Q&A with Joey Porter
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review obtained an exclusive interview with Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter, an eight-year veteran who last season helped the Steelers win their first Super Bowl in 26 years
Porter, 29, is a colorful personality who brings passion to everything he does. His aggressive playing style and strong work ethic blend perfectly with the Steelers blue-collar fan base. He's a hard hitter who doesn't hold back on the playing field or off.
Porter, who has 57 career sacks, is strongly opinionated about what's wrong with the 2-6 Steelers. He also speaks freely and frankly for the first time about the status of his six-year, $22.5 million contract, which has one remaining after this season, and about his desire for an extension, so he can finish his career with the Steelers.
Trib: There's one more year on your contract after this season. Are you still seeking an extension on this current deal?
Porter: I'm just trying to concentrate on playing football. I try to not even worry about my contract situation because I'm here. I've always been happy.
I've never had a day with me playing football for the Steelers, being unhappy. At that point in time, I just wanted some assurance of where I was going to be. My kids go to school here. They're getting older.
My philosophy is, I didn't see the difference. You know I'm going to be here. As far as my play, my level of play is not going to drop. I feel like I'm in my prime of playing football. Lock me in so I don't have to think, ''What am I going to do next year• Am I going to be here, or am I not going to be here?'' I don't want to have that stress on my mind. If we're all in this thing together, if we're a team, it's tough to tell a person we want to make a rule for this person, but everybody else has to go by this. That was the big thing. It wasn't that "Joey, we don't want to give you the deal."
It's the whole point why are you going to make one person better than the rest of the team• You're creating separation on the team and don't even know it.
You can't say that the quarterback is the only person that can do a deal with two years left; everybody else has to wait.
(Former Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox signed an extension with the team with two years remaining on his contract.)
That one rule right there separates him from everybody else.
Trib: Is that an issue with other Steelers players?
Porter: That's not what happened. I'm just saying that's how you look at it as a player. I'm going to go out there and play hard anyway. I've always known if
if doesn't work here I have to be ready to prepare my skills for the next team that happens to be looking at me. I don't like to think about that, but that's part of the game. It's still a business.
That was just the only argument I didn't feel comfortable with. Here I am the leader of the team, so you say, and I just want to know what my long-term future is going to be.
I'm telling you right now I don't want to leave. I don't want to go nowhere. Am I wrong for asking for an extension• Does that make you a bad guy because you want to secure your future• You're telling me he (Maddox) can do it. I want to do it, too. I go to work every day like they do. It's just a tough situation when you have all these players on the team fighting just as hard as everybody else, and you're going to have one rule for one person and not the rest of the team.
Trib: Why do you consider a contract extension so important?
Porter: Because as you see in this game, people go down every day. Verron (Haynes) hurt his knee, he's out for the season. Arnold Harrison just hurt his knee, he's out for the season. That play is out there every time you take the football field. In our business, nothing is guaranteed.
The deal they gave me, I never seen that type of money in my life. Signed it with no questions. Was very happy about it, still happy about it. It changed my life forever. (But) I've outplayed that contract.
If you're talking about the best outside linebackers in the game right now playing, if my name ain't mentioned in the top three, I'm upset about it. Because I definitely know I am. I don't care what three, in what order, everybody's got their own opinion. But you can't tell me I'm not in there.
What I do know, I'm not in the top 10 as far as getting paid, I'm not in the top 20 linebackers getting paid, middle and outside.
I've shown no disrespect for the Rooneys. I love the Rooneys. They took a chance on a kid from Bakersfield (Calif.), drafted me. They've shown me nothing but love since I've been here. The same with the coaches and players. And the city of Pittsburgh accepted me.
Right now, I feel like I have a much bigger focus on trying to get back on track and getting back to where we need to be. That's a much bigger story than what Joey's situation is going to look like after this year.
Trib: How long do you want to continue playing?
Porter: To do it at the level I want to do it, until my body starts telling I ain't got it like that no more.
Your body will let you know. But where I'm at right now, I take care of my body real well. I do everything I feel like I need to do to keep myself in a situation to be ready.
Until I come to that point where I feel it's tough just to keep up with these guys, I'll have no problem walking away, I'll have no problem at all. But I'm far from it.
Trib: There's a cute picture of your four children in your locker at the Steelers' practice facility. Do Steelers fans see big, bad Joey Porter as a family man?
Porter: People aren't going to talk about Joey Porter the married man with four kids. They want to hear about me playing football, the attitude I have, stuff
like that. That's always going to be the stereotype I get. But I don't mind it because I feel like where I'm at with my life -- my family and my kids -- I don't have to brag about that. Football is the thing I do to provide for my family, but my family is my life.
