As a kid growing up in Gibsonville, North Carolina, it’s highly unlikely that Torry Holt had visions of putting together a list of NFL accomplishments quite like he did.
109 yards and a touchdown in a Super Bowl win as a rookie while starting opposite Isaac Bruce. Six consecutive seasons with at least 1,300 yards receiving and 90 receptions. Seven Pro Bowls. More receptions and yards in a single decade (the 2000s) than any player in league history. His career 920 receptions, 13,382 yards, and 74 touchdowns are otherworldly.
Simply put, Holt is one of the best to ever do it.
With precision route-running, sticky hands and breakaway speed, he was perhaps the deadliest weapon on one of the NFL’s best-ever offenses. The Greatest Show on Turf era in St. Louis began the moment Holt walked in the door in 1999, along with Marshall Falk and Kurt Warner.
Holt was the No. 6 pick in the ’99 Draft after earning ACC Player Offensive Player of the Year honors at NC State as a senior. In his first season, the Rams rode a red-hot offense to Super Bowl XXXIV, where they beat the late Steve McNair’s Tennesee Titans 23-16.
Having finally officially retired from the game (as a Ram) in 2012 after injuries at stints in Jacksonville and New England slowed his pace, Holt has now settled in as a philanthropist, entrepreneur and analyst. When he’s not on NFL Network breaking down the Rams, Holt can be found back in North Carolina, helping kids whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer—a project near and dear to his own heart, after losing his mother to cancer in 1996. Or, he’s with his brother Terrence (also an ex-NFLer) working on their budding construction company, Holt Brothers Construction.
Last week, TDdaily caught up with Holt to talk about his Super Bowl memories, his favorite NFL wide receivers in the game today, and everything else on his mind. For more from Torry, follow him on Twitter @BigGame81. And for more information on his charitable work, check out the Holt Foundation’s official website.
TDdaily: When you meet people, do they always ask about your fingers, and how they got that way? I also heard you’re an expert at popping dislocated fingers back into place.
Torry Holt: Yeah, it’s the first things a lot of time—when I meet people, young or old, big or small, they start with “Ew, what happened to your hand?” So I have to go into the explanation of what happened. Then some of them like to touch it and some of them don’t, just depending on what the situation is. It’s definitely more noted than any catch I’ve ever had (Laughs).
TD: What do you tell people when they ask?
TH: I was playing the Steelers—I was lock on with Ike Taylor, I think it was. He went to get away and my finger got caught in his pads, and once it gets caught in there, it’s dislocated. [After] I went over and got it taped up, and just rocked with it for the rest of the game. Then, they wanted to put a splint on it, but if you put a splint on a receiver’s hands, there’s no way he’s going to be able to catch consistently, so I said, “You know what, the splint is going to hinder me. I had Reebok do me up some gloves to widen my knuckle and take the finger—which is my left middle finger—and turn it a little bit so the glove can just fit right on. And I just kept it moving, and kept it rocking. I had some dislocations, and then the one in Pittsburgh, and it just started tearing away and tearing away. I have no ligaments in that finger—that’s why it’s leaning like that. They can fix it, but I choose not to have it fixed right now because it’s functional and it works.
TD: Speaking of gloves, what do you think of all the new technology in receiver gloves these days?
TH: I think it’s real cool. It just goes to show you the level to which our game is growing, from a technology standpoint. I was a guy that wore gloves; I enjoyed wearing gloves for obvious reasons. They were fashionable, they looked good, they helped me catch the ball well based on how they were constructed. I don’t have a problem with the gloves, I think it’s good as they continue to find new advancements. I know Reebok had a heck of a glove, and I rocked those, and I rocked Nikes early on in my career.
TD: Describe your childhood, growing up, and how you got into football.
