DREAM COME TRUE

When running back Dominic Rhodes returned to the Colts' practice facility this week after a year hiatus, his former teammates embraced him, making it seem like 2006 all over again. Rhodes isn't afraid to say he was touched by the reception.

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Rejoining Colts Right Thing at Right Time, Rhodes Says

INDIANAPOLIS – Dominic Rhodes knew what to expect.

Still, knowing what to expect and actually experiencing it are two different things.

So, when Rhodes – a veteran running back who spent his first six NFL seasons with the Colts –returned this week to the team's practice facility after a year hiatus, when his former teammates embraced him, making it seem like 2006 all over again . . .

Well, Rhodes isn't afraid to say he was touched.

"I guess I can say it's kind of like a dream come true," said Rhodes, who is participating in this weekend's three-day rookie/veteran minicamp, which concludes Sunday.

"Basically, I'm coming back to a home away from home, to be with my friends and have an opunity to compete for another championship on a winning team."

The dream became real this past week, when Rhodes – a running back for the Colts from 2001-2006 – signed with the team after being released by the Oakland Raiders.

"It just feels like the right thing to do and the right place to be," Rhodes said.

It was a dream that came true after a difficult year.

Rhodes, 29, after starting for the Colts in the 2006 regular season and rushing for more than 100 yards as a reserve in the Colts' Super Bowl XLI victory, signed with the Raiders during the 2007 off-season as an unrestricted free agent.

With the Raiders this past season, he rushed for 302 yards and a touchdown on 75 carries in a season in which he played only 10 games. He also caught 11 passes for 70 yards.

He was released by the Raiders on April 29, two days after they selected running back Darren McFadden of Arkansas with the No. 4 selection in the NFL Draft.

"I knew they would probably draft McFadden," Rhodes said. "There were a couple of other fits that were out there, but I didn't think that any fit was as good as coming back home to the Colts. It happened that they were looking for me and I was looking for them. Everything came together."

And when it did, Rhodes returned to a team for which he played a key role for his first six NFL seasons. One of the Colts' top free-agent finds this decade, Rhodes joined Indianapolis as an undrafted free agent shortly after the 2001 NFL Draft.

He made the team that year, defying the odds against an undrafted rookie making an NFL roster.

Throughout his career, Rhodes said such situations have provided motivation.

Now, he said, having been released, it's likely there are those questioning his chances of again being a productive NFL player.

"There are always people doubting," Rhodes said. "I've been having that ever since I came into the league. I always have that chip on my shoulder, to let people know that this game has been a blessing to me and I've been blessed to play it well. Every time I go on that field I'm trying to make sure people feel what I feel and I'm looking to dominate.

"I love it when people doubt me, because when they do doubt me and I go out and handle my business, the next thing I know, they're saying, 'Man, we shouldn't have doubted you. Every time, you come through.'

"I continually do that. I continually still have people doubting me. It just keeps driving me and driving me to be the greatest player I can be."

Rhodes proved immediately he was capable of being a big-time NFL back. He started the last 10 games of his rookie regular season after starting running back Edgerrin James sustained a season-ending knee injury. He became the first undrafted rookie in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards, finishing with a career-high 1,104 yards and nine touchdowns on 233 carries.

He missed the following season after sustaining a torn anterior cruciate ligament in training camp, but returned to play a key role as a reserve from 2003-2005.

Over those three seasons, Rhodes rushed for 529 yards and five touchdowns on 130 carries, and also returned 105 kickoffs for 2,454 yards, a 23.4-yard average. His 88-yard return for a touchdown in the second half of a 34-31 overtime victory over San Diego helped the Colts clinch the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs in 2004.

Rhodes started 16 regular-season games for the Colts in 2006, rushing for 641 yards and five touchdowns on 187 carries in his only full season as a full-time starter in Indianapolis. He alternated throughout that season with rookie running back Joseph Addai, who became the starter during the playoffs.

"It's like me and Joe never were apart," Rhodes said. "We picked up where we ended. We still joke and play around, being how we always have been and that's just having fun and getting it done. That's what I say, 'Having fun and getting it done.' I don't think there's a better one-two punch in the NFL, considering what we did that year (in 2006).

"He's older and smarter in the game, and I'm older and smarter in the game. I think we make a great combination."

In the Colts' postseason run to Super Bowl XLI, Rhodes played a key role, leading the team in rushing as a reserve.

In four postseason games, he rushed for 306 yards on 62 carries, including a 21-carry, 113-yard, one-touchdown performance in the Colts' 29-17 victory over the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl. Rhodes also played a key role in an AFC Divisional Playoff victory over Baltimore that season, rushing for two key first downs on a fourth-quarter, game-clinching drive.

In six seasons with the Colts, Rhodes rushed for 2,274 yards and 19 touchdowns on 550 carries and caught 90 passes for 649 yards and a touchdown.

He also returned 119 kickoffs for a 23.6 yards average and two touchdowns.

"Everything was like a mesh," Rhodes said of the opportunity to return to Indianapolis. "Honestly, I really do think – not to put the cart before the horse – but I think I'm the missing piece to getting back to where we were, just from what I bring from the standpoint of in the locker room and on the field."

He has started bringing that at this weekend's minicamp, before which Rhodes said he was "definitely excited – and a little scared."

"I want to make sure I'm on my 'A' game," Rhodes said. "I know I've got to get back in the fold as far as knowing the plays, so I can be flawless out there and play off athletic ability. I'm excited, nervous. There are so many emotions going on in my head.

"I can't wait until I get all the plays back down and I'm rolling like I never left."

Which, he said, was how he felt this past week, when he first arrived at the Colts' practice facility after a year away from what he called his home away from home.

"At first, I was just so happy to be pulling back up," Rhodes said. "I never thought I would miss being in Indiana, but when I got back, everybody was smiling, telling me how much they missed me. They were saying the same thing I was saying – that you never know how much you miss a person until he's back. That's what I've been getting.

"It has been great. Everybody welcomed me with open arms. They were telling me when they came to play us in Oakland. They were all like, 'You need to come back home.' I knew they were missing me.

"It's all worked out for the best."

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