He had a great relationship with his fans and teammates back in Pittsburgh, but this past offseason the Steelers decided to trade their most recent Super Bowl MVP to the Jets. And the Green & White has been thankful for that decision all year.
Now as the season moves through December, wide receiver Santonio Holmes will return to his old stomping grounds as a Jet to face the his former teammates. And he is fully aware of the challenge the 10-3 Steelers' defense presents.
"These guys run to the ball," Holmes said. "They're 11 men attacking the football. They don't try to give up any big plays, they try to keep everything in front of them. They use the strength of their defensive line and their linebackers to get pressure on the quarterbacks and cause a lot of confusion with zone blitzing and things like that."
Pittsburgh has only allowed an average of 9.0 points over the last four games, all of which were wins, and they'll host a Jets offense that has mustered only nine points over the last two contests themselves. But Holmes and the rest of the offense hopes that Wednesday's lively practice is a precursor for success on Sunday.
"Today's practice was fun," Holmes said. "Everybody was laughing and getting back into that same feeling that there was at the beginning of the season. I think that's probably a start and we'll see how everything turns out on Sunday on how good our focus is on attention to details and what we can do to beat these guys."
Holmes spent four seasons in Pittsburgh after being selected out of Ohio State in the 2006 draft and steadily made a greater impact for the Steelers each season. In 2007 he had 942 receiving yards and eight touchdowns in only 13 games. Then in 2009, his last season as a Steeler, he put up career highs with 79 catches and 1,248 yards. This season he has 620 yards and four touchdowns in only nine contests, a pace that would have put him over 1,100 yards if he had been able to play 16 games this year.
Since arriving in Florham Park with the Jets, Holmes has imbued his brand of enthusiasm and intensity into the rest of the locker room, a trait head coach Rex Ryan loves.
"I want him to play with emotion," Ryan said. "I want him to play with that passion and that fire. If there's a little extra juice involved, then that's great. Santonio has been an outstanding team member here. He really picks his teammates up. He's having a great year to this point. I know he's excited to go back and play against Pittsburgh."
While Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin called Holmes "dynamic" when speaking with Jets media on Wednesday, no one had more glowing words than his former quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger. The duo combined to put up impressive numbers and win Super Bowl XLIII on what has become one of the most iconic moments in Super Bowl history— Holmes tapping his toes in the end zone as he corrals the game-winning touchdown pass.
"I think it's his football IQ," Roethlisberger said. "He knows the game, whether it was playing with me when I was scrambling around and him just finding open areas or the ad-libbing that he and I would do and know what each other was doing. There were times we would come in Monday after a game and Coach would be like 'You guys completely did the wrong thing, but it worked for a touchdown.' We had a pretty good chemistry."
That familiarity with Roethlisberger and the entire Steelers organization will surely be beneficial this week as the Jets prepare for yet another tough opponent in a difficult climate. From the playing surface in the cold and windy Pittsburgh to the Steelers' offensive and defensive tendencies, Holmes hopes to be a weapon in the meeting rooms this week as well as on the field this Sunday.
"For every team that we played that we had someone a part of that former team we were playing, there's been some insight given to the coaches," Holmes said. "This has been a big week for myself to help out my teammates as much as I can so we can get an edge."