TH: I started out real young in Gibsonville, North Carolina. I enjoyed football, played basketball, baseball, every sport I could play. I always had goals and dreams of doing something professionally, I didn’t know what sport, and football just happened to make its way for me. I just enjoyed playing it, man—the competition, then learning the strategy, then getting a little stronger and faster, the competition raises—all that stuff plays a part in it, and I enjoyed all of that. I enjoyed every step of football and what it’s taught me, and the people that it’s allowed me to be associated with. It’s a game that I wanted to play, and then once I got an opportunity to do it, it was like, “Hey you got a shot. Go serious, go hard.” The rest is history.
TD: Your younger brother, Terrence, ended up in the NFL too. What was it like having him around when you guys were younger, to compete with each other and share those experiences growing up?
TH: It was cool. We had a quiet competition. We didn’t talk about it a lot. I knew that he wanted to come and knock down everything that I did, I understood that. And at the same time, I wanted to try to continute to set the bar high and lead by example as much as I could. Having a younger brother I think drives the older brother to become the example. And it was good to have him by my side, from high school all the way through college. In the pros you go your own way a little bit. He was working and trying to hold it down where he was, and vice versa, but you’re still brothers and you’re still encouraging [each other]. But having him nearby was real cool, and definitely eased a lot of things.
TD: When was that moment when you realized you had a shot at the NFL, and that you could be a top draft pick?
TH: It started for me in my sophomore year. I came back a little bit more refined, I understood football and understood college and what it was going to take to get on the field. I had a shoulder injury against Carolina—I broke my collar bone—so my season was done. [I]came back my junior year, coming off a heal (injury), coming off a nice summer and a nice fall camp, and in my junior year was able to showcase some skills and kept playing well every week. I kept getting better and better and better. I was like, “Man, I might have a chance at this.” My junior year, I was thinking about coming out. I submitted some information and the league gave me a late second or third-round grade. I was like, “I’m in this thing to try to be a first-rounder.” So I decided to go back to school and just kept working hard at refining my game.
TD: In your retirement press conference with the Rams earlier this year, you said you had a funny reaction to being drafted by them, because you were happy, but they were a terrible team.
TH:(Laughs) It was a dream for me to get drafted. I had my family and friends, everyone from the neighborhood around, having a good time. And then I get the call. Dick Vermeil was like, “Hey, you ready to be a Ram?” And I’m like, “Yeahh…(Laughs)… but y’all stink!” I didn’t say that to him, but I’m thinking that. Your dream comes true by being drafted to the National Football League, but it’s to a team that sucked. It was all good, once I got there and saw the talent that we had, I was able to come in and work and showcase my skills and help our team a little bit more. We brought guys over in trades—[Adam] Timmerman and [Marshall] Faulk, we drafted Dre’ Bly and other guys. We hit the ground running. We had great competition in training camp and it carried on into the regular season, carried on into the postseason, and allowed us to win a Super Bowl in my rookie year.
TD: There was some talent when you got there, but I’m guessing you had no idea who Kurt Warner was.
TH: Nah, I didn’t. Kurt was the third-string guy. I heard a couple rumors about what he did on the practice squad the year before, but that was about it. It wasn’t really like that with Kurt. But when Trent [Green] went down, he stepped right in, and was on rhythm. He was where he was supposed to be, we were where we’re supposed to be, the line was protecting, backs were running. Everything clicked. He was the leading catalyst, and he did his job at a high level. We were able to complement him and he was able to complement us, as an offense. He was razor sharp.
TD: That was your rookie season, and Kurt’s first year as a starter. Do you ever think back at how crazy it is that you guys had such ana amazing year, considering all that?
TH: It was real crazy. It just goes to show you that when you put guys together, and everything just works out…everybody prays and works for those types of moments all the time. For us, it was a situation that came true. We had a great group of guys—the game meant something to them, and we practiced and went about our business that way. It all gelled up, and it clicked, and we won it all. Kurt, who wasn’t drafted, was working in a grocery store; here I am, the sixth pick overall. If you look at those, there’s no correlation to where these guys would see each other on the field, right? (Laughs) But here we are on the football field with Isaac Bruce and Marshall Faulk and Ricky Proehl and Adam Timmerman and Orlando Pace and others, working this thing with precision. It goes to show, it doesn’t matter where you’re picked or what it looks like, if it means something to you, and you work cohesively, good things happen. We were an example of that.
