Santonio Holmes doesn't quite look the part - even in the outfit and beard, the svelte wideout isn't exactly a convincing Santa Claus. And he certainly hasn't always played the part of a jolly, ultra-virtuous soul.
But it mattered not to the kids, the ones who eagerly hopped atop his knee Tuesday to rattle off their holiday wish lists when the Jets wide receiver donned the red suit as "Santa-onio" at Modell's on 42nd Street.
"I think I'm believable [as Santa]," Holmes joked. He autographed Reebok Jets apparel that was given to children from the Renaissance Community Development Corporation Center of Newark. "Even if they recognize me, I'm a new [player] in the city and it gives them an opportunity to meet me."
While with the Steelers, Holmes was involved in a litany of legal troubles and missed the first four games of this season serving a suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. In a way, it was naughtiness that brought the former Super Bowl MVP to New York. Tuesday was the nice part.
"I enjoy this," Holmes said. "It's an opportunity to brighten up some kids' day and give the holiday spirit, even if it's just with some encouraging words."
Holmes has a charity that seeks to raise awareness for sickle cell (he, his son and his father have the disease) and he holds an annual toy drive in his hometown of Belle Glade, Fla. But the Kris Kringle thing is new to him. "I grew up in a small town," he said. "As a kid, I didn't get to participate in anything like this."
He didn't seem overly joyed about traveling to Chicago on Christmas Day and the prospect of dashing through the snow at Soldier Field: "I'll be talking to my kids on the computer," said Holmes, who refused to talk football during the event. "It's a job."
One can presume his gift arrived Sunday in the form of a 22-17 victory over his former team.