Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Super Bowl: Where wide receivers become household names


If you walked up to Santonio Holmes this afternoon and asked, "So, big-game player, how has your life changed since Sunday?" he might look you straight in the eye and say, "Not at all."

But there'd be a twinkle in his eyes, and you'd know the man is lying. Because there's no way that the Santonio Holmes of January 2009 is the same Santonio Holmes of February '09. It'd be ludicrous to suggest that the post-Super Bowl XLIII Holmes is the same guy who was relatively unknown outside of Pittsburgh prior to the game.

Because of one march down the field, and one catch in particular, Holmes has placed himself in Pittsburgh Steelers lore.

Earlier in the season, he was the guy who was suspended one game by coach Mike Tomlin for possessing marijuana. Now, fellas high as a kite might be discussing, in their elevated state, whether Holmes' catch was the greatest touchdown reception in Super Bowl history. (And they won't be tripping for doing so.)

In case you were locked up without access to the outside world the past couple days, Holmes and his Steelers completed a remarkable Super Bowl — replete with a plethora of spectacular plays — by scoring a 6-yard touchdown with 35 seconds left for a 27-23 victory.

And it was no ordinary 6-yard TD catch. After Ben Roethlisberger rolled out to his right and lofted a pass over the fingertips of a Cardinals defender toward the back-right corner of the end zone, Holmes hauled in the pigskin well above his head while falling out of bounds and, somehow, scraping the end-zone grass with both cleats.

Because of the play — and the Steelers win it created — Holmes will never be looked at the same. He'll never simply be considered a "pretty good receiver capable of making big plays down the field."

His life will also never return to its pre-Super Bowl form. For one, he'll make more money off of endorsements, contracts and who knows what else. Secondly, he'll get much more attention in airports, restaurants, the golf course, the club, wherever he goes.

I mean, damn, T.O. — if you really want all the attention, go be the star of a Super Bowl.

After all, it has become a theme year after year...

In 2008: Little-known Giants receiver David Tyree made the greatest catch in Super Bowl history, using his helmet to reel in a pass from Eli Manning on New York's game-winning drive that squashed the undefeated Patriots. Talk about a life-changing experience.

In 2006: Another Steelers wide receiver, Antwaan Randle El, showed off his versatility in throwing a perfect 43-yard trick-play touchdown to Hines Ward that helped seal Pittsburgh's 21-10 victory over Seattle. Randle El didn't make $500,000 that season. In the next two seasons, as a member of the Washington Redskins, he made over $5 million. The sad part: He's been nothing special during his time in D.C.; just ask any Redskins fan.

In 2004: Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch had a career-making game in New England's thrilling 32-29 Super Bowl win over the Panthers. The little-known receiver caught 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown and won the MVP award. After two more seasons in New England — which were neither bad nor great — he all of a sudden got a pay boost of, oh, about $8 million to move out to the beautiful city of Seattle and play for the Seahawks. Why? Because of his reputation (in other words, that one game). This season Branch played in eight games and caught 30 passes.

So you can see the pattern. As amazing as Holmes was in hauling in nine passes for 131 yards and the MVP trophy Sunday in Tampa, it doesn't mean he's on his way to becoming, you know, a top-notch receiver.

How he's treated, of course, will say otherwise. Granted, the Steelers are possibly the smartest and most pragmatic franchise in the NFL. They're not going to bow down to Holmes, give him a key to their trophy vault and award him a salary bump of $5 million from his income of just over $2 million for the 2008 season.

But I wouldn't be surprised if Holmes — and his agent — attempt to get out of the current five-year deal he's locked into. And you can bet that if he becomes a free agent, he'll get long looks from other teams in need of that big-play receiver.

Think of it this way: Holmes has become a name brand. When you walk into the corner store, he's no longer the obscure, scary, dirt-cheap beer on the rack that only poor college kids buy. He's right up there with the Budweisers, Miller Lights and Sam Adams. Everyone knows about him. He's become a mainstream commodity.

And to think he accomplished this with one play. Sure, he was incredible the entire game-winning march of 88 yards — it began at the 22 but was immediately pushed back to the 12 due to a holding penalty. He accounted for 73 of the yards on four receptions.

But it was the game-breaking, improbable, will-be-seen-in-highlight-shows-forever grab that instantly made Holmes a household name across this country and will almost undoubtedly make him richer in the years to come.

Call it the "Average Wide Receiver's Key to Becoming Famous and Wealthy" handbook.

On Sunday, Santonio Holmes followed the manual to perfection.

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