TAMPA — It's a long way from the drug-infested streets Santonio Holmes grew up on to the brightly lit stage he stood upon Monday morning.
But the Belle Glade native emerged from the sugar fields to make an amazing catch that will reserve his place in NFL history.
It's all very surreal, so much so that maybe it hasn't all registered for the Most Valuable Player in Sunday's Super Bowl XLIII. After all, he didn't exactly conclude his evening with an over-the-top celebration. Instead, the Steelers receiver spent the hours after his greatest athletic achievement curled up in his hotel room watching a Disney flick with his kids.
"They were very excited about watching Madagascar 2 (Sunday) night," he said during a news conference Monday. "We definitely spent a little time together, watched the movie. I really just stayed in and relaxed a lot."
Later Monday, he had the option of taking his kids to see the film's characters in person as Holmes made his way to Walt Disney World's Main Street for the MVP's traditional appearance. It's perhaps the first of many things that will result from his nine-catch, 131-yard receiving performance and his winning grab in Pittsburgh's 27-23 win.
He is no longer just a budding star still without a 1,000-yard season. After winning Super Bowl MVP, no one is ever the same. Holmes got a reminder of this from someone who knows well: Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward, MVP of Super Bowl XL.
"Talking to Hines about what's definitely going to change about my life, he just told me, 'Stay humble,' " Holmes said. "Things are going to come for me. (I'll) be ready to represent my family, this team, and this whole organization, because everybody behind me has my back. (Ward said) don't lose sight of where I came from and definitely what I'm trying to accomplish for the rest of my life."
Where Holmes comes from is a tough upbringing during which he admits he sold drugs for a brief time. He made the revelation last week for the first time to persuade other youngsters to avoid the same mistakes and perhaps influence them to take a different path. Holmes was a product of his environment until his mother moved the family out of a neighborhood where they routinely found bullet holes in their front door.
Holmes managed to stay straight long enough to star at Glades Central High and earn a scholarship to Ohio State. He later was drafted by the Steelers in the first round in 2006.
But Holmes had to overcome a self-inflicted setback in October when he was arrested after police said they uncovered small amounts of marijuana in his vehicle during a traffic stop. Coach Mike Tomlin, after a closed-door meeting with the 24-year-old, benched him for a key matchup with the Giants the following week.
"At first, I didn't want to hear that from my head coach," Holmes said. "I was hoping that he just trusted my word that nothing went wrong, but I see that he put me in a better situation by handling the situation, getting the distractions away from the team … and allowing me to come back to the team the following week, ready to go."
Said Tomlin: "That's the business of coaching, really. When you work the way we work with these players, you're a life coach in a lot of ways. You care about them — you do. You wear many hats in this business. I embrace that as much as I do the X's and O's. I probably get more enjoyment out of watching people grow than I do preparing and winning football games. It is a beautiful thing. I believe that is what we're all called to do."
Tomlin showed faith that Holmes would bounce back. On Sunday, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger showed some, too, throwing the winner to him one play after Holmes let a potential touchdown slip through his hands.
It was fulfilling "having that faith come from my quarterback," Holmes said. "The coaches, they always have my back 100 percent."
Sunday, at the end of Holmes' long road, he rewarded those who believed.