Ever since he got the call to be the starting tailback for the Ravens, the thought of rushing for 1,000 yards seemed realistic to Priest Holmes.
Holmes just never imagined he would reach that milestone on a day when he shared the field with an idol.
Yet there was Holmes playing a key role in a season-ending, 19-10 victory over Detroit. There was Holmes, who missed a chance to talk with Barry Sanders before the game and then outplayed the future Hall of Famer.
Holmes got his wish in two ways. He rushed for 132 yards, giving him 1,008 for the season and making him the first Raven to crack that barrier. After the game, Holmes went to the Lions' locker room to meet Sanders.
"It boggles my mind," said Holmes, who watched Sanders get bottled up by the Ravens' defense to the tune of 41 yards rushing on 19 carries. "I knew in my heart, that if I had the opportunity to play, I could do a lot of great things, especially running behind the line that I've had.
"I would never say I outplayed [Sanders]. I look at him and I see how much work I still have to do."
Holmes felt fortunate to be around long enough to play yesterday. During warm-ups, a teammate -- Holmes doesn't know whom -- accidentally ran into him. The collision produced a deep bruise in Holmes' left thigh.
"I played with a swollen leg. I had very limited range of motion," he said.
Maybe that explains Holmes' slow start. In the first quarter, he managed just 8 yards on six carries. He had trouble accelerating through holes and he didn't look fluid making his cuts.
By the second quarter, he had warmed up. The Ravens drove 97 yards for a touchdown to take a 16-0 lead, and Holmes sparked the drive by gaining 47 yards on four carries in the drive's first six plays.
Holmes saved his record-setting runs for the stretch drive, when the Ravens were trying to put away Detroit. Leading 16-10 five minutes into the fourth quarter, Holmes went to work. His 11-yard run up the middle pushed the Ravens near midfield. Later, three more runs around left end netted 11 yards and pushed the ball to the Lions' 12.
Matt Stover finished the drive with a 30-yard field goal to conclude the game's scoring.
Then, when the Ravens took over at midfield with 4: 20 left, word reached the sideline that Holmes was stuck on 981 yards for the season. The mission was clear: get him 19 more yards.
"We didn't know he was that close until that last series. We just told everybody to block your man and let Priest do the rest," right guard Jeff Blackshear said.
"It's good for an entire offensive line to help a 1,000-yard rusher. That's a big margin for any running back, and Priest is a great back."
The moment came after the two-minute warning. Holmes needed 3 yards to reach 1,000. He took a pitchout and darted off right tackle for an 8-yard gain. The record was his.
The Ravens then ran out the clock to secure the victory.
"Their offense played well, especially at the end of the game. He [Holmes] did a good job of running strong," said Sanders.
Said Holmes: "I really wasn't aware [of the record] until the end. I just know that the supernatural became natural. The unseen became seen, and here I am, a 1,000-yard back. And it's wonderful."
Yesterday marked Holmes' fourth game of at least 100 yards. His season included 400 yards in two games against hapless Cincinnati. It also involved a slew of dropped passes and tough outings against the likes of Tennessee, San Diego and Pittsburgh.
But the second-year man, who made the Ravens as a rookie free agent out of Texas in 1997, achieved the milestone that he hopes will kick-start a great career.
"He is an outstanding runner and blocker," coach Ted Marchibroda said. "You haven't seen the best of Priest yet."
Holmes carries on
Priest Holmes became the Ravens' first 1,000-yard rusher yesterday when he gained 132 in the team's 19-10 victory against the Lions. It was Holmes' fourth 100-yard game of 1998, all in Ravens victories:
Ravens rushing leaders
Year Player, Att., Yds., TD
1998 Holmes, 233, 1,008, 7
1997 B.Morris, 204, 774, 4
1996 B.Morris, 172, 737, 4
Holmes' 100-yard games
Opp., Att., Yds., TD, Result
Cin., 27, 173, 2, W, 31-24
at Cin., 36, 227, 1, W, 20-13
Ind., 22, 103, 2, W, 38-31
Det., 28, 132, 1, W, 19-10
Pub Date: 12/28/98