Skip to main content

Sound of silence: Joey Porter no longer the talk of Steelers camp

LATROBE, Pa. (AP) -Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Clark Haggans made this same call a hundred times, so he instinctively reached for his cell phone before leaving for training camp.

Ring up teammate and fellow linebacker Joey Porter and ask for a ride.

Only this time, the call would have been long distance.

"I said, 'Oh yeah, he's in Miami,"' Haggans said. "Not having him out here is a little bit of a change."

For the first time since he entered the NFL in 2000, Haggans no longer has Porter for a teammate. The Steelers released the former Pro Bowl linebacker in a salary cap move last spring and Porter, who had played for them since 1999, quickly signed with Miami.

The Steelers without Joey Porter, one of the NFL's loudest, proudest and, at times, best players? Haggans, who was also Porter's teammate for all but one college season at Colorado State, needs some time to get used to this.

"I've played my college career and whole professional career up to now with him," Haggans said. "I know this - it's a lot quieter now when we stretch."

A lot quieter in the locker room, too, where Porter often was the first to defend his teammates, motivate them, drive them. His play at right outside linebacker may have slipped some as the Steelers went 8-8 last season after winning the Super Bowl the season before, but it was obvious the three-time Pro Bowl player remained one of their leaders.

How the Steelers react without Porter, on and off the field, is one of the big challenges of new coach Mike Tomlin's first season.

"Joey's still going to be Joey, but we're still the Steelers and we still got a season," Haggans said. "We just got to push forward. He wishes us luck and can't wait to play us."

That will be Nov. 26, when the Dolphins play in Pittsburgh for the second season in a row. Wide receiver Hines Ward, who has heard so many of Porter's us-against-the-world tirades, still can't imagine Porter talking down to his longtime teammates.

Ward was among the veteran players who spoke out during the offseason, questioning if it was wise for the Steelers to let Porter go at age 30 with some good seasons possibly left.

"I want to see if there's really going to be trash talking, if he really can trash talk us," Ward said. "You can't trash talk your boys, Joey."

Since the Steelers won that Super Bowl 17 months ago, the three biggest leaders from that team are gone: Former star running back Jerome Bettis retired, coach Bill Cowher resigned after 15 seasons and Porter was pushed out.

However, the Steelers were convinced they lacked the cap room to re-sign Porter, a decision supported by the $20 million the Dolphins guaranteed him. Porter would have made only one-quarter of that this season in Pittsburgh.

"We'll miss Joey, there's no question, and he was great at getting guys up each day," Ward said. "But that's how this game goes, players come and go."

This is how Porter operated: He intentionally picked a verbal fight with Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens during a media interview session early in the Super Bowl week.

Stevens' perceived transgression was a minor one, even by motivational standards - he said the Seahawks were looking forward to ruining Bettis' retirement party. But Porter kept at it for two days, putting the spotlight on himself and taking it away from the younger and possibly more nervous players.

Players like Porter don't come along frequently, and the Steelers know it. It was no coincidence that, for the first time, they drafted pass-rushing linebackers in the first two rounds - Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley - after releasing Porter.

"He did what great leaders do, and that's make everybody around him better," Ward said. "He's still a great ballplayer and he raised the level of the defense to where it needed to be. It was sad losing him because I thought he had a lot of football left in him. It's hard to replace a guy like Joey Porter."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.