Santonio HolmesWhere should the line be drawn between super hero and disappointing villain?

With the Super Bowl behind us, we can finally take a look back and let all of the greatness that was the 2008 NFL season sink in. There was no shortage of great moments, and the league’s final game was far from a letdown. The NFL’s biggest game of the year is a far cry from the unfortunate days of the early nineties that saw continuous repeats of the Buffalo Bills making it to the Big Game only to be stomped on like a bully’s schoolyard victim.

Year after year, the Super Bowl has been nothing short of a disappointment. Nobody, save the fans of the winning team, wants to see a dominant blowout. Casual fans tune in to view the commercials, but to also see a competitive game with the chance the hype might live up to its billing and more attention might be paid the following season.

But what this year’s fans also saw was a high-low swing of emotion and a struggle of deciding whether to glorify or criminalize the supposed heroes of the game.

The NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year made an unbelievable play to end the half. Linebacker James Harrison complained snap after snap that the defensive packages he was put in by defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau didn’t allow him to rush the quarterback. Instead, Harrison was cued to drop back into coverage, much to his disapproval. But on the last play of the first half, the scheme finally worked when Harrison showed blitz only to drop back a yard into the end zone and pick off a Kurt Warner pass that he returned a Super Bowl record 100 yards for a touchdown.

The play was great, and after a brief scare that left Harrison lying on the turf after landing awkwardly on his head, he was celebrated for a defensive effort that drastically shifted the momentum of the game. But what came later might have tarnished his image for at least that one game. On a block that ultimately had no effect on the play past its initial hit, Harrison held down his blocker and was then flagged for a very unnecessary shove. Had the two plays (his defensive penalty and the interception return) happened in reverse order, it might have been viewed as though he redeemed himself. Instead, he let frustration or whatever words were offered up by the offensive player get the best of him and, in the end, looked childish, setting a bad example for his younger fans.

Harrison’s play was only one of two confusing stories that stand out on the Super Bowl Steelers squad. Receiver Santonio Holmes was awarded the MVP, and rightfully so. There was no offensive player that stepped up more for the Steelers than Holmes. Catching all four passes on Pittsburgh’s final scoring drive – including the game-winning touchdown catch – only added icing to the cake. But following a crucial catch on the drive, Holmes was so worried about celebrating the catch and first down that he ran down the field taking a proverbial victory lap of excitement. The clock was still running and it ultimately cost his team a timeout.

Holmes’ celebratory antics are the least of things he has to worry about. Of all the athletic and deserving talents on the Steelers’ roster, Holmes was suspended earlier in the season after being arrested on drug charges. One could pass off the idea that it happens in the NFL. But really, it shouldn’t be tolerated. Holmes redeemed himself in more ways than one Sunday night by becoming the hero of the Super Bowl. But how should he and his story be viewed?

Is this a story of redemption and the display of a turnaround? Or, is this another example of a professional athlete being rewarded for bad behavior? In no other venue would this type of behavior be rewarded. What is, ultimately, the lesson that should be taught to younger viewers? More importantly, how will they view it?

On one hand, talents are rewarded as they should be, but in the end, extraordinary talent serves as a protective shield allowing for quicker recovery periods and quicker rewards. Another perspective might suggest that a lesson is taught of humility and individuals are able to overcome their trials with the opportunity to fulfill future success.

Perhaps these are questions that should be answered on an individual basis. And it is really up to the mentors and heroes closer to those willing to be influenced that should help relay the proper message.

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