Santonio Holmes spent nine seasons in the NFL, with three different teams, but in his heart he will always think of himself as a Steelers' receiver.
That is why on Tuesday Holmes officially announced his retirement from the NFL at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, retiring from the team that drafted him in the first round of the 2006 NFL Draft.
"I wanted to do it to pay respect and honor to an organization that gave me an opportunity," said Holmes. "No matter where I travel, I will always be remembered as the Pittsburgh Steelers receiver who caught one of the greatest catches in Super Bowl history."
That is a pretty accurate statement.
The scene was Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Florida. The Steelers were down to the Arizona Cardinals, 23-20, with just 2:30 remaining on the clock and the ball at their own 22-yard line. Ben Roethlisberger took control, completing four passes for 78 yards, including three to Holmes for 67 yards, to give the Steelers the ball at the six-yard line.
Roethlisberger stuck with Holmes on first down, but he couldn't pull the pass in. With time ticking away, Roethlisberger went right back to Holmes in the corner of the end zone where he remarkably managed to keep both feet in bounds for a touchdown that would give the Steelers a 27-23 win and earn him MVP honors. **
I remember coming back to the huddle after dropping the pass," said Holmes, who finished the game with nine catches for 131 yards. "Heath (Miller) tapped me on the hip and said don't worry, he is going to throw you the next pass. I can remember just looking at him and thinking, 'yeah right.' He just gave me an opportunity to catch the ball and I blew it, trying to get my feet down in bounds.
"Ben walked into the huddle and looked me dead in my eye and called the play he did. It was the play we had run so many times in practice and never completed the pass. I remember Coach Randy Fichtner telling me don't catch this ball at this time, because at the right time you are going to catch it. We went through the whole playoffs running this play at practice and never completed the pass. I can recall putting my mouthpiece in and smiling and thinking this opportunity is about to come. I remember nobody touched me at the line of scrimmage. I almost fell because I was so wide open coming off the line of scrimmage. I thought the guy was going to jump in front of me, but he moved out of my way so I could get to the spot I needed to get to.
"Then seeing Ben point to the back of the end zone, not knowing if he was going to throw this ball, but in the back of my mind it was stay here and don't move. To have such a perfectly thrown ball delivered where nobody's hands could touch it but mine. I could see Ben's eyes from the moment he released the ball to me. I didn't see any defenders in front of me. I only had eyes for the ball and it landed in the perfect place."
He isn't the only one who has great memories of that play.
"I don't have to remind anybody that was one of the most exciting Super Bowls of all time," said Steelers President Art Rooney II. "Of course that last drive is something we will all remember, and that last catch is something we will never forget."
That wasn't the only play that Holmes made in his Steelers career, as he finished with 235 receptions for 3,835 yards and 20 touchdowns in his four seasons in black and gold, and a total of 389 receptions for 6,030 yards and 36 touchdowns in his nine seasons, which included four years with the Jets and one with Chicago. But it was definitely the one that fans will always remember him for, and one he will always take pride in.
"Seeing the tradition of the organization and the history and how they were built by a family around championships, it showed the hard work and dedication that you put into getting details done the right way," said Holmes. "Opportunities are created in time that leave a legacy behind. To be a part of that, to know I was drafted by the Steelers, a team I loved as a kid growing up, and to help them win a Super Bowl, it was more than a dream come true."
Holmes will host 'Strikes Against Sickle Cell' tonight at Manor Lanes, an event to help find a cure for the disease his son Santonio III suffers from.
"One thing we have always been proud of at the Steelers is how our players graduate into being men in our community and giving back to their community," said Rooney. "We are certainly proud of what Santonio is doing in now as he has gotten so involved in supporting the effort to find a cure for sickle cell. He is working hard to make a difference in the lives of others who need his help. We are proud of him."