PITTSBURGH - With temperatures predicted to dip into the single digits, today's AFC championship game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers could go down as the coldest NFL playoff game in the illustrious football history of Pittsburgh.
It’s fitting then that Santonio Holmes, the Steelers-turned-Jets receiver, is approaching this reunion with — as opposed to a flicker of warmth — the icy resolve of a mercenary.
“I don’t care about the Steelers right now,” Holmes said in the week leading up to this showdown. “Those guys are in my team’s way, which is the New York Jets.”
Of all the key players in this game, Holmes is the only one who has had a foot in both places.
Those feet, remember, were the ones that came down judy in the back corner of the end zone with 35 seconds to go in Super Bowl XLIII, the touchdown that lifted the Steelers over the Arizona Cardinals and secured Pittsburgh’s record sixth Lombardi Trophy. He was named that game’s most valuable player.
Holmes had his share of brushes with the law, however, bringing further embarrassment to a Steelers organization dealing with allegations of sexual assault against quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers wound up keeping their star QB but traded Holmes — a mere 14 months after his Super Bowl-winning catch — to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick.
“The main thing that went through my mind was, ‘What caused this to happen?’ ” said Holmes, whose legal troubles included arrests for marijuana possession, disorderly conduct and domestic violence. “I really didn’t ask any questions when it happened. I just accepted what was going on.”
After serving a four-game suspension at the start of this season for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy, Holmes made 52 catches for 746 yards and six touchdowns.
Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, Holmes’ former roommate, said he’ll take a shot at him if he gets a chance: “Friends off the field, yes. But in between them lines, it’s about that time, it’s about business.”
Holmes would expect nothing less. Besides, he has already had a reunion with the Steelers, making six catches against them in a 22-17 victory against them in December at Heinz Field. That, he said, was the vindication game for him.
This time, he’s approaching the Steelers as if they’re just another faceless opponent, an obstacle in the path to the NFL’s mountaintop.
“If we win the Super Bowl,” he said, “then everything is personal.”