Robert Holmes, a Huntsville native who helped the Kansas City Chiefs win their only championship in 1970, recently passed away.
Holmes, known as “Tank” or “Dough Belly” because of his strong legs and muscular torso, played for Sam Houston High School and he, along with a few other teammates, moved on to play college football.
“Dough did what everybody dreamed about,” friend and former teammate Jay Griffin said Tuesday. “He put Huntsville on the map. He was a big plus for the youth.”
Holmes, along with Griffin and many others were part of a successful football team at Sam Houston High.
Griffin said they played a lot of sandlot football back in those days, when the young boys in Huntsville were not working summers at Boettcher’s Mill.
Huntsville was split into different communities such as Saw Mill Quarters and the East End, and those different neighborhoods would play each other when they got the chance.
“Dough was always a good athlete and he was tough to tackle back in those days,” Griffin said. “Nobody wanted to tackle Dough.”
With Holmes, the Tigers advanced to the state semifinals in 1963 and became the first black high school football team to play at Sam Houston State’s Pritchett Field.
“Everybody was out for that one,” Griffin said. “It was our own small Super Bowl. The whole town came out to watch that game.”
Holmes and the Tigers missed advancing to the championship game as they lost to Gladewater Weldon 13-12.
Due to his success on the field, Holmes was able to earn a college football scholarship, which also led to offers for a few of his teammates.
Holmes went to Southern University and he credited that opportunity for opening the door for him to a professional football career.
“When I was growing up, I thought I was going to be a Major League Baseball player,” Holmes said in an interview with The Huntsville Item in 2014. “Baseball was my sport, I thought. Southern was the only school that said I could play baseball and football, so I chose to go there.”
Holmes was drafted in 1968 by the Chiefs of the then-American Football League.
In his rookie season, Holmes rushed for 866 yards, caught 19 receptions for 201 yards and scored seven rushing touchdowns.
Kansas City played for a title in the Super Bowl in 1970. Holmes won a championship as the Chiefs beat the heavily favored Vikings 23-7.
“I remember that people were talking about how good the Vikings were,” said Holmes, who was an AFL All-Star in 1969. “The people that knew the Chiefs and our players, they weren’t surprised we won.”
Holmes ended up playing another season and a half for the Chiefs. Holmes played for the Houston Oilers in 1972, then the San Diego Chargers in 1973 and with the Oilers again in 1975.
Holmes finished his football career for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1976 in the Canadian Football League and later returned to Regina, Saskatchewan, to live.
“You couldn’t find a better guy,” Griffin said. “He was soft-spoken, but he led with his actions.”