Donnie Holmes excited his Cardinals are in Super Bowl
When the Arizona Cardinals take the field today against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII, Donnie Holmes will be watching ... and reminiscing.
The Mesa State College assistant football coach is happy for the organization, playing in its first Super Bowl.
“I was watching them and I felt joy with them,” Holmes said. “I know the anguish the team went through over the years.”
Holmes knows that anguish first-hand. He played for the Cardinals organization from 1986 to 1992 and was part of the move from St. Louis to Phoenix.
“We had good teams back then,” Holmes said. “We had Pro Bowl (players) and superstars.
It’s hard to figure out why we didn’t win more.
“I felt we had a lot of things in place. We had the capability of doing things, but many of the players wouldn’t work out in the offseason. It was offered, but a lot of them didn’t do that. If you look at who we drafted, I don’t think we did a good job with the draft.”
The Cardinals didn’t draft Holmes. He was taken by the Atlanta Falcons in the 12th round of the 1984 NFL draft, but instead of signing that spring, he opted to return to college in the fall of 1984.
“I didn’t have to declare,” Holmes said. “I didn’t think I was ready (for the NFL).”
The Miami. Fla., native signed a letter of intent with the University of Colorado out of high school but eventually transferred to Mesa after the Buffs switched to the option offense.
He played for the Mavericks in 1984 and was an NAIA All-American receiver.
“I felt it was worth it (to play at Mesa),” Holmes said. “I got more confident and made the All-America team. We had a great quarterback in Mark Miller. That season at Mesa boosted my confidence.”
At Mesa, Holmes played for coach Bob Cortese. The Mavericks went 7-3 that season, the year after reaching the NAIA championship game. Mesa had to forfeit eight games for using an ineligible player, leaving them with a 2-8 record.
In the NFL draft that next spring, Holmes was projected to go to the Raiders in the third round, but the Falcons claimed they held the rights to Holmes from the previous draft.
He made it through the preseason cuts with Atlanta, but was released during the season.
Two weeks after his release, he was picked up by the Indianapolis Colts. Holmes, though, sustained a knee injury and was waived.
The Cardinals, looking for a player or two to make them a contender in the rugged NFC East, signed Holmes.
In 1988, the Cardinals moved from St. Louis to Phoenix. That season, Holmes made the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but didn’t play. The next year, he was part of one of the longest pass plays in team history, a 77-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Tom Tupa against the L.A. Rams on Nov. 19, 1989.
He made another trip to the Pro Bowl as an alternate, but this time Holmes played in the game and returned a couple of punts.
“I played a lot of special teams and contributed to help the team win,” Holmes said. “To get recognized is awesome. It was definitely a great year. I got some opportunities. I had a lot of big runs.”
The Cardinals, though, were never better than 7-9 during Holmes’ career.
Holmes played with guys like Neil Lomax, Vai Sikahema, Roy Green, Jay Novacek, Tupa and Cliff Stoudt.
The Cardinals were coached by Gene Stallings (1986-89) and Joe Bugel (1990-92) when Holmes was in the NFL.
“Coach Stallings was a very intense,” Holmes said. “He was a hard-nosed coach. I pattern my style after him. He was honest and firm. That’s how I see myself.”
Holmes didn’t realize he wanted to coach until he volunteered with a semipro team in Grand Junction in 1994.
“My wife said, ‘why don’t you do it for real?’ ” Holmes said. “I contacted Pete Rodriguez, who is a special teams coach with Jacksonville, and asked him how I could get an opportunity to coach. He said to get on with the staff at the college.”
Rodriguez was Holmes’ special teams coach for the Cardinals and Holmes still stays in contact with him.
Holmes, 47, talked to Mesa State head coach Joe Ramunno and joined the staff in 2004. He coaches wide receivers and is a personal trainer at Crossroads Fitness Center.
Through the NFL Players Association, Holmes landed a job in 2005 coaching wide receivers during the Jacksonville Jaguars’ training camp.
He coached wide receivers and kick and punt returners with the Cologne Centurions in NFL Europe in the spring of 2007. Last summer, he coached wide receivers for the Washington Redskins in training camp.
He hopes his work during training camps and with the Mavericks one day lands him a full-time coaching job in the NFL.
He hasn’t spent any time with his former team this season, but Holmes suspects Warner was the catalyst to the Cardinals’ success.
“I think they have a good football team,” Holmes said. “It’s not what you’re capable of, it’s what you are willing to do. Somebody on that team said, ‘We can do this. We’ve got to man up.’ I haven’t been around the team, but it may have been Kurt Warner. He is a good leader.”
The one thing Arizona is lacking is the experience of playing in the big game.
“Another big factor is Pittsburgh’s been there,” Holmes said. “They know how to keep themselves from not burning out. You can get so excited by the fourth quarter, you are worn out.”
The former receiver is impressed with the Cardinals’ group of receivers this season and thinks they can make the plays to win Super Bowl XLIII.
“They have the kind of receiving corps you need,” Holmes said. “(Anquan) Boldin is a physical receiver. The kid is amazing. I had an opportunity to watch him play. (Larry)
Fitzgerald is not fast, but he makes up for it with ability. He can jump out of a gym.
“If they can protect Kurt Warner, they can win.”