stadium. It's the morning after the Kansas City Chiefs' sold-out home opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars. His black designer sunglasses hide his deep brown eyes, but the white T-shirt stretched tightly over the ripped torso and the bright red Chiefs logo on the shorts are a dead giveaway for how this guy makes his living. There are a dozen people waiting nearby for their cars, yet after 15 minutes, only one person approaches with any interest in what the hunk does or who he is. It's the dude from the car wash, walking right at him, smelling like air freshener and twirling a damp, dirty rag in his pruney hands.

"You an athlete?" he asks.

"Yes sir, I'm Priest Holmes."

"That what they call you, or is that your name?"

"Aw, c'mon man," pleads someone in the customer waiting area. "That's Priest Holmes. Priest Holmes! He gained more yards than anyone in the NFL last year."

"Get out. You're BS-ing me. Are you BS-ing me?"

"No, seriously," the customer says.

"Priest Holmes, huh? Hey, nice to meet you. You did all that for the Chiefs? For real?"

"Yeah," the customer adds. "For real."

Holmes never says a word in his own defense. "This," he says with a shrug when he's back in his SUV heading to practice, "is my life."

And he wouldn't change it for anything. He likes being anonymous. It doesn't matter to Holmes if anyone knows he's the first undrafted player to finish a season tops in rushing (1,555 yards) and total yards (2,169) since San Francisco's Joe "The Jet" Perry did it in 1954. "Priest Holmes inspires me the way Kurt Warner inspired me in St. Louis," says Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil. "But with the way he's ignored, I always feel like I have to apologize for the fact he led the NFL in rushing."

Looks like Vermeil will have some more explaining to do this season. While facing the league's sixth-toughest schedule, and without the benefit of a strong passing attack to prevent defenses from loading up the line of scrimmage, Holmes has rushed undaunted. Through Week 4, he led the NFL in TDs (8) and was third in rushing yards (438). He's a ricochet runner, turning three-yard stuffs into six-yard gains, eight-yard bursts into 11-yard first downs. "I put little slashes on my belt for YAC [yards after contact]," he says. "If you aren't breaking tackles, you aren't doing anything."

That's how in Week 3 he almost beat the world champs single-handedly, baffling defensive genius Bill Belichick and gashing the Pats for 180 yards and 3 TDs in a 41-38 loss. Members of the Patriots defense, which had held Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin to a combined 40 yards in Weeks 1 and 2, compared him to Barry Sanders. "He is," says Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who faced Holmes twice last season, "the entire package."

He's just not the most popular. Holmes doesn't fit the caricature of the stars who carry the ball. He's got no Edge, he doesn't give it to you raw. He's not Ricky Williams-bigger-than-life; he's 5'9", 213 pounds. And, he's not a three-tool (print, TV, radio) pitchman like Marshall Faulk. He turned down endorsement offers this summer because they conflicted with his son De'Andre's basketball games. "I know -- boring, right?" says Holmes. "But that's what most of my life has been about: You face an obstacle, you get hit, get knocked down, you just keep on going."

Call him soft-spoken, but don't call him soft. Last season the Chiefs were 38 and headed for a tailspin when, moments before facing the Raiders on Dec. 9, Holmes asked Vermeil if he could address the team. He had never done this, preferring to wait until he first established himself by his actions. Standing in front of his locker, over the din coming from the Network Associates Coliseum crazies, Holmes quoted Ecclesiastes, explaining to his teammates there was a time for everything: A time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance. "This is our time to feast," he screamed. Holmes was first in line. He gorged himself with 277 yards from scrimmage, including 168 yards rushing, and 2 TDs against the eventual AFC West champs. It was the biggest single-game output in 2001 and it completed a three-game, 643-yard tear, the most by a player since Walter Payton ran for 746 yards in 1977. The Chiefs lost in the last two minutes to the Raiders, but went on to win three of their last four games to end the season.

"We knew Priest could run," says Chiefs guard Will Shields. "We just weren't sure he could talk."

