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Santonio’s Steeler career ends the same way it started

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In the never-ending NFL news cycle, it’s easy to forget things that happened four weeks ago, much less four months or four years. For Santonio Holmes, his four-year career in Pittsburgh has ended under the same circumstances that it began.

In May 2006, roughly a month after being selected in the first round of the draft, Holmes was busted in South Beach for disorderly conduct. Said a league source in response to the news, “Santonio was one of the talented assholes in the draft. This arrest is not a revelation, nor is it out of character. This guy is Plaxico, plus.”

The next month -- only a week after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger drove his face into a Chrysler -- Holmes was arrested for allegedly choking, throwing to the ground, and slamming into a door the mother of one of his children. The move prompted former NFL executive Ken Herock, who had been hired to help Holmes prepare for pre-draft interviews, to explain that Holmes was “ready to explode.”

“I had an impression of the kid, where he was from, such a tough area, but soon as he told me he had three kids I knew it was going to be a problem,” Herock told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time. “He was dirt poor, all of a sudden he’s got a little money, you get a little rambunctious. . . . But I would have never thought it would happen now. I thought he might explode in year two or three. Add it up -- no money, poor family background, three kids already -- something’s going to happen.”

The domestic violence allegations prompted the director of the Pittsburgh Women’s Center and Shelter to suggest that the Steelers refrain from signing Holmes to a big-money contract.

The situation quickly stabilized. Holmes got in no additional trouble, but he was solid and not spectacular in his first two NFL campaigns. Though many league observers believe that a wideout will break out by his third year in the league, the only significant news he made during the 2008 regular season came from a citation for marijuana possession, followed promptly by a one-game paid suspension imposed by the team.

Of course, then came the postseason, the moment that Holmes finally came of age.

A frozen-field 67-yard punt return for a touchdown allowed the Steelers to knot at 7-7 their division-round game against the Chargers, at a time when the Pittsburgh offense had yet to get rolling. A week later, a 65-yard catch-and-run from Holmes helped take down the Ravens. Then, in the Super Bowl, Holmes made that play for the ages in the corner of the end zone, cradling the ball, barely getting a second foot down, and somehow avoiding a 15-yard penalty for paying homage to LeBron James by throwing the ball into the air.

Holmes, who told me after the game that he “wasn’t even thinking about” the rule prohibiting the ball from being used as a prop, later was fined -- an implicit admission by the league that the Cardinals’ last crack at victory should have commenced with a Pittsburgh kickoff from the Steelers’ own 15.

Holmes’ heroics almost were more than enough to obscure a stunning admission made in the days prior to the Super Bowl regarding his upbringing. Holmes said that, as a youth, he sold drugs. “My friends were always doing it and I felt comfortable doing it at the time,” Holmes said at the time. “As the years grew older, I just felt like that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to play football. I don’t want to end up like a lot of my friends, in jail, standing on the corner, not going to school.”

In 2009, Holmes played the best football of his life, with 1,249 receiving yards on 79 catches. The performance seemed to point him in the direction of his openly-acknowledged quest for Canton. The 2010 offseason, however, has been his worst. On the same weekend that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger found himself accused of sexual assault in Georgia, Holmes was accused of throwing a drink in the face of a woman at an Orlando nightclub. Though she initially opted not to press charges, the woman later sued Santonio, and she has resurrected her criminal complaint.

To make matters worse, Holmes invited a Twitter user who criticized the player to “kill urself.” Then, Holmes indicated an intention to “wake n bake,” slang for smoking pot upon getting out of bed in the morning.

His admission becomes even more idiotic in light of our Saturday report that Holmes is facing a four-game suspension for violation of the substance abuse policy. At some point over the weekend, the Steelers decided they’ve had enough -- and they handed Holmes to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick.

So ends the career of Holmes in Pittsburgh. Though it included one of the brightest moments in NFL history, no Super Bowl MVP has ever experienced a more dramatic fall from grace.

In the end, recent history tells us that it doesn’t pay to make a memorable catch in the Super Bowl. For David Tyree of the Giants and for Holmes, the end of the road came only one year later. Unlike Tyree, who was run out of New York, Holmes is getting a fresh start in the Big Apple. We hope that he has learned from his mistakes, that he decides he loves football more than he loves weed (allegedly), and that he continues to prove that he’s capable of making a legitimate run at the Hall of Fame.