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Old 01-22-2011, 12:33 PM   #1
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Default Santonio Holmes' second shot gets big stage vs. former team

Santonio Holmes' second shot gets big stage vs. former team
By Tom Pedulla, USA TODAY

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Santonio Holmes ensured his place in NFL lore when his barely inbounds 6-yard touchdown catch with 35 seconds left gave the Pittsburgh Steelers a 27-23 victory against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

His willingness to repeatedly cross social and league boundaries before and after the grab that brought Super Bowl MVP honors just as surely led Pittsburgh to trade him to the New York Jets on April 11 for a fifth-round draft choice.

That slap still stings as Holmes returns to Pittsburgh for Sunday's AFC Championship Game hoping he can build on his reputation as one of the game's clutch receivers and land the Jets in their first Super Bowl since the 1968 season.

"This time, it means everything," Holmes said of his second visit to Pittsburgh following a 22-17 victory Dec. 19. "Everything for myself, for this team, for this organization. We're trying to get to the Super Bowl. I don't care about the Steelers right now, you know. Those guys are in my team's way."

Holmes added, "If we win the Super Bowl, then everything is personal. That's a slap back in those guys' face for trading me. But right now, it's not even a focus of mine."

Holmes' personal journey has been turbulent. The native of Belle Glade, Fla., 26, faced a domestic violence charge in 2006 that was later dismissed. Pittsburgh suspended him for one game after he was arrested on a charge of marijuana possession in 2008 (later dismissed). New York acquired him knowing he would be suspended for the first four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

While Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh's franchise quarterback, was being investigated for a possible sexual assault in Georgia, the 5-11, 192-pound receiver renowned for his extraordinary body control in making catches seemingly spun out of control.

In the days leading to Pittsburgh's decision to trade the 2006 first-round draft choice, he posted tweets that surely upset a Steelers front office already under fire for Roethlisberger's recurring misconduct.

Holmes, an unmarried father of four, alluded to smoking marijuana when he tweeted last March 31, "Time to wake n bake."

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review listed tweets attributed to the wideout that he never denied, all from late March or early April:

•"forget the rap sheet check the stat sheet!"

•"When you're a star shining so bright why worry about those who are planted on solid ground pointing fingers at something they can't reach!"

•"U as fans would never learn! Remember u don't cut my check."

When the trade was announced, Holmes told reporters he was "very shocked." He had been a key figure in the passing game, with 79 catches and a team-high 1,248 receiving yards with five touchdowns in 2009.

Roethlisberger, asked this week about his reaction to the trade, responded, "Just kind of amazement, wonderment. What was going on? What happened? Just a lot of questions."

He did not deny that his legal issues might have been a factor in the decision to jettison Holmes. "That's probably a question for the front office," he said.

Kevin Colbert, the Steelers' director of football operations, defended what appeared to be a fire sale, although Holmes' departure created a greater opportunity for second-year man Mike Wallace (60 receptions, 1,257 yards, 10 TDs). Colbert said at the time, "Everybody has a point when they think the deal is favorable, and we reached that point."

Swagger fits in with Jets

Cornerback Ike Taylor is among a number of Steelers who continue to befriend Holmes. But that won't stop Taylor from doing what is necessary to stop him.

"I'm not going to hesitate to lay him out … because he ain't going to hesitate to crack on me if he gets a chance," Taylor told the New York Post.

Tom Shaw, who mentors Holmes after serving as his personal strength and conditioning coach since the receiver played at Ohio State, views the trade as a pivotal moment.

"This is the best thing that happened for Santonio," he said. "He grew up a lot. This really humbled Santonio because everything was given to him in high school and college."

Holmes said, "I think I fell into a great position with a young team that is very hungry, very eager to get the job done. I wanted to bring some excitement."

Holmes' swagger is a perfect fit for coach Rex Ryan. Ryan abruptly ended a conversation with someone in his office when he heard that Holmes was available.

"I was like 'What? Santonio Holmes?' I went running up the stairs saying, 'Absolutely,' " Ryan said.

According to Ryan, general manager Mike Tannenbaum never hesitated once he completed his background check.

"We just thought it was a great opportunity to add a great player and a great competitor. Any of us that watched the Super Bowl tape saw him in there like, 'Hey, just give me the ball.' "

Despite missing the opening quarter of the season, Holmes finished with 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns. It is hard to imagine the sixth-seeded Jets, 13-5 after road playoff wins vs. Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady's New England Patriots, making their impressive run without him.

Defensive end Trevor Pryce said Holmes "put a stamp on his season" when his diving 7-yard scoring catch helped New York open a 10-point advantage in the fourth quarter of an eventual 28-21 victory against New England.

In truth, examples of Holmes' impact are everywhere.

•He drew a pass interference call on fourth-and-6 with 1:26 left to position a 2-yard run by LaDainian Tomlinson that provided a 24-20 win against the Denver Broncos in Week 6.

•His 52-yard catch and run positioned the winning field goal in a 23-20 overtime decision at the Detroit Lions in Week 9.

•His 37-yard scoring grab with 16 seconds left in overtime ended a 26-20 thriller at the Cleveland Browns in Week 10.

•He pulled in a 6-yard scoring pass with 10 seconds left when New York rallied for a 30-27 decision against the visiting Houston Texans in Week 11.

Holmes is so clutch so often, his new teammates have come to expect that. "He makes plays in crucial situations, and you've got to love that," fellow wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said.

Holmes makes the spectacular look routine. "We make jokes about his big toe. He probably has one of the biggest big toes in the world," Cotchery said. "He finds a way to get it down."

Guarded about personal life

The fifth-year veteran is in the final year of his contract, another factor that diminished his trade value. He hopes the Jets will count on him for years to come.

"I don't want to play for another team," he said. "Rex Ryan, in my mind, can be one of the greatest coaches of all time."

Ryan, a former defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens, is confident in his ability to bring out the best in players who were unwanted by other organizations because of either character issues or age. The Jets made a number of such additions.

Pryce, 35, was signed by New York on Sept. 30, the day after Baltimore released him. He said of Holmes, "We all have issues. His issues are just another issue. If all of us are covered in mud … he doesn't stick out."

Yet Holmes does stick out.

When he returned from his suspension, he easily could have toed the company line when asked if he had grown from the experience. But no.

"To look in your eyes and be honest with you, not 1%," he said
. (Once a pot head, always a pothead. It's only a matter of time before he is suspended. I'm sure Goodell will take his unrepentant attitude into account when he tokes up again and gets caught. Tone's future is clear. He will be the new T.O. bouncing from team to team or he will end up like Plexiglass. It's good that we dumped him. - mesa)

Even with the spotlight shining on him now, Holmes refuses to shed much light on his life. He cannot understand why anything in his personal life should affect him or his team.

"I love playing football. I don't bring my family problems, my story, when I'm here," he said. "You ask me a million questions about my life. This is my life, playing football."

Contributing: Gary Mihoces in Pittsburgh
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