Furthering his rep as the antistar, Holmes didn't treat his first Pro Bowl like a megalomaniac's getaway. He invited the entire team to Hawaii -- on his dime. Luckily only a dozen Chiefs took the offer, and Shields, who owns a travel agency, split the cost with him. "I can pass the glory to someone else in a second," says Holmes. "I'd much rather someone else have it anyway."

The Saturday after finishing his prep career in San Antonio with 4,080 yards rushing, Holmes put off recruiters from Texas because he had chores to finish, including cleaning every inch of the baseboards in his family's home. "Nobody ever looked at the baseboards," Holmes says. "No one would ever know if I cleaned them or not. Except for me." In other words, work hard and do well for the person that counts -- yourself. It's a mantra that has served Holmes well.

Before his would-be breakout junior season with the Longhorns, Holmes blew out his left knee and was replaced by a dreadlocked frosh named ... Ricky Williams. He made it back for his senior season in 1996 and rushed for 120 yards and 3 TDs in the Big 12 Championship Game upset over third-ranked Nebraska, a game Vermeil watched from the TV booth and Chiefs GM Carl Peterson scouted. His performance still wasn't good enough to get him drafted. But Holmes made the Ravens roster as a free agent in 1997, ran for 1,008 yards in 1998, then took one for the team during their Super Bowl season by not protesting when the coaches promoted first-round pick Jamal Lewis over him.

That's why, when Vermeil spoke to several Ravens free agents in the spring of 2001, they unanimously told him the one guy they'd steal off the world championship roster was Holmes. It was the first time in his 16 years of coaching in the cutthroat NFL that Vermeil had heard such testimonials. "You just can't see any negatives in this guy," says Vermeil. "You just can't find them."

Maybe that's because Holmes is always prepared. He showed up for his visit with Vermeil carrying a list of 15 things he was looking for in a franchise, including a chance to start, good people to work with and a city close to his family in San Antonio. After checking off 13, Holmes signed a five-year, $8 million contract with a $2 million signing bonus and another $1 million for exceeding 1,400 yards rushing in 2001 (ka-ching!). "You watch him and think this guy personifies everything you look for in a player," says Peterson. "Priest is the kind of guy you don't mind paying all that money."

What has impressed teammates more than anything about Holmes is his dedication to his children. Holmes had two sons, De'Andre and Jekovan, with his college girlfriend, Stephanie Hale, while they were still at Texas. "We made a mistake," says Holmes, who knew he wasn't ready for marriage. But he didn't run from his responsibilities after he left Austin for the tryout with Baltimore. Once he made the team, he asked if De'Andre could come live with him and attend private school in Baltimore. Stephanie agreed. Jekovan, who was still too young for school, stayed with his mother.

Holmes would rise at 6 a.m. to cook grits and make toast, iron De'Andre's school uniform and pack a lunch, making sure to include two cookies and a Sunny Delight. After school they'd eat, finish homework, play a bit of chess, read the Bible, then call it a night. Often the two would room together in the team hotel before home games. Teammates wondered just how he had gotten the boy's mother to agree to the arrangement. "I asked," Holmes says simply.

His approach to fatherhood stems from his experiences with his biological father -- or lack of them. The one time Holmes saw him was at the man's funeral, after he was killed by a gunshot. Holmes decided to avoid the same mistakes. In Baltimore he skipped nights out on the town, opting instead for homework and dinner with De'Andre and being a consistent presence at parent-teacher conferences. "Sometimes we get to thinking the NFL is all there is," says Holmes. "But I couldn't tell my son, 'Lets bring home A's and B's,' and then mess up the next day at my job because I wanted to go out."

With Holmes living closer to his family in Kansas City, De'Andre moved back with Stephanie and Jekovan in San Antonio so the boys could attend school together. Holmes flies to see them each Monday afternoon and takes them to school on Tuesday morning, before jetting back to Kansas City for Wednesday practices. With the serenity and focus that comes from a life in order, Holmes has been able to concentrate fully on football, and his career has blossomed.

