Kevin Gorman: Another most valuable moment for Santonio Holmes, Steelers WRs
As they were surrounded by the sounds of fans screaming for Pittsburgh Steelers players to sign autographs after Family Fest Sunday night at Heinz Field, a trio of young wide receivers stood on the field and focused on the voice of one man.
He was wearing a baseball cap, polo shirt and denim shorts, but commanded their attention. It’s not every day a Super Bowl MVP gives individual instruction to players at his position who have yet to catch a pass in an NFL game.
Yet there was Santonio Holmes standing across from Diontae Johnson and then Diontae Spencer and Tevin Jones, showing them how to read the stance and body language of defenders.
“I was watching him growing up,” Johnson said, “so now that I’m actually in front of him is crazy.”
Ten years after his toe-tap catch of a Ben Roethlisberger pass in the corner of the end zone for the winning touchdown in the final minute of a 27-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII, Holmes still has a passion for football.
And he has an interest in showing wide receivers some of the secrets he learned along the way. No sense sleeping on something he can share, Holmes says, so he takes advantage by teaching tips to young players whenever he can. He recently did the same for JuJu Smith-Schuster at Saint Vincent College.
“Being a receiver, there’s a lot of intricate parts on the position and learning how to win,” Holmes said. “The biggest thing was teaching them how to win by angles, taking angles away from the defenders, creating mismatches and problems so that they can separate themselves from defenders.”
What separates Holmes is that he does this on his own. At 35, he’s only two years into retirement after a nine-year NFL career that saw him make 389 catches for 6,030 yards and 39 touchdowns — including one that ranks among the greatest plays in Super Bowl history — but Holmes is embracing every moment of his status as a Steelers legend.
Those numbers won’t get Holmes enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he has membership in an even more exclusive club, as one of 46 players to win Super Bowl MVP. Holmes is one of five Steelers to earn that honor, joining Terry Bradshaw (twice), Franco Harris, Lynn Swann and Hines Ward.
“Everyone talks about it because that’s the selling point of who I am today — the Super Bowl,” Holmes said. “There’s a lot of respect behind it and I appreciate it.”
The Steelers receivers respect that Holmes took the time to talk with them about the intricacies of playing the position, the way Holmes respects how Ward (a fellow Super Bowl MVP) did the same for him early in his Steelers career.
Where Jones spent last season on the Steelers’ practice squad, Johnson is a rookie and Spencer is attempting to make the Steelers after starring in the CFL. Still, Jones watched and listened intently as Holmes showed Spencer how to read everything from a defender’s stance to the first step.
“I try to be like a sponge and soak everything in,” Jones said. “He was speaking to Spence, but I know that Spence probably has the same problems that I do, so I was listening in, trying to get the outside view. I had a couple questions myself.
“There’s not too many people like him out here, so it’s great that he comes out here and helps us. It would be stupid for us not to listen, so I’m just grateful that he’s out here to pour back into the Steelers organization.”
To hear Holmes tell it, he’s grateful the city and the organization have wrapped their arms around him again. Only a year after his Super Bowl stardom, following a series of off-field incidents, the Steelers traded Holmes to the New York Jets in April 2010 for a fifth-round draft pick.
So, this was the circle of life at play.
In a roundabout way, Holmes and Antonio Brown and Johnson have a unique connection. The Steelers sent the fifth-rounder they received for Holmes to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-rounder they used to select Brown, who became a seven-time Pro Bowl pick and four-time All-Pro.
When Brown forced a trade to the Oakland Raiders for two draft picks, the Steelers used the third-rounder on Johnson, who at 5-foot-11 is the same size as both Holmes and Brown and whom the Steelers can only dream has similar success.
“It was really about how he loves the game and how he loves to help people,” Johnson said of his talk with Holmes, who also advised Johnson to take care of his body. “Being around a guy like that and to get information from Santonio is real good. That can help me in the long run.”
It was another most valuable moment for Holmes and a selling point for the Steelers to keep him in the family.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .