Near the end of the 2009 season, my brother offered me a fantasy football trade of Santonio Holmes for DeSean Jackson. Up to that point, Holmes only had one touchdown, but I had a hunch and accepted the trade for the Steelers receiver. After the deal was consummated, my brother smugly said, "I can't believe you made that trade. Jackson is good!" Well, as I said, I went with my gut instincts, because during his short career in Pittsburgh, Holmes had a knack for scoring a lot of important touchdowns late in the season. In fact, the second touchdown reception of Holmes' career was a game-winner in overtime against Cincinnati that knocked the Bengals out of the playoffs in the last week of the 2006 regular season.
My hunch for accepting the trade for Holmes paid off as he caught four touchdown passes down the stretch, and even though the Steelers missed the real playoffs, he helped keep my fantasy playoff hopes alive.
Of course, just a season earlier, Holmes wasn't catching touchdown passes to knock other teams out of the playoffs or to help some sap make the fantasy football playoffs. No, the clutch plays that Holmes came up with late in the 2008 season may have been the most critical in the team's march to winning Super Bowl XLIII.
In October of 2008, the thought of Holmes being a major contributing factor to a Super Bowl title seemed pretty far-fetched when Coach Mike Tomlin deactivated him before the Steelers, 21-14, loss to the Giants after the third year receiver was stopped by Pittsburgh police for marijuana possession earlier in the week.
This was pretty alarming because the young receiver had already had a couple of brushes with the law very early in his career.
Up to that point in the season, Holmes only had one touchdown, but after his return to the lineup a week later in Washington, he started to become more of a key contributor to the offense, finishing the regular season with five tds. And starting in week 15, in a game against the Ravens with the AFC North on the line, Holmes' contributions became downright vital.
With the Steelers trailing, 9-6, with less than a minute remaining in the game, it was 3rd and goal from the four yard line. Ben Roethlisberger scrambled to his left and then back to his right where he hit Holmes with a pass right at the goal line. Holmes caught the pass just inside the end zone before being knocked back into the field of play. After a review, the officials had determined that Holmes crossed the plane while in possession of the football, and it was a touchdown and a division clincher for the Steelers. Other than that play, Holmes didn't really do much statistically during that game, but he sure came through with a clutch grab at just the right time.
Fast forward to the Divisional playoff game against the San Diego Chargers at Heinz Field. The Chargers had taken a 7-0 lead on their first possession of the game, and you could feel the tension building among the Steeler faithful in attendance. However, midway through the first quarter, Holmes came through big-time with a 67-yard punt return in-which he darted up the middle and then took off down the far sideline, hurdled a Chargers' defender and out-ran everyone else for the game-tying touchdown. The Steelers went on to control things the rest of the way in a 35-24 victory. Again, Holmes didn't put up impressive numbers in the game, but momentum is huge in playoff football, and who knows how things may have turned out without Santonio's incredible return.
A week later in the AFC Championship game against the Ravens, Holmes made another awesome play when he caught a pass from a scrambling Roethlisberger near mid-field and raced all the way across to the other side of the field and down the far sideline for a spectacular 65-yard catch and run that looked very similar to the punt return of a week earlier. It was the only offensive touchdown that the Steelers would score in their 23-14 victory, but Holmes came within a whisker of scoring two more. Unlike the previous two games I mentioned, Holmes really should have had a much bigger game statistically than the 70 yards in receptions that he wound up with. Early in the first quarter, Holmes appeared to have a 24-yard touchdown catch, only to have it overturned on replay. And late in the first half, Big Ben threw behind Santonio on a play in-which he had his man beaten to the inside and surely would have scored. After that incomplete pass, Holmes held up two fingers as if to indicate two more touchdowns that he should have had. Indeed, and with two more scores, Troy's famous pick-six would have been just another play.
And, then there was Super Bowl XLIII. All-in-all, Holmes caught nine passes for 131 yards, but none were bigger than his two key receptions on the team's championship-clinching drive. With barely over a minute left, the Steelers were at Arizona's 46-yard line when Big Ben found Holmes near the 35. The defender covering Holmes slipped on the play, and he made it all the way to the six-yard line. Two plays later, history was made when Holmes pulled in maybe the most impressive touchdown catch in Super Bowl history.
David Tyree gets much kudos for his helmet catch in Super Bowl XLII, and rightfully so, but what Holmes did on this play by stretching out for the ball, keeping both feet in the end zone and then safely securing the football without bobbling it as he was knocked to the ground was remarkable. If he screws up any part of that play, it's an incomplete pass.
For his efforts, Holmes was named Super Bowl XLIII MVP, but if the NFL had a postseason MVP, Santonio surely would have won it that year. I don't think the Steelers win Super Bowl XLIII without Holmes' key plays down the stretch.
Unfortunately, Holmes' never did lasso the character issues from his first few seasons, and after some questionable Tweets to a fan and a failed drug test, he was shipped off to the Jets for a 5th round draft choice following the 2009 season.
Even with the Jets, Holmes continued his clutch postseason play with a fourth quarter touchdown in the Divisional playoff match-up against the Patriots and a 45 yard touchdown catch a week later in a loss to the Steelers in the 2010 AFC Championship game.
Along with his crucial late-season contributions, Holmes' character issues have also followed him to New York, and last season, he was called out by teammates for not being much of a team player.
I don't know if Holmes will ever truly grow up and become a solid citizen, but there are few receivers that I fear more come playoff time. Holmes has scored a touchdown in five of his six career postseason games.
No, Holmes probably isn't a great teammate, and if he doesn't turn his life around very soon, he could turn into one of those really sad stories that we all read about years from now.
But the fact that the Steelers probably owe their sixth Lombardi trophy to Santonio Holmes just goes to show you that clutch performers come in all shapes and sizes.
You can say a lot of things about Santonio Holmes, but you can't say the 2008 postseason was too big for him.