Holecek fills Bill on national TV

Holecek fills Bill on national TV

The phone started ringing at John Holecek's Buffalo home even before he got off the plane from Miami.

The fifth-year linebacker just had played the game of his life against one of the Buffalo Bills' biggest rivals on "Monday Night Football."

Between Monday and Tuesday, the former Illini star got about a dozen calls from friends and family back in the Chicago area who watched the game.

"They said it was great to see me on TV," Holecek said. " 'Monday Night Football' just adds to the excitement when everybody across the country is watching one game."

Holecek registered a jarring sack on Dan Marino that led to Gabe Northern's fumble return for a touchdown. And with Buffalo clinging to a 23-18 lead late, Holecek registered his first career interception.

Facing a three-receiver set, Holecek dropped back in zone defense, and Marino, the NFL's all-time leading passer, fired the ball right at him. He was shocked for a split second, then instincts took over.

"What I thought was, 'I don't catch very good with my hands, so catch it against my pads,' " Holecek said. "I was able to do it. It's not like I haven't had my chances before. But obviously, with Dan Marino, it's a special play.

"And anytime we play the Dolphins, it's a big deal."

The victory in Miami was a huge deal for the Bills (3-1), who are a game behind New England in the loaded AFC East. Holecek, who took over as a starting inside linebacker last year, is second on the team in tackles.

He's a leader on one of the NFL's top defenses. The Bills are fourth overall in yardage allowed and lead the AFC by surrendering 66 rushing yards a game.

In its last three games, Buffalo has given up one touchdown and 21 points. Along with Sam Cowart, Holecek has clogged up the middle behind mammoth nose tackle Ted Washington – whom Holecek calls a "small truck."

"If we get a W, we're happy," Holecek said. "We're playing pretty well right now, but we're still 3-1 and not on top of the division yet. We have a bunch of important games coming up."

The Bills host Pittsburgh and Oakland before playing at Seattle, Baltimore and Washington – the NFL's hottest offensive team. Holecek is up for the challenge, and he's come a long way since succeeding Chris Spielman as a starter.

"I see myself against the same players, and I think I'm stronger and I know where to go a little quicker," Holecek said. "I've played consistent. I'm a stronger player."

Holecek lives in Buffalo during the season but still makes his home in Chicago. He married college sweetheart Patricia in February and had his No. 52 jersey retired at Steger Marian Catholic.

He plans to live in Chicago full time after his NFL career and wants to put his finance degree to work. On the injured reserve list a few years ago, Holecek started work on his master's degree and likely will finish it at DePaul.

"I can definitely see myself working in the business world," Holecek said. "I've got a long way to go to the MBA. But this year, I'm just focusing on football."

Ex-Illini of the week.

Kevin Hardy, Jacksonville. Yeah, it was only lowly Pittsburgh, which probably couldn't put up 20 points on a Sangamon Illini Football Alliance team, but Hardy and Co. did a number on the Steelers. Hardy, who leads the Jaguars (3-1) with 30 tackles and has 2.5 sacks, posted nine sacks in a 17-3 win against Pittsburgh.

Brian Dietz is a News-Gazette staff writer.

Categories (3):Illini Sports, Football, Sports