In what will be viewed as a remarkable comeback if he only steps foot on the field Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs activated tailback Priest Holmes on Saturday for their game against the Oakland Raiders.
The four-time Pro Bowl back has not appeared in a game since suffering serious head and neck trauma in an Oct. 30, 2005 contest against the San Diego Chargers. He has spent nearly two years recovering from the injuries and most league observers felt that Holmes would never play again.
Holmes, 34, 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 15 games since the end of the 2003 season.
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 season.
Even then, there was considerable skepticism that Holmes would ever play again.
Holmes began practicing Wednesday and coach Herm Edwards all but acknowledged that he would be activated for Sunday's game. Once he began practicing, the Chiefs, by rule, had a three-week window in which to evaluate Holmes' progress and conditioning.
But he looked good enough in drills that the team needed only a few days to decide that it was time for him to return.
"In my opinion, he's about as good as he's going to get," Edwards said earlier this week. "The only thing you don't know is when he gets tackled and he hits the ground, can he hold onto the football? He hasn't had any contact. . . He's been knocked around in practice, but he hasn't had any contact. He's done everything you can do, except play."
It is expected that Holmes, who will back up starter Larry Johnson, the man who replaced him as the starter and himself became a workhorse, will serve as a third-down back at the outset of his comeback. On Monday evening, the Chiefs traded Johnson's primary backup, seventh-year veteran Michael Bennett, to Tampa Bay for two draft choices.
Because of the Bennett trade, the Chiefs did not have to make any other roster moves to clear a spot for Holmes to be activated.
The 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 was broken last year by San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson.
"The most exciting thing will be my first touchdown," Holmes told The Kansas City Star earlier this week. "That's what I'm excited about."
In 102 appearances, Holmes has carried 1,734 times for 8,035 yards and 86 touchdowns. On of the NFL's premier all-around backs in his prime, the former University of Texas star also has 334 receptions for 2,945 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.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.