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Out of Bounds: An interview with Earl Holmes

Monday, January 07, 2002

By Rob Rossi

If this is Earl Holmes' final season with the Steelers -- and he is an unrestricted free agent after the season -- he's going out in style. He is the anchor of the top-rated defense in football, a defense Baltimore Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe called the toughest he has faced. This season, Holmes has quietly gone about his business. He led the Steelers in tackles for third consecutive season and helped make the departure of Levon Kirkland and the arrival of Kendrell Bell smooth transitions. That bought him at least one more game wearing the black and gold -- his favorite colors growing up. Yeah, Holmes knew he was getting into something special when the Steelers drafted him with their fourth-round pick in 1996. Now it's time for "the Hitman" to collect.

Q: Did you really congratulate the Steelers when you were drafted?

A: Yeah, and this is funny. For the thousandth time ... yes. They called and said, "Congratulations for being a Steeler." And I congratulated them for taking one the best linebackers in the draft.

Q: How did you get the name "Hitman"?

A: To be honest with you, that has followed me since high school. I got the name in high school, people picked it up in college, and it's carried over here.

Q: It seems like you could market that a little better.

A: You have got a point, I could. I like the name because it means you get a lot of good hits on guys. So that could be something to market. But at the same time ... a "hitman" is a bad guy, and you don't want to get labeled with those other things.

Q: Favorite flavor of ice cream?

A: I've got to go with strawberry.

Q: What kind of classes did you take at Florida A&M in the off-season?

A: There were two: adaptive physical education and an internship. When I left school I had an internship and one class left, and I need to get those out of the way. ... I got my degree after my rookie year.

Q: That's good because you probably would have had to miss some tests with the Super Bowl being played in February.

A: Right, but I could have worked that out.

Q: Back to "hitman." Does it ever help you meet women?

A: No, not at all. I mean ... [deep voice]"the hitman," no.

Q: Well, what is the worst pick-up line you have ever used or heard used on a woman?

A: "Excuse me, you dropped something," and they would say, "What did you drop?" ... "Conversation."

Q: That doesn't work.

A: Nope, but you asked me what was the worst line I dropped, right? Well, that was the worst line.

Q: Yeah, it probably was. Does your son [Earl Jr.] have a favorite song that really grates on your nerves?

A: You know what, his grandmother bought him one of those Baby Mozart tapes. It has a lot -- a lot -- of Mozart music with the pictures, and he puts it on about three times each day. That's his favorite show. And I have bought him the Barney tapes, I have bought him Winnie the Pooh ... but for some reason he likes that Baby Mozart. He's crazy about him, so I have to play it three times a day.

Q: You're not in to Mozart?

A: I ain't into Mozart. I ain't into Beethoven. But if you've got them, I've probably heard them.

Q: Worst attempt a player has made at blocking you?

A: It was in Tennessee two years ago. A guy came out to block me low, to cut me, and I just dove over him to get [Titans running back] Eddie George. I don't remember who it was, but he gave it away way too soon.

Q: Do you have an opinion on the ketchup bottles on top of the scoreboard?

A: I like them, honestly. Only because before they light up, there is this certain music that they've got going along. You know, you're looking around and then all of a sudden there are two ketchup bottles lighting up, and you see the ketchup coming out on the screen. You see some of our [opponents] looking around, and it's like the ketchup is coming out on our victims.

Q: Favorite music group?

A: Bob Marley and the Wailers.

Q: I think his last concert was here.

A: Really? I did not know that.

Q: I'm pretty sure that "Redemption Song" was recorded live at the Civic Arena.

A: Every time I run into somebody from Pittsburgh, it's always something like that. Growing up in Florida, I was a Steelers fan -- always. And every time I'd meet somebody from Pittsburgh, it was always something like that story about Bob Marley.

Q: Such as?

A: Quarterbacks. I was talking to somebody about quarterbacks one time and I named Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, and he said, "Those guys are from Pittsburgh."

Q: Joe Montana, Joe Namath ...

A: Yeah, those guys.

Q: None of them every played for the Steelers ... well, Johnny Unitas, and the Steelers cut him.

A: I heard that, too. I guess Pittsburgh is a real good city for football. There's a lot of tradition. And with the black and gold ... well, playing here has really been an honor.

Q: Hypothetically, say I ran a football team with four great linebackers, but two were about to become free agents. Now, I want to keep this core of linebackers together ... how much is it going to cost me to sign these free agents?

A: What are they asking for? It depends on the market value for other linebackers. It all depends on who the linebackers are, too. If you have got a guy who hasn't played much, then I'm pretty sure you don't have to pay him as much.

Q: Let's say he's been the leading tackler on my team the past few seasons.

A: I see where we are going with this [smiles]. ... To be honest with you, it's a win-win situation.

Q: But, you want to stay in Pittsburgh, right?

A: Yeah, you ask any guy, he wants to finish his career where he started. The nature of this business is to see guys leave, but you want to stay where you are welcome. You start your career in a place, that means the team that drafted you was really high on you to begin with. But, in free agency you have certain things, and some guys can't stay still. What the future holds, what [the Steelers] are looking for ...

Q: Will you congratulate the Steelers when they re-sign you?

A: That would be something. Yeah, I will do that.

Rob Rossi can be reached at rrossi@post-gazette.com.

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