by | Nov 21, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

I was ready to take Jerry Holmes apart. And I wouldn’t be the first. All day long, he had been flat-out humiliated by the Chicago Bears, whacked, smacked and stacked. They threw long on him so often, he needed his own ZIP code. Watching him chase the receivers was like watching an elephant chase the Concorde.

Up it goes, down it comes, touchdown. Up it goes, down it comes, touchdown. It was a simply awful display of defensive football that snuffed out, believe it or not, an exciting Detroit offense, and brought the Lions to their knees for the third straight time this season.

The final score was shameful: Chicago 47, Detroit 27, the most points the Lions have surrendered since Lyndon Johnson was president. And from the press box it seemed that Holmes, a lanky, aging defensive back, should be made to wear the results on his chest, the way Hester Prynne had to tote around that scarlet “A.”

After all, it was Holmes flailing helplessly as the ball flew over his head and landed in the happy arms of Chicago’s Dennis McKinnon. Touchdown. And it was Holmes late at the scene again, as a 55-yard bomb went from Mike Tomczak to a wide-open Glen Kozlowski. It was Holmes falling to his knee as Neal Anderson raced around him and went untouched, half the length of the field, for six points.

“God, he’s awful,” we mumbled, our pens smoking with venom, as the Bears left the Lions the way a vulture leaves a carcass.

On my way to the locker room, I ran through the list of funny insults for Holmes.

It was some list. He’s no longer a ‘Killer’

“Is he coming out, or what?” we asked the PR people, pacing the interview room as the minutes passed. All around, players were taking blame, Bennie Blades, Jerry Ball. Coach Wayne Fontes called the defense “a joke” and said of the secondary: “I could have run a pattern and been wide open on them.”

Across the tunnel, the Bears were describing their success in painfully simple terms: “They came up on us,” echoed receivers McKinnon and Ron Morris,
“and we ran right past them.”

They grinned. The wisecracks swirled in my mind. Hey. Even the coach called it a joke. And finally, along came Holmes, dressed, appropriately, in black. He is thin, almost frail looking, and it is hard to believe that once, his New York Jets teammates called him “Killer.”

“What happened?” someone began.

“I didn’t play well,” he said, his voice soft and even. “Maybe I tried to do too much. . . .”

The words were barely out of his mouth before the next question was fired. Why so many screwups? Why so many blown coverages? Holmes stayed close against the wall, like a trapped animal, taking the stabs. And finally, quietly, he snapped.

“It might be time for me to retire,” he said, looking down into the chest of a reporter. “I’ll go home and talk about it with my wife. . . . When I can’t make tackles, I mean, I never missed tackles before. Maybe my skills are going. . . . Maybe it’s time to re-evaluate. . . .

“I’ve felt this bad when I was 24, but I had a career ahead of me. I never felt this bad at 31. . . . I don’t know. . . . I’ll talk it over with my wife. . . .”

I looked at him, the slightly receding hairline, the sleepy eyes, the thin frame and, suddenly, my anger and cynicism were gone. Suddenly, Jerry Holmes did not look like a football player to me. He looked like the schoolkid that everyone used to gang up on, until, after a while, that kid just hid in the corner and walked home alone. White shares the blame

This is the nature of football: You stink too long, they hand you a plane ticket. Jeff Chadwick found that out, after dropping four passes in the opener. Jerry Holmes is a veteran. He knows this, too.

“Is this guy serious?” someone asked. Who knows? I am told he is a quiet sort, he studies the Bible, he has survived a decade’s worth of professional football, had some good years with the Jets. Yet Sunday, he — and second-year free safety William White, playing “the worst game of my life” — were burned so often, they should have melted into a waxy pile.

“If Jerry Holmes retires, then I should retire,” said White, sticking up for his friend. And while many of you may say, “Wonderful! Retire! Please!” the fact is, White is only 23. Holmes is on the wrong side of 30, with a lousy team. There isn’t exactly a waiting list for guys like him.

Oh, he’s probably not serious. He’ll probably be back next week, and if he screws up again, the same sarcastic feelings will arise.

Whatever. No jokes this time. When a man is so humiliated he ponders retirement to appease a group of strangers, well, it is more a time for compassion than comedy. Besides, you saw the game, right? When you think about it, there really wasn’t much funny to say.

Not much at all.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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