Holmes eager to pursue comeback 'dream' for KC

He hasn't played in 22 months after suffering a serious neck injury. So what's Priest Holmes doing back in Chiefs training camp?

Updated: July 30, 2007, 11:07 AM ET
By Elizabeth Merrill | ESPN.com

RIVER FALLS, Wis. -- A month ago, Priest Holmes sat under some bleachers in San Antonio signing old photos and sounding as if his only involvement in football would be watching his boys knock helmets in Texas. He was at peace with his football career possibly being over. He had nothing to prove.

Late Sunday morning, roughly 200 sets of eyes fixed on an empty practice field while Holmes ran 50 yards forward, stopped, then stretched.

"Priest!" a fan in a No. 31 jersey yelled from behind the ropes.

Holmes flipped on his back, then disappeared into an indoor practice facility.

The elusive man Kansas City has come to know as "The Ghost" is back after 22 months and a serious neck injury. He said Sunday he hopes to play this fall in what would be by far the biggest comeback of an injury-riddled career.

Wearing sunglasses as he walked into a postpractice feeding frenzy that easily was as big as a Chiefs postgame news conference, Holmes removed his shades and eventually said his journey from his home in Texas to River Falls started about a week ago, with a dream.

"Anyone who knows anything about me, revelations and signs and believing in Christ, those are definitely some things I believe in," Holmes said. "I don't know why I had the dream. But I saw myself playing football.

"After the dream, of course, comes the self doubts. 'You're too old. You can't do this. You've been off 22 months.' But I can tell you that whenever you have a vision and a purpose in mind and you can set an actual target, anything can be accomplished."

Priest Holmes
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesPriest Holmes has three 1,000-yard rushing seasons for the Chiefs, but he hasn't played in a game since Oct. 30, 2005.

Holmes has proved that before. He battled back from knee and hip injuries to break franchise records for career rushing yards (5,933) and total touchdowns (83). He went from undrafted rookie to three Pro Bowls.

But in the previous scenarios, Holmes hadn't sat out for a season and a half, or been jarred by a head-rattling hit from San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman. And he wasn't pushing 34.

Still, Chiefs president/general manager Carl Peterson continued his nearly two-year long mantra of never counting Holmes out. He scoffed at the notion that Holmes is a pawn in the Chiefs' negotiations to get star running back Larry Johnson into camp. He insisted Holmes' motives are more simplistic.

"I'm sure it's the love of the game," Peterson said. "I can tell you it's not the money. Why doesn't somebody look up his contract? He's on a minimal contract.

"He said to me, 'Carl, I think I can help this football team, both on and off the field, get a world championship. And that's what I'd like to do.' I said, 'Priest, I like your motives, I like you as a person, and I'm going to give you the opportunity to do it.' I think he knows, we know, everybody knows, he's been out a long time. But I'm going to give him that opportunity."

Holmes looked fit as he worked out with a handful of injured players Sunday. Peterson said the preliminary report from strength and conditioning staff was that Holmes "looks good."

"I don't know what kind of football condition he's in," Peterson said. "We'll take it slow. I don't think there's any illusions here. He could get into this for a week and say, 'Hey, I've got a change of heart here, I want to come back and try it and it's not working.' Or he could just take off."

Whatever happens, Holmes knows he's not in the same spot he was on that late October day in 2005, when the Chiefs traveled to San Diego and Holmes' career was seemingly over. Back then, he was Kansas City's starting running back, the sturdy veteran whom coach Dick Vermeil stuck with through Johnson's impatience and some not-so-subtle chants from Kansas Citians to play LJ.

Now Vermeil is gone, replaced by Herm Edwards, and Johnson is the rock-solid No. 1 whenever he returns from a contract holdout. And many of the faces of a team that was once the NFL's No. 1 offense are now gone.

Edwards said Holmes hasn't been guaranteed a spot on the roster. He chuckled at the fact that about half the crowd watching Sunday's special teams practice left to watch Holmes run and stretch on another field. "(But) when tomorrow starts, he's just going to be another guy at camp," Edwards said. "He's a mentally tough guy. I know that. He's got to be to go through all of this."

Holmes made the rounds Sunday afternoon, slapping hands with his old buddies and catching up with fellow Pro Bowler Tony Gonzalez as they walked outside. He hasn't been around much in the past 22 months, and didn't recognize about half of the faces.

But some of the newer guys knew him. Running back Michael Bennett, who was with the Vikings during Holmes' glory days, brought a No. 31 jersey in the hopes of having Holmes sign it. He said the next three weeks should be "fun."

For Holmes, it's the toughest climb yet.

"Without struggle, there is no purpose," Holmes said. "So I definitely will struggle in the next four weeks to come back to the level in which you need in order to get back into pads. Will I be the same runner? ... That's the reason we have journalists and writers, to say.

"But [they] have no idea what I'll become. I'll tell you one thing: the hard work will be there."

Elizabeth Merrill writes for ESPN.com. She can be reached at merrill2323@hotmail.com.