Sunday Personal for Santonio Holmes -- Whether He Admits It or Not
FLORHAM PARK, NJ -- Jets safety Drew Coleman was in the weight room with receiver Santonio Holmes on Wednesday afternoon at the team's complex. It was a few minutes before Holmes chatted with reporters about his second trip to Pittsburgh and second encounter with the Steelers in barely a month. Holmes and the Jets won the last time. This time, for the AFC championship on Sunday, it is a more extravagant expedition.
Holmes played his first four pro seasons in Pittsburgh before the Steelers kicked him to the Jets in a trade last April. It makes sense that Holmes would see red any time he confronts Steelers' black and gold. Coleman thought so.
"I asked him if this was a good way for another shot at redemption,'' Coleman said. "He said, 'I already got the personal thing out of the way in the last game. This is about the Jets. This is not about me.'''
In his news conference, Holmes repeated that spiel. The personal thing is out of the way, he said. It is not his focus, he said. He just sees the Steelers as a team in the Jets' way, he insisted.
Holmes was good. It was a convincing show.
And it was pure theater.
Because this fleet, big-play receiver thrives on competition. And his pride. With all of his off-field antics, the Steelers considered him a hindrance. A knucklehead. Their patience evaporated. And with all of the shenanigans they simultaneously faced while dealing with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, it was one issue too many last April. At least one of them had to go. Guess who?
Holmes has cleaned it up with the Jets, been a model player, a big-play player. He has earned the confidence of Jets owner Woody Johnson, general manager Mike Tannenbaum, coach Rex Ryan and his teammates. He is the Super Bowl XLIII MVP. He knows the route to where the Jets yearn to fly.
But to think Holmes does not want to stick it to the Steelers one more time -- this time, for these huge stakes -- is preposterous. Of course he does. It is the sheer makeup of the man, the pure essence of his drive. Knocking the Steelers out, denying the franchise a seventh Super Bowl title bid, and getting there at Pittsburgh's expense? We are talking sweet delight for Santonio Holmes.
We are talking, for Holmes, a hallelujah moment.
Here is what his friend and former teammate, Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, had to say about it:
"No question. Deep down he feels one way, and in public he is going to say what he needs to say, but deep down, I already know how he feels. And it ain't pretty.
"A lot of players here were hurt and a lot of players were confused when he was traded. I wasn't confused -- but I was hurt," Taylor continued. "We all know this is a business and people make business decisions. I'm glad I'm not the one who had to make that business decision. 'Tone' is like a little brother to me. But he has moved on to bigger and better things. We've moved on to bigger and better things. This game right here shows it's worked out for both of us.''
It also offers a riveting validation on what's what. Because if the Steelers shut him down, topple the Jets, then their trade of Holmes proved to be a mere stepping stone. But if Holmes makes the plays that win the game, if he contributes mightily and helps dump the Steelers, the remnants will reveal a nauseated franchise with a sickened fan base.
Like Roethlisberger this season with the Steelers, Holmes was suspended for his team's first four games by the league, and then surfaced to be a dynamic force for the rest of the season. Holmes caught 52 passes -- six for touchdowns -- and made game-changing or game-winning plays late in four Jets victories (Detroit, Denver, Cleveland and Houston). His spinning, mercurial 7-yard touchdown grab last Sunday at New England turned a 14-11 Jets edge into a 21-11 lead en route to a divisional playoff victory.
"He is able to see the big picture,'' Jets backup quarterback Kellen Clemens said of Holmes. "A lot of guys have speed and good hands, but he has football knowledge. He feels the game, understands coverages, even understands pass protections to a certain extent. He works hard.''
Coleman said, when a Jets defensive back is beaten in practice by Holmes, Holmes will spend time with the player explaining how to defend certain moves and how to anticipate those moves.
Jets safety Jim Leonhard, who is on injured reserve healing a broken leg, said Holmes "is always on the field coaching everybody and anyone who will listen. He shares his knowledge and that is so valuable to a team.''
Jets linebacker Vernon Gholston played two seasons with Holmes at Ohio State.
"Mike Tannenbaum sent me a text message before the trade asking me what kind of guy Santonio was,'' Gholston said. "This is someone who always wants to compete and get better. This is someone who knows what is going on. He is a player who, when the biggest moments in the game come, he can own the moment. There isn't a player in the league who doesn't want to be that. It's one big reason why he has respect.''
Taylor added: "They have a lot of good receivers, but 'Tone' is the guy you have to be aware of at all times. 'Tone' is 'Tone.' He makes plays at critical times.''
Holmes has an edge to him, an intensity about him, a piercing focus that makes some back off and others embrace him.
This is what he told me during Jets training camp last June:
"When it is all said and done, I am going to be in the Hall of Fame, I'll have that MVP trophy on my mantle and I will have done everything I can to make the New York Jets champions.''
Torching the Steelers en route would be the icing.