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Is Santonio Holmes the Real Offensive MVP of the NFL?

By design, voting for the NFL's MVP Award takes place after the regular season and before the playoffs.  Each player gets the same 16 opportunities to make a case for the award.  Peyton Manning was deemed this year's Most Valuable Player after 16 games.  So be it.   But let's project the real Most Valuable Players, after the entire body of work ending February 1.  Is it fair to project Santonio Holmes as the NFL's Most Vauable Offensive Player?  (James Harrison, of course, would be the MVDP.)

Holmes caught 55 passes this past season for 821 yards and five touchdowns.  If you are a "stat geek," you probably don't want to read any more of this.  Isaac Bruce, a guy who I honestly didn't think was in the league anymore, had better numbers than Holmes in all three areas.  If "valuable" translates to "statistical," then indeed Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, ringing up the pass register, will be your Most Valuable Player.  But if valuable really means valuable, and the team that wins the Super Bowl can rightfully claim a higher stake in what was valuable to them, then Santonio Holmes is your guy.


The Steelers had to beat an outstanding Baltimore Raven team three times this year in order to get to the promised land.  As two monster defenses collided, only one player on the Steelers offense scored a touchdown in any of those three games.  Santonio Holmes.  And he scored touchdowns in all three games.  The Steelers were getting handled 13-3 in the first game, when Holmes took a short slant pass all the way to the house electrifying both the crowd and the Steelers defense, who scored themselves 14 seconds later.  In the second game it was Holmes who kept both feet on the ground coaxing the ball as it broke the plane, a catch that may have been the difference between playing three road games in the playoffs, or just two at home.  In the playoff game, it was Holmes who played possum while Ben scrambled, again taking a short pass and running a long way across and then down the field for a score.


The Steelers played the Browns, at Cleveland, in the second game of the season when the Browns were still the media darlings of the AFC North.  Holmes had a 100-yard game, including a 10-yard run for a first down, despite the rain and winds that were gusting up to 60 miles per hour.  Pittsburgh was nursing a one-score lead in the third quarter, deep in its own territory, when Holmes made a beautiful 48-yard catch in heavy traffic. That play gave the Steelers a field goal and 10-point lead the Browns could not recover from.

Dallas came to town and just like Baltimore, was having its way against the Steelers, leading 13-3 in the third quarter.  Pittsburgh fans were feeling bleak until late in the third, down 10 and with third down and 16 at their own 20-yard line, Holmes caught a 47-yard pass that gave the Steelers new life.  He caught another one right after, but the Steelers came up short on a fourth-and-goal.  Dallas still had to punt from inside its 20, and there was Holmes again, taking the punt 35 yards.  He single-handedly got the team back in that game.  Jeff Reed kicked a field goal and the momentum change was in full force.


Against Tennessee, even though Pittsburgh lost, Holmes caught a clutch 31-yard touchdown pass to get the Steelers back in the game, soon to take the lead.  He also sealed the game against Washington with a TD grab, and his 28-yard touchdown against New England ignited that fire sale.

Against San Diego in the playoffs, when the money was on the table, there was Santonio again throwing in his ante.  The Chargers were up 7-0 and got the ball back again.  Holmes took a punt 67 yards for a score and Steelers fans felt like all was going to be well with the world again.  They never looked back.


And then of course, the season-ending drive of NFL 2008.  We have seen the Bradys and Montanas and Elways (and now Roethlisbergers), but have we ever seen a receiver with such impact as Santonio Holmes during the most important three minutes of any game?  Four catches, all of them crucial, one better than the other, to get to the ultimate prize.  Statistically that final catch was a mere six-yard completion.  In reality, and these are the words of the NFL's Steve Sabol, "it was the greatest touchdown catch in NFL history."


What can be more valuable than the greatest touchdown catch in NFL history?  In the NFL it's not what, but when and how.  When the Steelers needed it the most, in the biggest games of the year and biggest moments within games, Santonio was money.  His numbers didn't come against the Cincinnati Bengals, or in the blowout games.  He wasn't called upon.  His productivity came against the toughest opponents in the most difficult situations.

Statistics, with receivers, are often anomalies.  Holmes wasn't needed or called upon in the first rout against Houston, the last rout against Cleveland, and a few games in between.  Sometimes the defense will take a receiver out of a game by sliding into double coverage, rendering his value invisible, but indeed still important since it opens up other avenues.  That's the nature of being a receiver.  Holmes' value cannot be diminished because he plays for the Steelers and not the Saints.  If anything, his value escalates because his plays were more important.

Yes, Holmes has had a few distractions off the field.  He grew up as a poor youth in the notoriously rough parts of Belle Glade, Florda.  I can neither relate to what that is like nor play God with his situation.  His latest indiscretion cost him a game this season.  While I think a couple of his legal brushes sounded much worse than they really were, I still admit I wish I never had to read them.  Just imagine if the officials had not turned their attention from Holmes after he scored that last touchdown, called a 15-yard penalty and somehow the Cardinals complete a hail mary to win.  Holmes might have been run out of the same town he ended up getting paraded through.  If Pittsburgh had lost the Super Bowl, how much scolding would Holmes have taken for not catching the pass before the touchdown?  If the Steelers missed the playoffs by one game, would the missed Giants game be used against him?  We'll never really know all that, because things didn't turn out that way, though it's interesting how we are constantly reminded of that fine line between success and failure in the NFL.  Regardless of all the what-ifs, the young man still will grow and mature and learn from his mistakes, like most young adults his age. Let's not make light of the need for that to happen amidst the Super Bowl euphoria as we think about Holmes' potential possibility to achieve greatness in the future.


Of course I am bias.  My team just won the Super Bowl.  If you are a Colts' fan you think this is sacrilegious.  I won't argue with your statistics.  But frankly, I think Larry Fitzgerald has a better case than Manning, and he never got a single vote, just like Holmes.  Had Pittsburgh not succeeded in that final drive, I would believe that Fitzgerald would be the Offensive MVP of the NFL, so my thinking is not based on bias.  It is based on the whole body of work beyond just 16 games.  Just consider this:  the Most Valuable Player in the NFL, James Harrison in my book, helped lead his team beyond the playoffs, not just one-and-done.  And the Most Valuable Offensive Player, Santonio Holmes, wears the same color jersey.  And isn't it interesting that two of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history include each of them?