Baltimore It is being billed as Priest Holmes versus Jamal Lewis. The touchdown maker against the record breaker. The mentor clashing with his disciple, three years later.
It makes for a heck of a story, except for one small detail: Holmes and Lewis won't be on the field at the same time today when the Kansas City Chiefs (3-0) face the Baltimore Ravens (2-1).
Holmes, who began his blossoming career in Baltimore, will have another Lewis to worry about: Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who intends to welcome Holmes back home with a variety of pad-popping hits.
"Priest always keeps a smile on his face, no matter what the situation," Ray Lewis said. "But come Sunday, I ain't going to be looking for no smiles."
Holmes ran against Ray Lewis during practice when the running back was with the Ravens from 1997 to 2000, but this matchup will be decidedly different.
"It's one thing facing your brother in the backyard," Holmes said, "and then years later, having to face him and having an idea of what he brings to the table."
Holmes still ranks second on the Ravens' career rushing list. His 227 yards rushing in a 1998 game against Cincinnati was the team record -- until Jamal Lewis ripped through Cleveland for 295 yards two weeks ago.
Holmes and Lewis made for a formidable backfield in 2000, the year the Ravens won the Super Bowl. But that offseason, with Baltimore battling salary-cap issues and Holmes looking for a starting job, Ravens coach Brian Billick let Holmes walk out the door.
"Spending the amount of money to keep Priest would not have been prudent," Billick said this week.
The decision worked out just fine for Holmes, who last year ranked third in the NFL in yards rushing and scored a whopping 24 touchdowns. Thus, he has no hard feelings about being shunned in favor of Lewis, the fifth overall pick in the 2000 draft.
"Basically, it's very easy to see," Holmes said. "Brian Billick came in, and his approach was to have a larger back in a division that had Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis and Eddie George. I didn't match up with Jamal as far as size and stature."
Holmes' style is different, but there's no arguing the results.
"I think Priest is slippery, while Jamal will just run you over," said Ravens guard Edwin Mulitalo, who has blocked for both.
Holmes got a Super Bowl ring from his time in Baltimore, and now he's seeking another one as part of a surprisingly good Kansas City team.
"I think that with my exit out of there, I got to be one of the guys out front leading us back to a championship," Holmes said.
Things have worked out well for Jamal Lewis, too. After undergoing reconstructive knee surgery in 2001, he returned to run for 1,327 yards last year. This season he leads the NFL with 496 yards rushing and ranks first (just ahead of Holmes) in most yards from scrimmage.
Lewis credits his development in part to the tutelage he received from Holmes three years ago.
"I call him my mentor. He taught me what this game was all about," Lewis said. "I don't have to play against him Sunday, but in the back of mind I'm really trying to outdo him. So it makes for good competition."
Said Billick: "There's a personal aspect of it, that I want to do better than my mentor. I'm sure Jamal has that in mind. And I'm sure Priest is thinking, 'I want to let the young guy know that I can still do it.'"
Led by Holmes, the Chiefs lead the NFL in points (110) and rank first in the AFC in total yardage, first downs and third down efficiency. If the Ravens are to win, containing Holmes is a must.
That means Ray Lewis will have to keep his No. 52 jersey within arm's length of Holmes throughout the game, especially when Holmes darts out into the flat for a pass.
"Priest Holmes seems to be a machine, and 52 seems to be a machine," Ravens cornerback Corey Fuller said. "I know Priest wants to do good, and I know Ray doesn't want him to do good. It's going to be a big clash out there Sunday, and something's got to give."