Holmes announces retirement from NFL

Updated: November 21, 2007, 11:54 PM ET
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

Three-time Pro Bowl tailback Priest Holmes, who returned to the field with the Kansas City Chiefs last month following nearly two years of inactivity, has decided to leave the game, and announced his retirement at a Wednesday afternoon news conference.

"I have truly been blessed with the opportunity to play in the National Football League," he said. "I will be forever grateful to the Hunt family and the Chiefs organization for the opportunity to come to Kansas City, where the community embraced me from Day 1."

Holmes, 34, spent the past few days counseling with family members and friends, and speaking with medical experts about a re-occurrence of the neck problems that sidelined him for two years, two sources close to him told ESPN.com on Tuesday night. The decision to retire came after Holmes suffered three hits in last Sunday's game at Indianapolis that left him with some tingling in his extremities.

Chief Among Men

Priest Holmes retires as the Chiefs' franchise leader in several rushing categories.

Category Total
Rushes 1,321
Rush yards 6,070
Rush TD 76
Total TD 83
Chiefs team president Carl Peterson told Holmes to go home Tuesday and to take the night to sleep on his decision, ESPN.com's John Clayton reported. According to a source, it wasn't that Holmes re-injured his neck as much as he experienced a recurrence of the symptoms that led to his 18-month layoff.

Wednesday, a source close to Holmes told ESPN.com: "After the third [hit], it was like Priest thought, 'Maybe this is God's way of telling me this is it.' [Coach) Herm Edwards asked him, when he came out after the third hit, if he could go back in, and it was like, 'Uh, let me think about this.' He kind of knew that was the message that this was it for him."

Foxsports.com first reported Tuesday night that Holmes had suffered another neck injury that threatened his career.

Asked to explain what symptoms he felt, Holmes was evasive.

"Much of that is, I guess you could say, in the past," he said. "Just to know the symptoms were similar to the ones before. But to be technical, to go into medical terms, I wouldn't feel comfortable."

Said the source close to Holmes: "This has been a cumulative thing. It wasn't just the incident in the 2005 game with San Diego, but rather a succession of hits. From a life's standpoint, Priest will be fine. He just knows he can't play football anymore."

Holmes originally suffered severe head and neck trauma in an Oct. 30, 2005 game against the Chargers. He has spent nearly two years recovering from the injuries and most league observers felt that Holmes would never play again.

But he returned to the field in an Oct. 21 game against the Oakland Raiders, and he has appeared in four games this season, rushing 46 times for 137 yards and catching five passes for seven yards. Holmes has not scored a touchdown.

In recent weeks his workload was increased because of a foot injury suffered by Chiefs' starter Larry Johnson. Because of the injury, Holmes started the past two games.

E-Ticket: Priest Holmes

Even for one of the NFL's biggest enigmas, Priest Holmes' comeback try was a weird move. As he headed back, ESPN.com's Elizabeth Merrill checked into it. E-Ticket

Holmes spent the final half of the 2005 season on injured reserve and the entire 2006 campaign on the NFL's physically unable to perform list. Because of the head and neck trauma, and a serious hip injury that threatened to end his career in 2004, Holmes has played in only 19 games since the end of the 2003 season.

Peterson appeared with Holmes and his three young sons at a news conference. Peterson said Holmes had an agreement with the club that he would alert the Chiefs the moment he felt any danger of recurring injury to the head or neck.

"That was our agreement," he said, "that if that ever happens, to whatever degree, we needed to know about it. And he adhered to that and was great about it."

He surprised even Kansas City officials by reporting to training camp this summer but began the drills on the physically unable to perform list, so he could not participate in any full-team segments of practice. At the conclusion of the preseason, the Chiefs placed Holmes on the non-football injury list, which meant he could not return until after the sixth week of the 2007 season.

Even then, there was considerable skepticism that Holmes would ever play again. But Holmes began practicing on Oct. 17, and was activated for the game against the Raiders just four days later.

Holmes' teammates seemed unanimous in their respect for the man who holds team career records for yards rushing.

"It's probably the best decision that he could make for himself, for the rest of his life and for his family," said wide receiver Eddie Kennison.

"I try not to think about the dangers of the game. I understand what they are. I know they're there. And no man really wants to go out of the game with an injury. But we chose this job to take those risks. That's just part of it."

Tight end Tony Gonzalez had teamed with Gonzalez a few years ago when they were part of one of the NFL's most explosive offenses.

"I told him my thoughts are with him and what an unbelievable career he's had," Gonzalez said. "But you've got to be smart about this thing. Football is not the end-all, be-all. There's definitely life after football. Priest is a guy who's prepared himself for it."

Herm Edwards thanked Holmes when the running back told him he was calling it quits.

"I thanked him for what he's done for this football team," Edwards said. "He's done something most players would not even attempt to do. He didn't have to do this. He came back knowing that first of all, he had to make the team. What he went through for three months trying to come back, that set a precedent for a lot of young players, to witness a guy like this who had accomplished everything he had accomplished in his career."

The Kansas City franchise's all-time leader in total touchdowns (83) and rushing touchdowns (76), Holmes set a then-league record by scoring 27 times in 2003. That record has since been broken.

In 106 appearances, Holmes has carried 1,780 times for 8,172 yards and 86 touchdowns. One of the NFL's premier all-around backs in his prime, the former University of Texas star also has 339 receptions for 2,962 yards and eight touchdowns. He has posted four seasons with 1,000 yards rushing, including three years with more than 1,400 yards.

Holmes began his career with the Baltimore Ravens as an undrafted college free agent in 1998, and signed with the Chiefs as an unrestricted free agent in 2001.

Holmes' retirement will leave the Chiefs perilously thin at tailback. Johnson will miss a third straight game on Sunday with a foot injury that might sideline him the rest of season. The only other tailback on the roster is rookie Kolby Smith, a fifth-round draft choice from Louisville who has carried just 10 times for 19 yards.

"As much as we try to do everything we could to prepare me, there's just one thing that seems like we couldn't technically prepare for," Holmes said.

"Now that we've seen that, now that I've had some symptoms, there's nothing really the helmet can do to provide that protection and to allow me to do my job effectively. And we all know this is a business of performance.

"I believe that by having this opportunity for a younger player or even a newer player to come in and provide that production, that's definitely needed for the Kansas City Chiefs at any position."

Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. Senior NFL writer John Clayton contributed to this story. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.