TAMPA, Fla. – He chased rabbits on the way to pulling a Super Bowl out of his hat. Santonio Holmes came out of the muck pits of Belle Glade, Fla., dodging divots and hunting small mammals as a way of getting by.
Holmes sold rabbits so he did not have to grow up selling drugs.
They don’t have a Wal-Mart or a Target in Belle Glade, no movie theaters or malls. “There really isn’t anything to do where we live,” Holmes said, “so all you’re going to do is chase rabbits, go to school, and play football.
“Or you’re going to stand on the corner and sell drugs.”
Only in October, Holmes was cited by police for possession of marijuana. Holmes had maintained he grew up a pusher, not a user. He wanted to use his Super Bowl platform so kids would see that they didn’t have to follow his lead, that a life of drugs would leave the sellers and the buyers “either in a casket … or in jail.”
Holmes never imagined his platform would be what it was Sunday night, when he made one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history to give the Steelers a 27-23 victory over the Cardinals in a game that every bit as dramatic and absurd as the Super Bowl that preceded it. This wasn’t as epic as Giants-Patriots because there was no 18-0 team on the field. But it earned a rightful place among all the enduring Super Bowls with a fourth quarter that had everything except David Tyree’s helmet.
Ben Roethlisberger was everything he was not in his first Super Bowl. Kurt Warner made his breathless run at Canton, and Larry Fitzgerald punctuated the greatest postseason a receiver’s ever had with two late touchdown receptions that nearly sent the Cardinals to an unimagined place.
But with 35 seconds left, Arizona up by three, Holmes locked down the MVP award with a 6-yard catch in the far right corner of the end zone – on his tippy toes, without a single blade of grass to spare – that would’ve put Lynn Swann to shame.
“My feet never left the ground,” Holmes said.
He was walking on air, anyway.
“All I did was extend my arms and use my toes as extra extension to catch up to the ball,” Holmes said.
He did far more than that. He was good for 131 yards on nine catches, four on the final drive. Before that eight-play, 78-yard drive unfolded, Holmes approached Roethlisberger.
“Ben, I want the ball in my hands no matter what,” Holmes told him. “No matter where it is … I want to be the guy who makes the big play for this team.”
Holmes delivered the big 40-yard catch and run that put the Steelers on the Arizona 6. He delivered the plays that made Pittsburgh the first franchise with six Super Bowl titles.
Holmes made the Steelers a fitting blue-collar champion in these grim blue-collar times.
With the victory secured, Holmes raised his arms in touchdown form, looked into the black Tampa night, and cut loose a triumphant scream.
“Great players step up in big times and make big plays,” Holmes said.
The kid who once chased rabbits had pulled a championship out of his hat.
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