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Last rites?

Holmes done for season; career plans still uncertain

Posted: Wednesday November 9, 2005 1:39PM; Updated: Wednesday November 9, 2005 7:14PM
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The Chiefs' trainer checks on Priest Holmes during Kansas City's Week 8 loss to the Chargers.
The Chiefs' trainer checks on Priest Holmes during Kansas City's Week 8 loss to the Chargers.
Harry How/Getty Images

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Kansas City Chiefs running back Priest Holmes will miss the rest of the season because of head and neck trauma diagnosed by three experts on spinal injuries.

A helmet-to-helmet blow he absorbed on Oct. 30 against San Diego was the most recent problem for the 32-year-old running back. But coach Dick Vermeil said Wednesday signs of trouble first showed up when Holmes developed tingling in his hands during training camp.

Holmes, 32, a three-time Pro Bowler whose 66 touchdowns between 2002-2004 are an NFL record for any three-year span, was placed on injured reserve. Doctors had recommended he avoid any contact at all for a minimum of 30 days.

He is not incapacitated and no surgery is planned, said general manager Carl Peterson.

"It's a head trauma and a neck trauma that has affected the cervical area of his spine," Peterson said. "But he's not incapacitated. There's no reason for surgery."

A statement from Dr. Jon Browne, the Chiefs' team physician, said no permanent damage had occurred either to the head or neck and that Holmes would be re-evaluated in 30 days.

Peterson also said doctors were not concerned about the possibility of paralysis should Holmes continue playing, and that Holmes indicated he planned to resume his career next season.

Injuries have caused the Chiefs' career rushing leader to cut short two of his last three seasons. But he has shown flashes of his old self while rushing for 451 yards and six touchdowns on 119 carries. He also has 21 catches for 197 yards, including a 60-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in a victory over Washington on Oct. 16.

"We're going to miss him," coach Dick Vermeil said. "He's more than a football player for this organization."

Vermeil said there seemed no reason for undue concern when Holmes experienced the tingling in training camp.

"We did know he started getting what we say `burners' once in a while, a tingling in his fingers from some hits, which are very, very common," Vermeil said. "Guys get burners in the first quarter and play the rest of the game. But he had never experienced that in his career.

"Then I think the blow to the head in San Diego stimulated more concern. It wasn't a true concussion, but he did get knocked dizzy."

The Chiefs will now turn to Holmes' backup, Larry Johnson, who has averaged 5.2 yards per carry, with 506 yards on 97 attempts. Johnson had two touchdowns in the 27-23 victory Sunday over Oakland, including a 1-yard vault on the final play of the game. He has frequently complained he was not being given enough carries. Johnson rushed for 541 yards and nine touchdowns while Holmes sat out the final six games last year.

"Larry Johnson has already carried the load. He knows he can do it," Vermeil said. "He just doesn't have a Priest Holmes backing him up like he backed up Priest Holmes."

Holmes missed last week's game against Oakland and in the past two weeks has seen spinal-injury specialists in California and Florida. Speculation had been rampant he would be out for an extended period, although the Chiefs (5-3) said they were hopeful he would soon return to the lineup.

"We're going to miss him," said defensive end Jared Allen. "We love him. But he's got to do what's best for him personally. Head injuries can be tricky things."

Earlier Wednesday, the team denied the injury would lead to Holmes' retirement. Television station KSHB reported Wednesday that doctors found a lump on Holmes' spine and were concerned about possible paralysis should he take a direct hit. Citing a highly placed source it didn't identify, the station said Holmes could announce his retirement as soon as Thursday.

But both the team and an employee at the firm run by Holmes' agent, Todd France, rejected suggestions Holmes would retire because of the injury.

"All the speculation, television, the media throwing things out all shook him up," Vermeil said of Holmes. "Someone said he had a tumor on his spine. He thought it was very unfair."