Porter a terrific teammate
He wasn't a Ham or a Lambert, but Porter was one of a kind
Friday, March 02, 2007
Strictly talking business, it makes perfect sense for the Steelers to get rid of Joey Porter. His performance slipped badly last season. The team has every right to believe that Porter, soon to be 30, with a game based on speed and quickness, no longer can get the job done at a high level, certainly not at a level worth $5 million. Once it reached that decision, it had to let him go.
But that doesn't mean Porter doesn't deserve a proper send-off.
He should be remembered as one of the Steelers' all-time great players, maybe not Hall of Fame great along the lines of Ham and Lambert, but great enough that the franchise wouldn't have won Super Bowl XL without him.
Porter had some career here.
You also might have heard along the way that he was something of a fascinating character.
What do President Bush and NFL players Ray Lewis, William Green, Jerramy Stevens, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Peyton Manning and his bunch of softies from Indianapolis have in common?
I'm already missing the guy.
Porter never was the team leader that Jerome Bettis was or even that Levon Kirkland and Dermontti Dawson were before him, but he provided plenty of emotion to the Steelers in a sport that thrives on it. He did it before games when he pranced back and forth at midfield, helmet off, wearing a black beanie and eye black, his massive tattooed forearms and washboard stomach exposed, taunting someone, anyone, from the other team. He did it during games when he played well enough that Sports Illustrated put him on the cover of its NFL preview edition last year and called him the league's "most feared player." And he did it after games -- after the many victories anyway -- when he led the team in its traditional "Who Ride?" chant.
The other players loved Porter.
We loved his passion.
Yes, Porter went too far at times, sometimes way too far, as when he used a homophobic term to describe Winslow Jr., the Cleveland Browns' tight end, after a game last season. He went to the Baltimore Ravens' bus in an attempt to fight Lewis after the game here in 2003 because he felt Lewis had made light of his buttocks wound after he was the random victim of a drive-by shooting in Denver earlier that season. And he was ejected before the game in Cleveland in 2004 after he and Green were involved in a brief fight in warm-ups.
Certainly, Porter overreacted to media coverage of his light-hearted remarks directed against President Bush not long before the Steelers were to visit the White House as Super Bowl champions in June. Even though his comments were portrayed accurately -- as being said in jest -- he threw a fit, even issuing a ridiculous statement through the team. He then made matters worse by showing up at the ceremony in the East Room as the only player wearing sunglasses. It wasn't just disrespectful; he looked ridiculous.
But more often than not, Porter pushed the right buttons, not just his teammates' but those of opposing players. He called out Manning and the Colts as a finesse team before the Steelers played them in the AFC playoffs after the 2005 season, then backed up his words with a brilliant performance that included two late sacks, giving him 61/2 in six games down the stretch and into the playoffs. (He added another and a forced fumble in the win against the Denver Broncos in the AFC championship game). Before Super Bowl XL, he flat out called Stevens, the Seattle Seahawks' tight end, soft, just about the worst thing you can label an NFL player short of that homophobic word. It was easy to think he got into Stevens' head after Stevens dropped three passes in the Steelers' 21-10 win.
Those are wonderful memories, to be sure.
But the best memories of Porter involve his soft side.
Don't tell Peyton and Stevens.
Late in the 2005 season, Porter organized an amazing tribute to Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. He and the other defensive players wore LeBeau's retro No. 44 Detroit Lions' jersey to Heinz Field before a game against the Lions. LeBeau cried.
But the topper came at Super Bowl XL when Porter, after clearing it with Bill Cowher, made sure Bettis was sent out alone when the Steelers were introduced as a team in the pregame introductions in Bettis' hometown of Detroit. Porter could be seen on camera, holding back his teammates, all of whom were eager to get on the field for the biggest game of their lives, yet deferred to his wishes. "I wanted the cameras to shine on Jerome alone," Porter said after the game.
The guy wasn't just a great player.
He was a great teammate.
(Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com