TAMPA, Fla. — He once sold drugs on a street corner. Now he’s MVP of a most remarkable Super Bowl.
Santonio Holmes, who overcame his gritty childhood in rural south Florida, made a brilliant catch with 35 seconds left to give the Pittsburgh Steelers their record sixth Super Bowl title, a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night.
After a pass to the left corner went through Holmes’ hands, Ben Roethlisberger lofted the ball toward the right corner, over the hands of not one, not two, but three Arizona defenders. Holmes leaped to get it — and somehow managed to drag both feet in bounds, his toes barely scraping the grass before he tumbled out of bounds.
The official threw up both arms — touchdown! — and Holmes sat out of bounds for several seconds, looking down at a ball he didn’t want to give up. His teammates piled on top of him, celebrating a game that will go down as one of greatest in Super Bowl history.
Amazingly, Holmes’ catch came at exactly the same point — 35 seconds remaining — as Plaxico Burress’ 13-yard touchdown catch in last year’s Super Bowl, giving the New York Giants their upset of the unbeaten New England Patriots.
That finish was a classic. This one was even better.
Holmes was so good — nine catches for 131 yards, four of them on the winning 78-yard drive — that he actually managed to outshine teammate James Harrison, who seemed to be a shoe-in for the MVP award through three quarters.
“Santonio is a guy who just loves to deliver,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
Harrison, the NFL’s defensive player of the year, returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half. The longest play in Super Bowl history gave the Steelers a 17-7 lead heading to the locker room, and they stretched it to 20-7 after three periods.
But Kurt Warner and the Cardinals rallied, going ahead 23-20 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining on Larry Fitzgerald’s 64-yard touchdown catch.
Then it was Holmes’ turn to shine. Earlier in the week, he used the Super Bowl stage to acknowledge selling drugs in Belle Glade, Fla., hoping his story would persuade other youngsters growing up in tough surroundings to turn their life around, just as he did.
Now, he’s given them another compelling reason to follow his path.
Before the final drive, Holmes told Roethlisberger to look his way. They hooked up four times, including a 40-yard pass that gave the Cardinals first down at the Arizona 6.
On the first throw into the end zone, Holmes couldn’t hang on. He slapped the ground after the ball slipped through his hands, then headed back to huddle.
Roethlisberger didn’t lose confidence in his third-year receiver. He looked that way again. Holmes came through.
“I said to him that I wanted to be the guy to make the plays for this team,” Holmes said. “Great players step up in big-time games to make plays.”
They don’t get any bigger than this.