Steel Curtain's Holmes 'a great guy, a class guy'
By Mike Prisuta
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
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 defensive tackle

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 scene.

An ordained minister, Holmes lived on a ranch in Wiergate, Texas.

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 happy.

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 1975.

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' players.

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 and Greenwood.

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 said.
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 Super Bowl.

He let the guys across the field know it was going to be a tough day, Greene said. He said it, and then he delivered. 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 he said. 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 or 1974.