Legends Series: Joey Porter
Joey Porter had a passion for playing football. He brought it to the field every game from his rookie season in 1999 until his final game with the Steelers in 2006, and beyond that when he went on to play for the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals.
Porter loved playing football. But even more, he loved playing Steelers’ football.
“It meant everything to play for the Steelers,” said Porter. “I used to watch the Steelers when I was younger. I remember Super Bowl XXX, just watching Greg Lloyd and the things he was doing. They lost the game, but from that point on, watching how they played defense, I watched all those guys. Once I got here some of those guys were still in the locker room and that was amazing too. I loved it here.”
Porter loved it so much, that he is back. Not as a player, but as the teams outside linebackers coach, a job he is just as passionate about.
‘It’s everything going full circle,” said Porter. “Having an opportunity to come back where it started. I flew out of this airport so many times when I played here. When I came back, I remember getting off the plane and thinking I can’t wait to go down the escalator and Franco (Harris) is going to be there catching the football, the statue. It all started to sink in that even after all of those years of being gone, when I came back the love was still here. It was like I came back home.”
Porter also weighed in on a variety of other topics in this exclusive interview:* What was your best memory from your playing career? *“The 2005 run we went on to win Super Bowl XL. That is by far the best memory of my football playing career.”
*What was it like to play on that team, the work that it took to get to the Super Bowl? *“We were coming off a 15-1 season, lost in the AFC Championship game the year before. We knew we had a strong team. We had some lulls in the season where we weren’t where we wanted to be. We knew we couldn’t lose or it would be over. We hit a stretch where we got hot at the right time. That made everything come together. Everybody relied on everybody to do their job. It came together like it was supposed to.
“It was Jerome’s (Bettis) last year. It made everything worth it once everybody put their hand in the pile, dug deep and realized this is the last time we were going to play with each other. It didn’t matter who we were going to play, we were walking into stadiums with so much confidence because we knew we were going to win. It was surreal at times.”
What was the turning point of that season?
“We were like 7-5 getting ready to play Chicago. We knew if we lost one more game it would be out of our control. We knew we had a good team. But every season is different. Once we got to that point and Jerome played more when it got cold. It was a game against Chicago. It was vintage Jerome Bettis running over Brian Urlacher. It was plays like that gave the team the momentum we needed. That momentum just kept going.”
*As a linebacker, what was going through your mind watching Jerome run over him? *“It wasn’t just a regular guy. Urlacher had been a baller for a long time. It was one of those plays to where it was Urlacher and him in the hole. You are either going to stand him up and make the stop, or Jerome is going to do what he does. There was no juking. They saw each other coming. Jerome just won the battle and he won it in a fashion where he just ran him over. He ran right through him. It was an iconic moment. That right there let us know what Jerome was willing to do. We were on a run and we were going to give him everything we had. It was a crazy moment to watch that happen.”
Speaking of crazy moments, the Indianapolis AFC Divisional Playoff game and Jerome fumbles near the goal line. What was that like?
“That was a rollercoaster. At one point in time it was a blowout. I thought we were doing our job. At one point Troy (Polamalu) made an interception and it was overturned. I was like there is no way they can overturn it, and they did. We gave up a touchdown after that. Now they are back in the game. When Jerome fumbled that ball, it was like, not like this. They were sucking the life out of our team. The story went from good to bad real quick. We got another opportunity on the field and made some plays and it was on to the next week.”
Ben Roethlisberger made that game-saving tackle after the fumble recovery. Did he become an honorary defensive player then?
“That was a huge play. That saved the season. That guy picked up the ball right off the bounce. There weren’t too many fast guys on the field. It was huge for him to save it. The whole run there was somebody doing something out of their character to keep things going. This time it was the quarterback not making a pass, but a tackle to save the season.”
What’s it like to play in the Super Bowl?
“When you talk about it, it’s not how you feel when you are in the moment. When you actually get there, how long it takes, warming up seems like forever. You are just ready to play. The opening kickoff, I never saw so many cameras go off at one time. Then you know, this is the Super Bowl. You knew you were in the biggest game of your life.”
What’s it like to be a Super Bowl champion?
“It’s great. I don’t wear my ring, but you knew where you fit. There is no arena amongst any group of men that play sports that I can’t walk in and say, yeah I have one of those. I have one. At the end of the day you are put in the class of a champion forever.”
Do you share the experience of playing in a Super Bowl with your players?
“I just explain to them what it takes. Every situation is different. How guys envision themselves playing in the Super Bowl. I give them my experience of getting there. Getting there is hard enough. Once you get there you go into your own zone. I tell them how it is to get there, how hard. When I got there, we didn’t just go straight to the Super Bowl. I lost two AFC Championship games before I won one. I have been on the door a lot. I tell them when you get in the playoffs your level of play has to step up because you don’t know when you are going to get back. You can’t take anything for granted. Football can be over in a snap. It really is like that. You have to live in the moment.”
Who had the biggest impact on you when you were playing?
“Jerome Bettis. When I came in as a rookie, the guidelines and the blueprint he showed me. How to be a professional, how to take care of my body. How to market myself. He was a guy that was already a star when I came in. For him to take time out of his schedule to show a rookie things was special. Jason (Gildon) and Levon Kirkland were mentors of mine, but Jerome was a life mentor. Not only just football, but off the field stuff, how I can grow as a person. The things he knew that he shared with me helped mold me.”
You talked about coming back here to coach already, do you kind of pinch yourself and realize how special it is?
“I do that all of the time. I try and share stories with my kids. They are coming to understand how good we got as a team. They don’t really understand what we have been through. My daughter was eight, my sons five and two when I played and now they are in high school. When I was playing they didn’t realize I was one of those guys. It’s different now. It’s amazing. Every day I wake up and when I come to work I think this is amazing.”
What do you love about coaching the Steelers linebackers?
“It’s a position you can get a gauge on how good your defense is. It’s Pittsburgh and it’s the linebackers. When you have good linebacker play in Pittsburgh, you have a good defense. That is a staple of Pittsburgh. When that group is playing good, the defense is playing good. I love the challenge of getting us back to where we are great. For me, it’s the biggest challenge because that position has to be good. They are always going to be measured by some great one, back to (Jack) Lambert and (Jack) Ham where it started, and a long list after them. Every time I get a new guy that comes in he picks up a Steelers media guide and the names go one after another of how many came through here. I don’t have to ever tell him how many came through here. I try to tell them you are going to be criticized here playing linebacker more than any other place because we hold our linebackers to a standard.”