Santonio Holmes is proof that an organization’s relationship with a player can end on negative terms but survive through the long haul for a positive effect. The former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver was a first-round pick in 2006—the last time they traded up in the round—but they traded him four years later as he was facing a suspension.
Holmes had a successful four-year career in Pittsburgh, where he cemented his legacy with an all-time great catch to put the Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII. That play helped him earn Super Bowl MVP honors.
But after just one more season, he would find himself with the New York Jets, traded in exchange for a fifth-round pick. While he was still a productive player on the field, the team still had Hines Ward and saw the emergence of Mike Wallace the year before. Holmes was having some off-field issues, including on Twitter, and was due for a new contract as well.
Now he’s a frequent presence at team events and among the most active alumni. And that has a lot to do with his love for the Steelers long before he was ever drafted by them out of Ohio State.
“It was tears of joy, knowing I had loved this organization as a kid”, he told the team’s website after he was drafted. “To get the phone call from Kevin Colbert saying, ‘how would you like to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers’. I remember looking over at my mom and whispering in her ear and saying mom, I am going to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers”.
The next four years were strong ones, putting up 235 receptions for 3835 yards and 20 touchdowns. His best season came in 2009 as the team started to transition more into a passing team, catching 79 passes for 1248 yards and five touchdowns. He also averaged an impressive 16.3 yards per reception.
When the Steelers drafted Holmes, they were coming off their first Super Bowl win since the 1970s, and had just lost Antwaan Randle El in free agency. Ward was still there, of course, but they didn’t have much else. The only other wide receivers to catch a pass in 2005 were Cedrick Wilson and Quincy Morgan in his only season with the team.
“To know they had just won the Super Bowl, I had big shoes to fill, being the first pick of the draft that following year”, he said. “Knowing you are the first wide receiver taken in the draft, to the Super Bowl champion team, the shoes felt too big to fill”.
Given that he ended up being a Super Bowl MVP, making the game-winning play, I think it would be fair to say that he ultimately filled those shoes, even if his tenure with the team was relatively short. And it’s good to see that he and the organization remain on good and active terms.