LINDEN, N.J. — Santonio Holmes overcame sickle cell anemia to become a Super Bowl MVP and one of the NFL's best wide receivers.
Watching his young son, Santonio III, suffer with the disease has the New York Jets receiver determined to try to help find a cure. Holmes raised more than $25,000 for sickle cell anemia research with a charity bowling event Monday night attended by dozens of teammates, including Mark Sanchez and coach Rex Ryan.
"It's a part of my life, and still to this day, I deal with some of the effects of sickle cell anemia," the 27-year-old Holmes said. "Mainly, this is for my son and all the friends he has made who are sickle cell patients. It's just an honor to be able to give back to the community of kids who suffer from this disease."
Holmes organized the event at Jersey Lanes bowling alley through his III & Long Foundation, which has raised more than $100,000 during the past few years. Holmes, along with players such as Bart Scott, Sione Pouha and John Conner, signed autographs, posed for pictures and bowled several frames with a few hundred fans — most wearing Jets jerseys.
"Oh, man, I've caught a few crimps in my arms just from bending over and signing autographs," Holmes said with a laugh. "I think this is one of the few times that a player can really enjoy the opportunity of signing autographs because of what we're doing it for."
Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum didn't bowl, but mingled with fans before leaving. Guard Brandon Moore, who was critical of Holmes' comments a few weeks ago in which he blamed the offensive line for not giving Sanchez enough time to throw deep passes, was also among the Jets players to attend.
"In any organization, any guys that deal with anything outside or even during football, we're family," Holmes said. "We're cool. That's what it's all about."
Added Moore: "You come out to an event like this to support your teammate. A lot of guys have so many things going on, so something like this lets us come together and support a good cause."
The event also gave rookie defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson a chance to return to his old stomping grounds. He grew up in Linden and hadn't been to Jersey Lanes "since maybe middle school."
"It was good to be back here," Wilkerson said. "When Santonio told me where it was going to be, I was like, 'Yeah, I'm definitely going to be there.'"
Holmes stayed long after his teammates had left, hanging out with fans and later announcing winners of various auctions and raffles, including tickets for Sunday night's big game against the New England Patriots.
"It's a blessing for myself," said Holmes, in his second season with the Jets after four with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "The fans never get a chance to see us other than on TV, so this gave them a chance to bowl, laugh and come out to support the cause. It's a tremendous thing."