|By Mike Prisuta|
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Ernie "Fats" Holmes was
distinguishable by the arrow he once shaved in his
hair, infamous for once firing a pistol at trucks
and a police helicopter on an unforgettable ride
across the Ohio Turnpike, and legendary to those who
played alongside him on the Steelers' fabled Steel
Curtain defense in the 1970s.
Holmes, a two-time Super Bowl winner as a defensive
tackle with the Steelers, died in a car crash Thursday
night near Lumberton, Texas. He was 59.
If you look at that Front Four, it probably wasn't
noted, but the real tough intimidator was 'Fats'
Holmes, former Steelers defensive back J.T. Thomas
said.We, as players, knew that. 'Fats' was the one
that would hurt you.
Holmes always took charge, said former Steelers
Mean Joe Greene, another member of
the Front Four, along with defensive ends Dwight White
and L.C. Greenwood.
When times were tough
on the field, you'd look at the people in the
huddle, and when you looked at Ernie and saw his
face, you always knew he was in the midst of the
battle. You didn't see that look that suggested he
wanted to be someplace else, Greene said.
A dispatcher with the Texas Department of Public
Safety said Holmes was driving alone when his car left
the roadway and rolled over several times, about 16
miles north of Beaumont in southeast Texas.
Police said Holmes wasn't wearing a seat belt and was
ejected from the car. He was pronounced dead at the
An ordained minister, Holmes lived on a ranch in
Greene said he saw Holmes quite a bit during the
past 10 years because the former players often met for
personal appearances. Holmes, he said, often carried a
Bible and had started to pursue his lifelong dream of
being a preacher.
He'd never miss an opportunity to pray for us and
our families, whenever we got together, Greene said.
Things were moving in the right direction. He was
But before the 1973 season, Holmes appeared troubled
and on the verge of spiraling out of control. While
driving on the Ohio Turnpike he began firing a pistol at
trucks and a police helicopter, and eventually wounded
an officer during a chase through nearby woods.
He pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and
was sentenced to five months' probation. He spent two
months in a psychiatric hospital.
Holmes discussed the most publicized of his several
runs afoul of the law in a Time Magazine cover story
about the Steelers' Front Four published in December
Three trucks tried to drive me off the road, he
said. It was all I needed to snap. ... I was considered
stone crazy until the Super Bowl last year (1974). Now,
I'm back on the bases.
Greenwood described Holmes as a strong-willed player
who loved the physical aspect of football. He wants
people to remember Holmes not as the character whose
off-field escapades generated headlines but as a
friendly, generous person.
Holmes, he said, loved his fans.
Ernie was a very good person, Greenwood said....
Ernie was a people person. He always liked people. ...
It was so good to hear that Ernie had become a preacher
and had turned his life around. That was pretty much an
inspirational thing for all of us to see.
Thomas said Holmes once brought a gun to practice
following a 35-35 tie in Denver in 1974. During that
game, the Steelers' defensive players engaged in several
heated arguments and exchanged threats with Broncos'
But one of Greene's most vivid recollections of
Holmes paints a much different picture.
I remember seeing him at one of our (Steelers)
Christmas parties, dressed up like Santa Claus, handing
out presents he'd bought out of his own funds for the
kids, Greene said.When I think about Ernie, I think
about times like that.
Holmes came to the Steelers as a No. 8b pick from
Texas Southern in 1971 and made the team in 1972.
Although he was named All-Pro in 1974 and 1975,
Holmes never earned the notoriety afforded Greene, White
In 1974, Holmes shaved his head but left a clump
shaped as an arrow pointing forward.
That was Ernie distinguishing himself, Thomas said.
He was pointing the way, signifying that he was leading
the way. We understood in our hearts that he was.
Ernie would often be pulled from practices because
he was busting guys' heads open. ... That's the kind of
intensity he had.
Ernie just ran over people -- that was his way of
approaching the game,Greenwood agreed.
He loved the
physical part of the game. That's what he did, and he
did it very successfully.
Holmes played with the Steelers until 1977, and
finished his career with New England in 1978.
After football, Holmes had minor acting roles. He
appeared in an episode of the 1980s TV show The A-Team and dabbled in professional wrestling.
Thomas and Greenwood recalled Holmes' seemingly
endless fight to control his weight.
To keep Ernie at 300 pounds was a challenge, Thomas
We'd leave training camp on a Saturday and have
to be back by Sunday night. They'd weigh Ernie before he
left, and after he came back. He'd be gone for about 18
hours and (former head coach) Chuck (Noll) would be
screaming, 'How the hell did you gain a pound an hour?'
During games, Thomas said, a lot of times we'd have
10 of us in the huddle, and Ernie was on the ball
telling the opponents what he was going to do to them.
(Linebacker Jack) Lambert used to scream for him to get
back in the huddle. Finally, he'd say, 'The hell with
it; let him stay out there.'
Holmes had a penchant for mangling the English
language, he said.
Ernie always loved to use big words. We were leaving
a party late one night, walking back to his car in the
snow. He looked at me and said, 'J.T., people don't
understand me; I'm cannibalistic.' I had had a few beers
in me, and I didn't know what to think. To this day, I
never did find out what he thought 'cannibalistic'
meant, but I know it was complimentary in his mind.
Perhaps Holmes' greatest game was the 1974 AFC
Championship Game in Oakland. The Steelers held the
Raiders to 29 rushing yards and advanced to their first
He let the guys across the field know it was going
to be a tough day, Greene said. He said it, and then
It was just us and the Raiders who were aware of
what was happening. If you were standing where I was
standing, or where L.C. Greenwood was standing, you
heard what he said. Maybe if you were standing where
(free safety) Mike Wagner was standing, you heard what
It was very specific. It was to the point.
That was Ernie Arrowhead Holmes.
He was a great guy, a class guy, Thomas said.
Obviously, he had some situations early in his career,
but you still loved Ernie. His calling was really a
calling of faith. I wouldn't have thought that in 1973