Everyone remembers Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger scanning left, then firing right into triple coverage as the clock was winding down in Super Bowl XLIII. What happened next was stunning as somehow, wide receiver Santonio Holmes leaped, corralled the ball and landed with both feet in bounds to score the game-winning touchdown.
This offseason, when Jets head coach Rex Ryan learned that Holmes was available, he jumped at the opportunity.
"I just wanted him," Ryan said. "I never really cared about the compensation. I let [general manager Mike] Tannenbaum figure that out. I just figured anybody that beat me that bad, I'd just as soon have him on our team. Three games in row when I was in Baltimore, they beat us. He's that kind of player. You think you've got him bottled down — boom, all sudden there he goes.
"All you need to see is the kind competitor he is, remember that Super Bowl, and how, when the game was on the line, he was begging his teammates to give him a chance, 'get the ball to me.' That's Santonio Holmes."
Ryan has formed a bond with Holmes, who was traded to the Green & White for a fifth-round draft selection. In 14 games this season, including playoffs, Holmes has made late plays that affected the result in at least five of those victories — including last week's divisional-round victory over the Patriots — and racked up 59 catches for 812 yards and seven touchdowns.
Throughout it all, Holmes has flourished under a comfortable environment fostered by Ryan.
"He's a lot of fun," Holmes said. "The way he speaks to us is in the mentality of a player. I think every one of the guys in here feels that. We respect everything that Coach Ryan talks about, the way that he carries himself. He has fun with us on football field at all times but he's definitely about business. And when he can allow us as a group to go out and have fun, in turn we repay him by playing well."
Even starting in training camp Holmes has fit in with WRs Jerricho Cotchery, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. All four have enjoyed teaming up with second-year QB Mark Sanchez. Smith is typically used in a variety of roles besides wide receiver, but he joins the other three wideouts, all of whom had at least 40 regular-season catches, as "The Flight Boys." Holmes is proud of their Jet-based receivers club and what the charter members been able to do.
"We wanted to prove to ourselves we can be a great group of receivers," Holmes said. "A guy that's been around this team seven years in Jerricho, Braylon is a six-year veteran Pro Bowler, myself a five-year veteran and Super Bowl winner. We wanted to build something for ourselves so nobody was left out."
While the Belle Glades, Fla., native has fun doing the patented airplane run with the rest of his teammates, he's also made an impression on the offense, and not just on the field. Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold was Holmes' teammate at Ohio State, and the long-locked, bearded snapper couldn't be more pleased with the qualities that Holmes has brought to Florham Park.
"He's fantastic," Mangold said. "He's a great player who is very passionate about football. He cares about winning. He works to make sure that he's in the right spot at the right time to make big plays. He's been a great asset to this offense."
Holmes will need to bring everything he has to the table this Sunday, which he surely will in Pittsburgh when the Jets take on the Steelers for the second time this season. In Week 15 they walked away from Heinz Field with a 22-17 road victory, but this game is for the AFC Championship and a berth in the Super Bowl.
As the Jets march on to a third straight road playoff game, Holmes reflected on what the offense will need to do in order to defeat the Steelers, who have won two Super Bowls in the past five years.
"From my recollection, did we turn the ball over versus the Colts or versus the Patriots?" Holmes asked. "That's the key to winning on road, not giving those guys opportunities, running your four-minute offense, not giving those guys a chance to have their core guys on football field to make plays. If we can keep them off the field this time, same result."
This week will be different than the Week 15 contest because the Steelers will have safety Troy Polamalu available. Holmes called the dynamic playmaker "the greatest player" he's ever played with, and he'll be someone that the Jets will need to be wary of. With Holmes on Ryan's side of the ball, however, he's confident that when Sunday night ends there won't be any black and yellow confetti streaming down at Heinz Field and that the Jets will be making travel arrangements for Dallas.
"One reason we brought Santonio here is for these big-time games," Ryan said. "The biggest players make the biggest plays in the brightest spotlight. It's Tone time."