My bio says: married with four children. They know I'm a family man. They know I have a daughter that's autistic. Every now and then they ask something about that. If you ask me about it, we can talk about it. But they just kind of choose not to, so I just give them what they want to hear.
Trib: It sounds like you're two different people. Are you a football player by day and a family man by night?
Porter: I have to be. I can't be the same person I am at work that I am at home. I can't bring my work home to my kids. When I'm out there on the football field, I believe this, and I'll always believe this, you can only play football one way. As much as they try to change football into a non-violent sport - I believe, sooner or later, it's going to be two-hand touch just on how you can't even tackle a person or do anything. It is what it is.
Football's a contact sport. It's a kid's game, but when you're at this level it's a grown man's game. That's why in this game you can't come straight out of high school - because it's a physical game. That's why they make you stay in college at least two or three years before you come out.
Because when you get here, you're dealing with grown men, and these grown men are going to do whatever they can do to feed their families. Each week you have to be at your best. For me to be at my best, I have to go out there and play and have the (right) mind-set. You start playing passive or being a nice linebacker or lose your passion for the game, maybe it's time for you to get another job. Until I feel that day comes, I have to go out there and play football the way I know how.
Trib: How do your children react when people say bad things about their father• What did you tell them when you were shot three years ago?
Porter: They catch some of it from kids at school. Like the dog incident (Porter's pit bull mauled a horse not long ago). My son came home and said his friend told him our dog did this to a horse. So I told him the situation. Like when I got shot, I didn't tell the kids what happened. I'll tell them later. They're not old enough. But they know that's bad. So when I came home I was trying to walk straight. I didn't even want them to know that Daddy was hurting or limping. The only time I really limped around was when I had arthroscopic surgery) on my knee. So they knew that was something that happened at football.
They look at me like Daddy can't be hurt. I want them to look at me like Superman. If Daddy's hurt, who are we going to lean on• It's like getting beat up in front of your kids. Certain stuff just can't happen.
It made me value not just life, but everything that comes with life. I got shot in the butt and made it. But there was a guy that died.
To come back and play football three weeks later, I was very blessed. When I got shot in the butt, I didn't even think. I think somebody kicked me, like I'm not running fast enough. So I pick up another gear. I'm running in the club still not even knowing I'm hit. I'm hiding. Me and my buddy hiding. We're all the way in the kitchen. I'm between the refrigerator and the stove. Shots finally stop. I turned around and they said I have some blood running down my leg. I just went limp. I turned into a big, old wimp.
My whole thing was I let somebody take football away from me. Since that happened, never again. Never again will I put myself in a situation to not know where I'm at, to not feel comfortable. I will not let the hands of somebody else take me away from something I love. Not just football, take me away from my kids.
Trib: How did you and your wife Christy meet• How long have you known each other?
Porter: We've been going to school with each other since I was in first grade. We went to elementary school together, we went to junior high together, we went to high school together. We started dating when when I was in high school. She was a senior, I was a junior.
That's what makes everything special. It's not somebody I don't know what they're here for, or just meeting somebody. I always told myself if I was an NFL player that came into this lifestyle it would be kind of hard to trust somebody to that extent. But with her, it's good.
Coming into the league it's tough. You're going to meet everybody, all walks of life. Not to really have that history and to grow serious with somebody, it's hard to put a time limit on it. Do you say six months is good• Do you say a year is good• Two years• I'm 29 now. For 22 years of my life I've known her. Going to junior high with her and high school, then she came to live with me in college, I know everything I need to know. I always knew that was going to be my wife.
She's been there for all my struggles. She knows everything about me. There's nothing I could do without her not knowing about it. There's just a whole other side there would be without her in my life. Any guy that tries to tell you that he don't need a strong woman behind him, he's not living right. He's not understanding how life is supposed to be lived.
If you take her away from me I'm stuck. It's a much harder life for me without her in my life. My wife is going to be there for me win, lose or draw.
The football stuff, trust me, is some of the best things to ever happen to me. But my family, my wife and kids, are defnitely always first.
Trib: Jerome Bettis retired on top, a Super Bowl champion. Are you the new leader of the Steelers?
Porter: I remember coming in as a rookie, walking in the locker room. I was like, ''There goes Jerome Bettis.'' I was in awe. Jerome was a pro's pro. If you could ask for who you want to meet coming into the league, give me a Jerome Bettis every time. He'll make it better for anybody. Him being the marquee player that he was, him taking us in, bringing us to his house on Thanksgiving, taking us out, showing us the ropes, showing us how to deal with different types of stuff.
