There are a few things that tend to be universally true. One is that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a wide fanbase, and a lot of college players grew up watching and rooting for the team. Another is that the Steelers love scouting Ohio State, in part because they have a history of running more pro-style systems than most other college programs.
Those two things came to a head in 2006 when Pittsburgh traded up in the first round, a year after securing their first Super Bowl title in decades, to draft Santonio Holmes, the wide receiver out of Ohio State, the top player taken out of his position that year.
With the draft just days away, the team’s website has been running stories with some players whom the team drafted in the past (or as the case may be, signed as college free agents). There were two parts to Holmes’ recollections, the first being the pure joy he and his family felt upon being selected by the Steelers of all teams.
The other one is something we haven’t heard much, in my opinion. He admitted, “knowing you are the first wide receiver taken in the draft, to the Super Bowl champion team, the shoes felt too big to fill”. Add on top of that the fact that the team who drafted you was the team you wanted to play for all along.
Just a year earlier, the team lost Plaxico Burress in free agency. Antwaan Randle El would leave in the offseason after the Steelers won the Super Bowl. All they had added since then was Cedrick Wilson and Nate Washington. There was a clear and immediate need.
As a rookie, while he would only formally ‘start’ four games, Holmes played in 16, catching 49 passes for 824 yards. Both of those figures ranked second on the team behind Hines Ward, who was the Super Bowl MVP the year before. And that was in a bad season for Ben Roethlisberger, as you’ll probably recall.
In year two, Holmes would catch 52 passes for 942 yards, scoring eight touchdowns and leading the league in yards per catch at 18.2. He would be critical in the Steelers’ Super Bowl win in 2008, particularly during the playoff run, and as you surely know, his performance in Super Bowl XLIII is now a thing of legend, particularly the toe-tap game-winning touchdown catch at the back of the end zone.
Sadly, that would be the last of it for Holmes in Pittsburgh, after one more season, anyway. In 2010, he would be traded to the New York Jets for just a fifth-round pick. He was growing to be a discipline concern, was in the final year of his contract, and they knew they couldn’t afford to re-sign him, and he was facing a suspension.
He would have some success in New York, but he would be best remembered there for the commotions he caused instead. As he grew older, in his retirement, he has certainly seemed to calm down quite a bit, and has regained his standing among Steelers alumni, a ready and eager participant in the team’s history.