Long after the Chiefs finish their final practice of the week each Saturday, you can find Holmes alone in an empty Arrowhead Stadium, running through his own private walk-through. On this Saturday, shadows from the scoreboard look like crop circles on the turf. An unlocked gate opens and closes, clanking in the wind. Using a dozen or so plays from the Chiefs game plan, Holmes works his way up the field and back. In what looks like an NFL version of air guitar, he mimics taking a handoff up the gut, chips an imaginary defensive end, then flares out for a screen pass up the sideline. He actually squares his body to the middle of the field, puts his hands up and thumb-to-thumb catches the invisible pass. After simulating a play-action fake, he pancakes a blitzing safety.

Holmes finishes the first imaginary drive by plowing up the middle for a score, bouncing off invisible defenders much like he did in Foxboro to send the game against the Pats into overtime. He doesn't spike the ball. He doesn't even stop to chat up an imaginary Melissa Stark. He just turns around and heads toward the other end zone in a way that seems to perfectly capture who he is.

He is disciplined and cerebral. Strong and silent. Full of purpose. A man performing at the top of his game. Even when nobody's watching.
===================



It's nice to see a good guy doing well in professional sports.

immortal_zeus is offline  
Old 10-04-02, 06:34 AM
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I love hearing about guys like this. It shows that there are guys still playing for the love of the game.
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Old 10-04-02, 06:57 AM
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Good to hear stories like this.
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Old 10-04-02, 09:10 AM
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Stories like this are great, but it annoys me that THESE are the guys that nobody knows about. Instead, everybody knows Moss', Owens, Lewis, and other arrogant jerks in the league. When was the last time you saw a Holmes jersey?

-jook
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Old 10-04-02, 10:12 AM
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Good deal -- nice guys in sports is always fun to hear!!
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Old 10-04-02, 05:26 PM
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Originally posted by jookie

When was the last time you saw a Holmes jersey?

-jook
Not often, but at least the number one selling jersey (Urlacher #54) is also worn by a decent human being.

to Priest Holmes.
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Old 10-04-02, 06:10 PM
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When he was here in Baltimore he wouldn't leave the pratice field until everyone that wanted an autograph got one. I'm sure he's still the same way in K.C.
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Old 10-04-02, 11:31 PM
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Originally posted by rabbit77
Not often, but at least the number one selling jersey (Urlacher #54) is also worn by a decent human being.

to Priest Holmes.
I think the two best selling jerseys are Urlacher's and Tom Brady's. They are both white. Coincidence?

BTW Urlacher is one of my favorite players.
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Old 10-04-02, 11:55 PM
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Originally posted by Edge
I think the two best selling jerseys are Urlacher's and Tom Brady's. They are both white. Coincidence?
Yeah, how dare whites, (who make up 85% of the population, and possess even more than 85% of the nation's disposable income) relate to and have an attachment to white athletes.

I guess it is cool when hispanics take pride in hispanic athletes, or blacks take pride in black athletes, but not for whites?
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Old 10-05-02, 12:45 AM
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Originally posted by Bushdog
Yeah, how dare whites, (who make up 85% of the population, and possess even more than 85% of the nation's disposable income) relate to and have an attachment to white athletes.

I guess it is cool when hispanics take pride in hispanic athletes, or blacks take pride in black athletes, but not for whites?
I never said anything was wrong with that. It would just be nice if more people looked beyond race.
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Old 10-05-02, 04:57 AM
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Originally posted by Edge
I think the two best selling jerseys are Urlacher's and Tom Brady's. They are both white. Coincidence?

BTW Urlacher is one of my favorite players.
Tom Brady!?!?! Sure, he's having a good year this year and had a storybook year last year, but....

Are you sure about that?

I believe I heard Urlacher has the best selling jersey, but I can't believe that Brady would be #2. If it is, well.....crap.

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Old 10-05-02, 09:43 AM
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Originally posted by Edge
I never said anything was wrong with that. It would just be nice if more people looked beyond race.
Yeah, I agree, what a wonderful world. However, when a kid is growing up, he's more likely to relate to someone who looks like him, because it is easier to do, not because he hates other races.

I could definitely imagine a scenario when I was a kids that I could be Joe Montana or Dan Marino. But it would be a stretch to turn me into Doug Williams.

Or do you oppose short people who choose Wayne Chrebet as a hero? Or kids with one arm who gravitate to Jim Abbot? etc. . .

Race can matter and it doesn't always mean racism.
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