TD: What’s your lasting memory of that Super Bowl XXXIV victory over the Titans?
TH: Wow. I remember warm-ups, it was incredible. The speed…if you ever go watch Super Bowl warm-ups live, you’ll see a couple guys like this. For me, it was like this: The speed in which I warmed up at for the Super Bowl, I felt so sharp and crisp and fast it was unbelievable. The level of attention and detail and competitiveness and focus just goes to a whole nother level. And then, boom! The lights were on and we were just playing. We’re scoring. Isaac catches the pass. Mike Jones makes the incredible tackle. That was an example of how we had played together as a team the whole year. Offensively, we get on pace— Ike scores on a long bomb. They bring pressure. Kurt gets it up, takes a hit. Ike catches it and goes in. We bobbin’ and weavin’. Come back down, Steve McNair—McNair by the way, was incredibly strong, dude was a beast—but he’s driving down the field and there’s only so many seconds left. Mike Jones on the defensive side of the ball, those guys had been making plays for us all year, came up with a huge play to hold them out of the endzone. It came full circle as far as how we came into training camp, how we worked, how we continued to gel, how the offense relied on the defense, the defense relied on the offense, special teams played its part. It was a collective team Super Bowl run and Super Bowl win. That’s what I remember—collectively, we did it.
TD: Two years later, you guys lost to the Pats in Super Bowl XXXVI. What do you remember about that game?
TH: Same energy in warm-ups; introductions were awesome. We’re moving the ball up and down the field, can’t score in the red zone. Field goals, field goals. They get a couple scores. Ricky Proehl comes in late. We get in a position to move ahead and then Tom [Brady] drives down the field and they… (Laughs) In Super Bowl XXXIV, we had a chance to drive down the field and score and Isaac did that. Super Bowl XXXVI, Tom Brady and his crew had a chance to go and score, and they did that. What helped us in XXXIV, helped them in XXXVI. I just remember the confetti coming down and going over and congratulating those guys, and holding my head up as a champion as we congratulated those guys. And then getting back in with the team and looking at those guys. We were right there, just a few yards, a few inches away. That’s what I remember. But my hats off to that Super Bowl XXXVI team, we were a team. We played outstanding football and got to the Super Bowl. The Patriots, they were better than us on that day and were able to beat us on a field goal for the win, so my hats off to them.
TD: When you watch high-flying offense today, do you think about the fact that it was your Greatest Show on Turf teams that set the precedent?
TH: Yeah, I think the passing game has always been highlighted. If you look back at the Fun Bunch, and the boys out in Pittsburgh, the Houston Oilers with the Run-N-Shoot, the 49ers, and then you look at the Rams, here comes our group, and we were just a fast break offense. Guys at every position, every receiver spot could run every route. We played fast, we were efficient, we were skilled, smart. We didn’t have knockout blocks, like a Hines Ward or one of those guys, but in the run game we were active. We had key blocks on long runs for Marshall and our other backs. I thought we did it all, and we did it at a high level. It looked good and it was fun. If you got up for a second to go get some popcorn, you missed a score. For a fan, it was like “Damn!” like they didn’t want to leave their seat. They just wanted to stay there because they didn’t want to miss anything. As a player, there’s no higher compliment. That’s cool.
TD: But even the big-time passing offenses today didn’t have a guy like Marshall Faulk as a running back.
