Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney on the Death of Ernie Holmes
We are deeply saddened to learn of the sudden and untimely death of Ernie Holmes. Ernie was one of the toughest players to ever wear a Steelers uniform. He was a key member of our famous Steel Curtain defense, and many people who played against him considered Ernie almost impossible to block. At his best, he was an intimidating player who even the toughest of opponents did not want to play against.
Ernie seemed to be doing well in recent years and was always one of our most popular players whenever he returned to Pittsburgh for team events.
Our prayers go out to Ernie's family and loved ones. He will be missed by the entire Steelers family.
Former Teammates Comments:
"I am in deep grief over the news of Ernie's death. We were rookies together and very close. Ernie was a very colorful person that you couldn't help but like off the football field — a little different on the field as we well know. Ernie had gotten into the ministry and over the last few and was a true inspiration to Joe (Green), L.C. (Greenwood) and myself when we were together. You know, it's all about "where you end up" and Ernie blossomed into an individual that I respected, admired and will miss."
"Ernie was a great friend. The public impression of Ernie did not accurately tell the story of who he was. He came from a small town in Texas and when he arrived, he wanted to prove that he belonged, and he did. It was only when he felt he was disrespected that the anger came out. From the time he first arrived in training camp, Ernie had his Bible with him. In recent years he became a minister which gave him a real sense of pride. Ernie was a good person. I remember the time he came to the team Christmas party dressed as Santa Clause. He had a big bag of toys which he passed out to all of the kids. He got a lot of joy out of that. He had a good sense of humor around people who knew him."
As a player, he was the toughest person anywhere on a football field, and he was the toughest person on our defensive line with his physical style of play. Ernie was one of the hardest working people I've ever seen and he worked hard to perfect his skills. On the field he was tenacious, he loved to play the game. But he was a real good person, the kind of guy who would give you the shirt of his back if you needed it. The four of us on the defensive line had a special relationship and we still regularly kept in touch.
Ernie was the true intimidator on our defense. There probably would not have been a 'Steel Curtain' defense without Ernie. He didn't get the recognition for it, but he was the foundation of our defense. He played at 300 lbs., and was really 15-20 years ahead of his time. He was so intimidating that nobody wanted to fight Ernie Holmes. But he was really a kind-hearted, gentle guy. He had a spirit about him that people liked. His biggest thrill after his career was helping people through the ministry, it really helped him see his value. We are going to miss Ernie.
Ernie was a unique individual, a one of a kind personality and character that is now legendary in the National Football League as the Steel Curtain defense. It takes a special talent and responsibility to play next to a Hall of Famer like Joe Greene, but Ernie handled it well and was a great player.
It's sad news. We never know when we're going to be called.
Ernie came through lot of struggles, and it looked like he was out ahead of it and living the way he wanted to live his life. Ever since I've known him, Ernie always a guy who read the Bible and wanted to be close to God. In lieu of all of his actions that we've experienced with him, Ernie was always a good man. He overcame a lot of those life struggles -- just last year he had a knee replacement and was coming along good with that. He lost a lot of weight and was looking good and feeling good about it.
He never missed an opportunity to pray for us and wish the best for us and our families.
Re: Holmes' contributions to the Steelers teams of the 1970s:
Ernie was definitely an enforcer. I suspect that lot of guys were kind of afraid of him, not so much because of what he did on the field but what they read about him off the field. He'd probably do anything to win. Ernie was a solid performer. We could threaten guys on the other teams: 'If you're mean to us, we'll stick Ernie over you.'
The scheme we played, we played defensive tackle and nose tackle based on the call. We would slide; sometimes he'd be the nose tackle and I would be the 3-technique, or the defensive tackle. Other times, I'd slide his way, and he's be the defensive tackle, and I'd be on the nose.
Ernie was good in the locker room. He'd sit over there by himself, but then sometimes he'd get out and dance to the music and clown around, kid around. He was a good locker room guy.
Something that really stands out: It was a team Christmas party, and Ernie dressed himself up like Santa Claus and went out and bought lot of gifts for kids with his own money and passed them out, with the kids on his lap. No one told him to do it, he just did it.
The guys who played with him, knew him best. The only times people had problems with Ernie was when he thought people were talking down to him. Ernie was very sensitive to those kinds of things. The way he talked, Texas and country a little bit, people thought he wasn't aware of some things, and he was. He'd get upset at it. Maybe I would ignore it, but Ernie wouldn't.
Re: The arrow he cut into his hair
It was right in line with what some of the characteristics of our players. L.C. had his gold shoes, and Frenchy had his certain way of dressing, and Ernie had the arrowhead. The thing about Chuck Noll was, he treated us as individuals as long as it wasn't a distraction. That arrow supposedly pointed us to the Super Bowl.
Re: Holmes on the teams of the 1970s:
That run in 1974 and through the playoffs, Super Bowl IX, he turned in a dominating performance, especially against the Raiders and Gene Upshaw in the AFC Championship Game. They rushed for 29 yards in that game. It was the most dominating performance against a great offensive line that I've ever seen. That was a big reason why we ended up winning that game, and then the Super Bowl because of what the entire front four did against Minnesota. Ernie was a great football player; we all knew it on the team.
If you got to know him … once we had a party at my house, and he was just truly the life of the party in a lot of ways. Once you got to know Ernie, and that menacing look, that's not what he was all about. He was a terrific guy.
The last time I saw him, we did this commercial, with Matt Hasselbeck of Seattle for Chunky soup. It was Joe Greene, Mel Blount, Dwight White, L.C. Greenwood, Ernie and me. It was just last year.