The Pittsburgh Steelers boasted one of the most legendary defenses in NFL history during the 1970s. The Steel Curtain was an impenetrable barrier that led the Steelers to four Super Bowl victories. The iconic defensive line consisted of L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, Mean Joe Greene, and Ernie Holmes. While the other three members of the Steel Curtain are well known, the story of Ernie Holmes is often overlooked. In this post, we will explore the untold story of Ernie Holmes, the rise and fall of the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle.

Ernie Holmes: From a Small Town to the NFL

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Ernie Holmes was born on July 11, 1948, in Jamestown, Louisiana. He attended Texas Southern University, where he played defensive tackle. In 1971, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Holmes in the eighth round. His rookie year was spent mostly on the bench, but in 1972 he became a full-time starter. Holmes made an immediate impact, earning consensus All-Pro honors. He quickly became known as one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive tackles.

The Steel Curtain Era

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is often referred to as the Steel Curtain, which is an apt description when you consider the team’s dominance. The Steelers won four Super Bowls over a six-year span, thanks in large part to their defense. Ernie Holmes, along with his fellow Steel Curtain teammates, was a key component of that dominant defense. In 1974, Holmes had his best season, recording six sacks and helping the Steelers lead the NFL in fewest points allowed.

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The Tragic Incident

In 1977, Ernie Holmes was involved in a tragic incident that changed the course of his life. Holmes was driving his car when he was involved in a head-on collision with another vehicle. The driver of the other car was killed instantly, and Holmes suffered a broken ankle and other injuries. The incident had a profound impact on Holmes, who reportedly struggled to cope with the tragedy.

The Decline of Ernie Holmes

After the tragic incident, Ernie Holmes’ play on the field began to suffer. He missed significant playing time due to injuries and was no longer the dominant force he once was. In 1978, Holmes was released by the Steelers and signed with the New England Patriots. His stint in New England was short-lived, as he was released after just one season. Holmes attempted a comeback in 1981 with the Houston Oilers, but he was cut during training camp.

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Life After Football

After his football career ended, Ernie Holmes struggled with drug addiction and legal troubles. In 1993, Holmes was arrested for assault and battery and spent time in prison. He later spoke out about his struggles with mental illness and addiction, hoping to inspire others who were struggling.


Q1. What is the Steel Curtain?

The Steel Curtain was the nickname given to the legendary defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the 1970s. It was known for being impenetrable, earning four Super Bowl rings for the Steelers.

Q2. Who were the members of the Steel Curtain?

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The Steel Curtain was composed of defensive ends L.C. Greenwood and Dwight White, defensive tackle Mean Joe Greene, and defensive tackle Ernie Holmes.

Q3. What happened to Ernie Holmes in 1977?

Ernie Holmes was involved in a head-on collision while driving his car, resulting in the death of the other driver and injuries to Holmes.

Q4. Why did Ernie Holmes struggle after the tragic incident?

The tragic incident had a profound impact on Holmes, who reportedly struggled to cope with the tragedy. His play on the field suffered, and he struggled with mental illness and drug addiction after retiring from football.

Q5. What is Ernie Holmes’ legacy?

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Ernie Holmes was an integral part of the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers defense, known as the Steel Curtain. He was a dominant force on the field, earning All-Pro honors in 1972 and helping the Steelers win four Super Bowls. Holmes’ legacy has been somewhat overshadowed by his struggles off the field after retiring from football.

Q6. What is mental illness?

Mental illness is a disorder that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, and behavior.

Q7. What is drug addiction?

Drug addiction is a chronic disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite the harmful consequences.


Ernie Holmes was a dominant force on the iconic Pittsburgh Steelers defense known as the Steel Curtain. He helped lead the team to four Super Bowl victories and was one of the NFL’s most dominant defensive tackles. However, after a tragic incident in 1977, Holmes struggled with mental illness and drug addiction. His legacy has been somewhat overshadowed by his struggles off the field after retiring from football, but his impact on the game cannot be denied. Ernie Holmes’ story is a reminder of the importance of mental health and the struggles that athletes can face after their playing careers are over.

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