ST. LOUIS Torry Holt walked through a doorway to applause, his career reaching an appropriate end. The former St. Louis Rams wide receiver chose to mark retirement where his journey began, and the reception began early.
On Wednesday, a conference room filled with friends, family and former teammates greeted him at Rams Park to begin an announcement that capped his accomplished career. He signed a one-day contract with the team that selected him sixth overall in the 1999 NFL draft. He stood before supporters eager to return to the place where he became part of the "Greatest Show on Turf" offense that produced a Super Bowl title in the 1999 season. He spoke about growing in St. Louis and cherishing his role within a franchise that taught him the value of commitment and passion.
"I'm excited, elated, to be standing here before you guys retiring as a member of the St. Louis Rams," Holt said.
With those words, one of the most prolific wide receivers in Rams history had returned home. His arrival was delayed: Holt had not played in a regular-season game since appearing in 15 contests for the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009. Before then, he had starred for 10 seasons in St. Louis, where he caught 869 passes for 12,660 yards and appeared in seven Pro Bowls.
Early in the ceremony Wednesday, Holt leaned over a rail near the front of the room when a highlight video showcasing his time with the Rams played. He stared at two flatscreen televisions and scratched his chin. He watched a younger version of himself sprint past defenders.
The moment marked time, but it also revealed the fulfillment of a childhood dream.
Growing up, it was rare for the boy from Gibsonville, N.C., to be seen without a football or basketball. His early interest led to him becoming a standout prospect from Eastern Guilford (NC) High School, then a consensus All-American as a senior at North Carolina State, then one of the most versatile talents of his era as a professional. His path surprised even those closest to him.
"Not really," Odell Shoffner, Holt's father, said when asked if he envisioned his son reaching this point. "But I'm glad it happened, because all the time I kept fussing to everybody that he had a ball in his hand. I'm elated that he's able to go out like this. We're always going to have the Rams in our hearts."
Holt never lost love for the organization that gave him his first chance. It began on draft day in 1999, when then-St. Louis coach Dick Vermeil called Holt and said, "Do you want to be a Ram?" The year before, St. Louis had finished 4-12 its ninth consecutive season without making the playoffs. The Rams sought a promising downfield threat and made Holt the first wide receiver taken.
Holt thought to himself, "Oh, shoot," in the moments after Vermeil's call. The Rams' checkered history worried him. They had won more than six games only once since 1989. Shortly after his arrival in the Gateway City, though, his doubts disappeared.
"When I got here, and I saw the talent that was here, and I saw the men that were here, the professionals that were here, I knew I was somewhere special," Holt said. "I was able to grow here in St. Louis as a young man."
He was able to grow on the field as well. At age 23, he started 15 regular-season games as a rookie and caught 52 passes for 788 yards and six touchdowns. The next year, he began a streak of eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,100 yards receiving. His best campaign came in 2003, when he had 117 catches for 1,696 yards and 12 touchdowns. He finished with 13,382 yards receiving and 74 touchdowns for his career.
Holt spoke Wednesday behind a podium with a Rams lapel pin fastened to the right collar of his blazer. Memories from his time on the field rushed back to him. He relived the Super Bowl XXXIV victory over the Tennessee Titans, the three catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns in a victory over the Atlanta Falcons in 2000, and the three triumphs over the Seattle Seahawks in 2004. He molded his professional identity in St. Louis and made the city his home.
"Torry is like a little brother to me," said former Rams defensive tackle Ray Agnew, one of Holt's teammates. "It's awesome. He deserves everything he's gotten. The closeness, the camaraderie we had as a team no one was selfish. Everybody was unselfish. It was a close-knit group that we had. We were one. We were a team. That's what I remember the most."
Holt keeps those memories close. As for himself, he wants to be remembered as a player who respected his teammates and coaches and challenged his peers. He pointed his right hand as he said, "I just wanted to be the best every day." Later, he waved both arms as he reminded former teammates that their Super Bowl title is "one thing that they can never take away from us."
Holt's time in St. Louis will never be taken from him. After the ceremony, he chatted with audience members. He swapped stories. He posed for pictures and smiled.
Eventually, Holt prepared to walk out the same doorway he arrived. He marked his retirement within the same walls where his career began. The destination felt right.
"It's good," he said before leaving, "to be back."