By DOUG TUCKER
The Associated Press
RIVER FALLS, Wis. – Priest Holmes says he fell asleep a week or so ago and awoke with a new purpose in life.
He dreamed he was playing football. Now, despite being out of the game since a brutal tackle in October 2005 aggravated a potentially dangerous spinal condition, Kansas City’s career rushing leader is vowing to resume his once-outstanding career.
“In order for me to come back, it’s going to require discipline, hard work, and determination,” the always enigmatic three-time Pro Bowler said Sunday.
“One thing that’s always been said: without struggle, there’s no purpose. I definitely will struggle in the next four weeks to come back to the level in which you need in order to be back in pads.”
One of the NFL’s greatest runners until his injury, Holmes rushed for a team-record 5,933 yards after signing as an unrestricted free agent in 2001. He scored 27 touchdowns in 2003 to set what was then an NFL record. But he’s hardly been seen around Arrowhead Stadium since 2005, sticking close to home in San Antonio, and learning a great deal, he said, about himself and “about the game of life.”
“Will I be the same runner? That’s to be anticipated,” he said. “But I tell you one thing, the hard work will be there.”
Almost everyone thought Holmes, who turns 34 on Oct. 7, was done. He’d been on the physically unable to perform list since a devastating tackle by San Diego’s Shawne Merriman on Oct. 30, 2005 left him with head and neck trauma. After extensive tests, doctors warned of a possibility of further injury, perhaps even paralysis – a danger that may still lurk.
“Can they 100 percent say that in the event something was to happen and (I took) a sudden hit with so much force as I took in the San Diego game, would there be a possibility for something to happen? Very possible,” he said.
“But I think that’s the game of life. Nothing’s done without risk. I’ve always been a risk-taker.”
The Chiefs plan to take it easy with him. He made his first appearance on the field during Sunday morning’s practice, mostly standing around and jogging while teammates on another field went through a special teams workout.
Still, the buzz created by his return was palpable. A couple of hundred spectators watching the regular team practice even drifted over to the other field to see Holmes stand around.
“His status is he’s on the physically unable to perform list,” said general manager Carl Peterson. “And we are going to take it slow.”
The Texas native has always been known as an unpredictable mystery man, as someone who keeps his own counsel.
“Revelations and signs and things of that nature, and believing in Christ, having dreams – those are definitely some things I believe in,” he said. “I don’t know why I had the dream. But I saw myself playing football. I went to my church and I asked them if they could see me playing football again. And the word that that came out of their mouths was yes.’ And that’s the reason why I’m here.”
Nevertheless, it was not an easy decision, he agreed.
“Then, after the dream of course, comes the self-doubt. You’re too old. You can’t do this. You’ve been off 22 months. Why in the world would you go back? There’s an old saying that you get faster, stronger, bigger and that’s what we’ve been producing in athletes coming out of college. So why in the world would you want to return?
“But I can tell you that whenever you have a vision and you have a purpose in mind, and you can actually set a target, anything can be accomplished.”
Immediately after Holmes went down in 2005, Larry Johnson, his restless backup, emerged as one of the league’s best backs, smashing Holmes’ single-season team rushing record in only nine games, and then breaking his own team record again in 2006 with an NFL-record 416 carries.
Although Johnson is holding out in a contract dispute, Holmes said he’ll have no trouble coming in as a backup. It’ll probably be at least a month, he said, before he can put on pads.
“It’s key for every player on every team to know their role, and to be able to contribute in a way which makes their team better,” he said. “In order for Larry to take over that role he’s now in, it’s very much a good thing that I’m glad he’s into now. He’s established himself.
“I could do eight plays with my eyes closed pretty much,” he said. “Could I go out there and be a running back that totes the ball 22 times? That would consist of really building a base.
“I just think that the biggest turning point in this situation is the position I’m coming in as, to be an encouragement to the team.”