Holliday Fights Through Loss For Record Day


Heading to the locker room after the Packers' 10-0 victory over the Buffalo Bills, Vonnie Holliday stopped at the mouth of the southeast tunnel and soaked it all in.

The Packers had just successfully completed a quest to finish the regular season undefeated at home. And all Holliday had done to help the team to its 12th win of the year was tally a franchise-record five quarterback sacks, three of them causing fumbles and two leading to turnovers.

With most of the 64,106 still in their seats, Holliday lifted his helmet in salute to the fans.

The crowd roared back its approval.

Surely, almost all of them knew about the torn pectoral muscle and the ligament damage in his knee that have hampered Holliday's fifth NFL campaign. But only a few possessed the knowledge that on Sunday Holliday also played through the pain of a broken heart.

Saturday night, while at the team hotel in Green Bay, Holliday received notice that his 17-year-old cousin, Marcus Warren, had collapsed and died playing basketball in Hilton Head, S.C.

"It was a long night last night," Holliday admitted after the game Sunday. "This kid epitomized greatness. Just an unbelievable person, a great athlete.

"In our family we certainly thought he was the next superstar in basketball or football."

According to a coroner's report received by Holliday only minutes after he saluted the crowd, cause of death was related to a congenital coronary disorder.

"He wasn't feeling well, came off the court and collapsed," Holliday described. "They tried to do everything, but there was nothing they could do."

Although he received word of his cousin's death just over 12 hours before Sunday's kickoff, and spent much of Saturday night consoling family members in town for the game, Holliday said he never considered sitting out.

"I was certainly driven in this game," he said. "You'd like to say that you go out every game and play with passion and I think today I played with more passion."

For a team that has been plagued by injuries, Holliday was the second defensive lineman this season to play through the pain of having lost a loved one.

December 1, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila suited up against the Minnesota Vikings only a week after the death of his mother in an automobile accident.

After that game, Holliday complimented Gbaja-Biamila's strength and openly wondered whether he would have been able to do the same.

Sunday, the two spoke of playing through loss.

"When something like that happens to a teammate, you try to be there as a friend, as a teammate, but you just don't really understand," Holliday said.

"After the game I just told him thank you for his efforts over the last couple of weeks, especially right after his mom's death. Because I, too, felt what that was like today to try and come out and perform at a high level in that type of situation -- that emotional thunderstorm that he must have been in at the time that I now understand."

Holliday didn't record his first sack until midway through the third quarter.

With the Bills facing third-and-goal at the Green Bay 5-yard-line, Holliday chased down Drew Bledsoe for a 10-yard loss that not only ended the touchdown threat but added distance to the ensuing field goal try by Mike Hollis, which sailed wide-left from 33 yards out.

Holliday would get to Bledsoe on successive plays early in the fourth quarter, first dropping him for a 7-yard loss, then forcing the 6-foot-5, 240 pound quarterback to fumble near midfield to set up what would be the Packers' only touchdown-scoring drive of the game.

His fourth sack halted Buffalo on third-and-15. His fifth, with 1:19 remaining and the Bills at the Green Bay 17-yard-line, forced a fumble that sealed the Packers' victory.

Holliday credited the defensive secondary for creating his opportunities.

"The whole game those guys did a great job in the secondary," he said. "I was fortunate. At any time any of those guys (on the defensive line) could have gotten those sacks, but I just happened to be the one to get there at the right time."

Holliday suggested that he had some other help, too.

"I know that there's angels that look down, and I know that after last night I have another angel looking down on me," he said.

In Holliday's own opinion, Sunday's performance was not the best of his career. His body battered, he's yet to regain his run-stopping dominance, he insists.

But considering all that he's been through this season, and all that was needed from him for the Packers to be able to win Sunday, few performances could have ever meant more.

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