Ernie Holmes, member of 'Steel Curtain', dies at 59
Updated: January 18, 2008, 2:22 PM ET
DALLAS -- Ernie Holmes, who won two Super Bowls as an anchor of Pittsburgh's famed "Steel Curtain" defense in the 1970s, died in a car crash. He was 59.
Holmes was driving alone Thursday night when his car left the road and rolled several times near Lumberton, about 80 miles from Houston, a Texas Department of Public Safety dispatcher said Friday.
He was not wearing a seat belt and was ejected from the car, and pronounced dead at the scene, the department said.
Holmes, an ordained minister, lived on a ranch in Wiergate. His death was first reported by Beaumont TV station KFDM.
The two-time All-Pro played for the Steelers from 1972-77 and spent part of the 1978 season with New England before retiring. He played on a defensive line with Steel Curtain teammates "Mean" Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White.
The group stayed in touch, getting together at least three or four times a year, Holmes said last year in a story on the Steelers' Web site.
"Ernie was one of the toughest players to ever wear a Steelers uniform," Steelers chairman Dan Rooney said in a statement. "He was a key member of our famous Steel Curtain defense, and many people who played against him considered Ernie almost impossible to block. At his best, he was an intimidating player who even the toughest of opponents did not want to play against."
Holmes was part of a front four in the 1975 Super Bowl that helped limit Minnesota to 17 yards rushing and 119 total yards. The Steelers won their first Super Bowl, 16-6. They were back a year later, beating Dallas 21-17 in the title game.
Holmes had a reputation for being "stone crazy," he told Time magazine in 1975. That came mostly from a case early in his career when he pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon following a bizarre episode in which he fired a pistol at trucks and a police helicopter. He was sentenced to five years' probation.
Holmes was nicknamed "Fats" for most of his life. He also was nicknamed "Arrowhead Holmes" in 1974 when he shaved his head, leaving only an arrow-shaped pattern of hair on his skull.
Holmes, who was about 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds during his career, also told the magazine he was attracted to the violence of football.
"I don't mind knocking somebody out," Holmes said. "If I hear a moan and a groan coming from a player I've hit, the adrenaline flows within me. I get more energy and play harder."
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.
Holmes tried to live a calmer life in later years, settling on a ranch on the southeast border of Texas, where he had a church and was an ordained minister. He told the Steelers he was a more "spiritual being."
"Ernie seemed to be doing well in recent years and was always one of our most popular players whenever he returned to Pittsburgh for team events," Rooney said. "Our prayers go out to Ernie's family and loved ones. He will be missed by the entire Steelers family."
Ernie Holmes is pictured in New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1975, as the Steelers prepared for Super Bowl IX against the Vikings. "This is the way Tarkenton will see me Sunday," Holmes said that day.