TH: Yeah, which made it even more dangerous. It was like, okay, we’ll deuce it up, and we’ll go two tight ends, two receivers, fullback, tailback, and we’ll just have Marshall run it. He had the ability to run 20-25 times, and he’d win games for us. He did it several times. We had an NFC Championship game against the Eagles, and in the second half, he took over that game. We could run the ball, but we threw the ball really, really well. Marshall’s athletic skills complemented the pass game—he was a dual threat. Pick your poison, who do you want to take away? You want to take away Marshall? Okay, cool, then Ike will get you today. You want to take away Isaac? Okay, Torry’s gonna kill you. You take away Torry today, Ricky Proehl or Az Hakim is gonna kill you. So it was a pick-your-poison type offense. And you see that with Green Bay, with New England, Peyton Manning and the Broncos, the Saints with the weapons that they have. But the back is still relevant in our game.
TD: When you watch the NFL now, who are the receivers you enjoy watching the most?
TH: I really enjoy watching Larry Fitzgerald play. When I see him play, he plays at a really good clip. He’s strong, consistent, runs good routes. He has a good sense of urgency with his intentions on playing the position and getting open and all those things. Calvin Johnson—he’s a playmaker. Steve Smith I think is still tough. Wes Welker is consistent. His ability to make himself available is uncanny, unbelievable—it’s unmatched, nobody does it better than he does in the National Football League as far as being available to his quarterback all the time. Most of the time you see that form the tight end position. He does it a lot from the inside. Andre Johnson when he’s healthy and rolling and [Matt] Schaub is throwing that thing around, particularly at home, he’s explosive. Percy Harvin is a dual threat. Those are some guys that come to mind.
TD: Is there any receiver in the NFL today that reminds you of yourself?
TH: It’s funny, me and [ex-Rams safety] Corey Chavous were talking about this the other day. He made a comment that a guy like AJ Green from Cincinnati has a similar style to how I played, particularly in terms of catching the ball, route-running, bending, things like that, that you have to do to be successful. Reggie Wayne—if I had to say I had somebody I had a comparable style to, I’d say Reggie Wayne. He quietly goes about his business, very consistent, great route-runner, catches the ball with his hands, active in the run game, plays inside, plays outside, durable. Reggie Wayne is definitely the style that I like.
TD: Do you still follow the Rams more closely than the rest of the NFL?
TH: I mostly watch the Rams. I try to watch NC State every Saturday, and the Rams every Sunday. I’ll watch the Rams and then the Sunday Night game. My focus starts with the Rams, and then goes from there.
TD: Is it odd for you that Jeff Fisher is the head coach in St. Louis now, since he was on the other sideline with the Titans when you guys won the Super Bowl?
TH: I thought about it a little bit, but I’m kind of over that now. I like the fact that he’s on the sideline. He’s been there, done that, he knows how to manage a football team and get guys going, get guys playing. We just have to continue to draft more talent, guys have to do a better job of staying healthy so we can see that talent. And then that talent has to give the Rams production. We still haven’t gotten a high level of production from our draft picks. Coach Fisher will get it out of the guys. It’ll take some time, but that’s what I see. Even though we faced him in the Super Bowl and defeated him, I see a respectable guy that knows how to get us there.
TD: Talk about the work you do with the Holt Foundation, and what we should be looking out for.
TH: Right now we just finished up a science camp with our Kids Can! Hospital program at NC State. Our Kids Can! programs are for kids whose parents are diagnosed with cancer. So we try to add educational and emotional support for those kids through various activities. For one, having a science camp at NC State a couple weekends ago. It was our first one and it was outstanding. The kids were able to come in and do some experiments in science labs, talk about DNA, get an understanding of what the doctors are doing to try to cure their parents. So, it gives the kids the opportunity to see that there are some researchers out there going on, and in the meantime you can learn how to do some of this and possibly become a kid that could have some involvement in finding the cure one day. That’s what our foundation’s over-arching goal is. We’re just trying to help kids whose parent or guardian is dealing with cancer. That’s what the whole foundation is all about. We also hold a football camp in our hometown of Gibsonville every year, through our foundation.
Abe Schwadron is the Online Editor of TDdaily.com. Follow him on Twitter @abe_squad.