Like Ryan Clark, Santonio Holmes, too, has the sickle-cell trait, which he only discovered this year. Unlike Clark, Holmes played in Denver two years ago without any adverse health problems other than one visiting players experienced for decades in Mile High Stadium.
"I just had a lot of trouble breathing when I was up there last time," Holmes said yesterday. "I was in there before the game, I went out and I was trying to catch my breath and I couldn't do it, so I stayed in [the locker room] a little bit longer [before] coming out on the field."
Holmes started that game and caught six passes for 54 yards and one touchdown in the Steelers' 31-28 loss in that Oct. 21, 2007, game.
"Every time I was taking a break out of the game, I had an oxygen mask, an inhaler right by my side," Holmes said. "It was real tough for me to breathe."
Holmes said he had no other symptoms during or after the game. Clark, of course, did; he became almost deathly ill, eventually had his spleen and gall bladder removed during surgery, lost 30 pounds and did not play again that season. It was blamed on a reaction in his blood to the sickle cell.
Unlike Clark, Holmes said there is no dilemma about whether he will play Monday night in Denver.
"Nah, it hadn't affected me the last time we played there so I don't think it will this time," Holmes said.
He said he has not talked to a doctor about it, never even thought twice about it.
"My focus is getting back ready throughout the week of football," Holmes said. "I have an oxygen chamber at home, a hyperbaric chamber at home, so I'll definitely, probably spend the rest of this week sleeping in it to get a feel for how it will be."
Clark said yesterday, after practicing with his teammates, that he is finished discussing whether he will play Monday night. He referred all questions to Mike Tomlin, and the coach shed some new light on why it is an issue with Clark and not with Holmes.
"It's more than the sickle-cell trait. There are a lot of people that play football in Denver with the sickle-cell trait. Ryan is a unique case where it's the sickle-cell trait and a combination of something else, which I am not educated to speak on. But it is sickle-cell trait in combination with some other pre-existing medical issue that creates it.
"So, Santonio is not at any unique risk, unless he too shares that same medical situation, which I believe at this point he does not."
Tomlin reiterated that Clark "received medical clearance to play in this football game" after coach and player met with a team of doctors Thursday. He said a decision will be made later in the week and that it's not all Clark's choice.
"The decision lies with he and myself," Tomlin said.
"His physical health, his well being, of course, is paramount. We're going to attempt to do what's right, we're going to weigh all our options, and we're going to come to a decision here at some point later this week. Really hadn't put a timetable on it at this point."
Hines Ward knows what he would do if he were in Ryan Clark's place.
"If it were me, no I wouldn't go," Ward stated flatly yesterday after the Steelers returned from a week off and went through their first practice since they beat Minnesota Oct. 25.
"You know what? Football's second when it comes to someone's life. Life is more important than football to me."
Ward, though, said he can understand why Clark might want to play in Denver.
"We as competitors, it's hard to keep anyone from playing because that's one game you never get back.
"I know he wants to be out there but life is way more precious than football. When football ends, you can still go on and have a productive life. What Ryan went through the last time he was there, to see him lose his spleen and to come to find out it was because of the Denver trip ... if it were me, I wouldn't play. It's not even a question. But I can't speak for somebody else. I don't know how he and his family feel about the situation."
The Steelers have more than Clark's possible absence to face. Neither linebacker Lawrence Timmons nor defensive end Travis Kirschke practiced yesterday. Timmons left the game against the Vikings with a right ankle injury and Kirschke left with a left calf injury.
"Both of those guys are questionable at this point," Tomlin said.
"Again, this is the early part of the week. There is a little bit more optimism in regards to Lawrence than Travis at this point, but we'll let it play out as we always do."
Willie Parker reported for work but was sent home before practice because he was sick. Tomlin said he should be ready to play in Denver.
The Steelers also switched tight ends on their practice squad, releasing Kevin Brock and adding Eugene Bright, who played at Purdue and was in the Eagles' camp this summer.