I got my first suit with Jerome; he took me to the tailor. I told him just give me the blueprint, I'll follow it. You tell me what I gotta do. He said you can't burn both ends of the candle. You can't go out there and hoot with the owls and come to work when you've got to soar with the eagles. You listen to a veteran because you want to know how he lasted so long in this game playing running back. He took a lot of hits. I watched him come in and prepare himself, get his body right.
Me being a leader now, my role is not like how we looked at his role. My role is if I say something you best believe you can hold me to that. When I tell you how I'm going to play or get you fired up, you can expect that from me if I say it and I have my pads on. Because I'm going to try my best to back up everything I say.
Trib: After winning the Super Bowl, several newspapers quoted you saying you were going to swagger into the White House and ask President Bush to give you back some of your salary. True or false?
Porter: I'm joking with the media. We just won the Super Bowl. They asked about the president. Anything you want to say to him• Yeah, man. (Steelers nose tackle) Casey Hampton went to the University of Texas. He works out with President Bush whenever he's in Austin, Texas. Hamp was telling me President Bush calls him Big Hamp. I said I want to meet the president, I want the president to call me Peezy. I want to be on a nickname basis like Big Hamp. They're laughing.
Anything you want to do, you going to walk in with a swagger• Anything you want to say to him• No. But I want to find out who FICA is. I see he's always taking money out of our checks, but nobody knows who FICA is. I know there's a picture of FICA somewhere in the White House.
I wake up the next day and read the paper. I'm all across Sports Center, Pardon the Interruption, Cold Pizza: Joey Porter says he's going to walk into the White House with a swagger and demand the president give him some of his money back.
Now the president's people are calling here. Now I've got to apologize to the president. I don't mind apologizing, but this is stuff I didn't even say.
Trib: The Steelers won Super Bowl XL last season. You're 2-6 this season. What's the difference between this year and last year?
Porter: The games we've lost we had an opportunity to win every last one of those games. We backed ourselves into a hole we're going to have to fight hard to get out of.
We've just been getting some bad breaks. Sometimes we look dominant. And then in that same game we come back for two or three series and it's like, ''Where did this team come from?'' We have to find a way to play football, focused, for that whole game. We definitely haven't been playing up to the standards that we need to live up to. We've got to go out there and fight and prove everybody wrong.
Trib: Last season you led all NFL linebackers with 10 1⁄2 sacks. With four sacks this season, does that mean you're going to start racking up more sacks like you did the second half of 2005?
Porter: You play 60 snaps in a game, maybe 50. If 40 of them you drop into coverage you can't be mad at my sack production. Now if you're letting me go 35 times after a quarterback I guarantee you I'm going to come back with two of them. I feel like if I rush the quarterback 25-30 times in a game, I'm going to get to him twice.
The defensive ends that play in this game, not to knock them, they play good; it's hard to get sacks in this league. But the guys that get 13 or 14 sacks at defensive end, they rush 60 plays every game. The 13 or 14, they get praised over that. I had 10 1⁄2, which is good. But those aren't great numbers. But if you let me rush 60 times in a game, I wouldn't be happy if I didn't get 20. The way our defense is set up, some games you might not rush. I'll go games when I won't have any sacks. And I'll go into games where it's my day to go and I'll come up with three.
If you're going to send me in that role and let me go, it's understood what I can do. I feel like I don't care who the tackle is, or who I'm playing. If that's what you just want to grade me on just that, grade me and let me go.
I can drop back in coverage, knock down a pass. I can cover a guy in the flat. They can leave me out there one-on-one with a receiver. I'm going to run with him and try to break up a pass. That's why I don't understand how I just get judged off sacks. I play all aspects of the game.
Last year, when we needed it, we went from not having a good year to me leading the whole NFL in sacks (among linebackers), then have four sacks in the postseason. It's not a secret that I can go do it. When my number's called, definitely, I'm going to answer the call.
Trib: You missed two games with a hamstring injury, ending a streak of 27 consecutive starts. Are you back to 100 percent?
Porter: It's a lot better. I didn't know what to expect. I've never had it before. There were times when it feels like it's good and then you run and you injure it again. I was kind of skeptical how far do I push it.
When I sat out that first week (against Kansas City) it was tough to watch my guys play but they won, so it was great. Then we went down to Atlanta and I was feeling a little bit better, I felt I could have played, but at the same time in the back of my mind I know that probably wouldn't have been right because we have a long season. No way I was going to miss the Raiders game. After that, now I'm fine.