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Steelers Steelers' Porter shot in Denver

All-Pro linebacker victim of drive-by shooting that left one dead and five injured outside bar

Monday, September 01, 2003

By Ed Bouchette and Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Sports Writers

Steelers All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter faces an uncertain recovery time after he and five others were shot as they left a Denver bar early yesterday morning.

Joey Porter. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)
Click photo for larger image.

One of the shooting victims died.

Hours after he was seriously wounded in the apparent drive-by shooting, Porter told his agent not to count him out of the season opener Sunday against Baltimore.

"He wanted to play this weekend very badly," Jeff Sperbeck said.

Not only is that out of the question, it may be weeks or months before Porter, 26, is healthy enough to play football. A bullet passed through his left buttock and lodged in his right thigh in the early morning shooting in a parking lot after he left Denver's All Sports Bar & Grill. Doctors were deliberating yesterday to determine whether to remove the bullet.

Coach Bill Cowher said the Steelers were trying to make arrangements to bring Porter to Pittsburgh today so doctors could evaluate him.

"All the tests are being done and at this time it looks as though the bullet did not hit any vital organs," Cowher said. "He is resting comfortably in the hospital and we are in the process, barring any setbacks, of trying to fly him back here tomorrow. At that point we will do further tests and further information will be available as we get it."

A Denver police spokesman called Porter an "innocent bystander" in the attack.

"There was no confrontation in the bar with Mr. Porter or any of the other individuals," spokesman Sonny Jackson said.

Though the preliminary investigation did not reveal any problems in the bar, police are investigating whether any of the other victims were targets of the assailants for some other reason, Jackson said.

Porter, a Bakersfield, Calif., native who played at Colorado State, traveled to Denver to watch the game between his alma mater and archrival Colorado Saturday night at Invesco Field.

The shootings occurred at 1:47 a.m., just after the 1:30 a.m. closing time for bars in Denver. No arrests had been made yesterday.

Porter and the five other victims -- Jeffrey Dixon, Samantha Long, Kendal Johnson, Evette Marshall and Christopher Wilford -- were in a fenced-in parking lot on the bar property when the shots were fired, Jackson said. The shots came from a distance of at least 40 yards outside the fence, he said.

Wilford, 28, was killed. Dixon, Long, Johnson and Marshall were taken to Denver hospitals, but their conditions were not available.

Porter knew the others, who are all from the Denver area, Jackson said.

The bar where Porter and the others were shot is one of the few such establishments in the Cole/Whittier neighborhood in northeast Denver near St. Charles Park.

Sperbeck said the shooting was unprovoked.

"It was nothing special, no fights, no nothing," he said. "There was speculation there was some sort of other argument with other people."

The Steelers drafted Porter in the third round in 1999 and he moved into their starting lineup at right outside linebacker in 2000. He had his best season last year when he made his first Pro Bowl, was selected an All-Pro and his teammates voted him and receiver Hines Ward as the Steelers' co-MVPs. He became the first player in the NFL to record eight sacks and four interceptions in a season, and the first to have three sacks and two interceptions in one game.

He has missed only one game in his four NFL seasons.

Cowher learned of the shooting in a phone call yesterday morning, much as he did when cornerback Deon Figures was shot in the knee in a drive-by attack in Los Angeles on May 13, 1995. Figures returned to play 14 games that season, but he was never the same player. Just as he did back then, the Steelers coach had a mixed reaction yesterday.

"I liked talking to him and I think we all should be optimistic at this point," Cowher said. "I'm just glad that we're able to talk at this point. He's very, very lucky. He's a lucky young man. I think that's the perspective we need to have at this time."

While the 6-foot-3, 248-pound Porter recuperates, Clark Haggans will start at right outside linebacker in their base 3-4 defense and play the right rush end when the Steelers move into their nickel defense. James Farrior will take over Porter's job at middle linebacker in the dime defense.

Coincidentally, Haggans was a teammate and onetime roommate of Porter's at Colorado State. Cowher would not say whether Haggans had traveled with Porter to watch the game in Denver.

The shooting strikes a devastating blow to the Steelers' goal of reaching the Super Bowl this season. They slipped on defense last season and now they've lost their best player from that unit for an undetermined length of time. But it happened to them before when they lost star cornerback Rod Woodson for the 1995 regular season in the first game to a knee injury and they made it to the Super Bowl.

"I know Joey certainly would not want this to be any kind of distraction and I don't think it will be," Cowher said. "If anything it will draw us closer together and I think that's how you should respond -- as a family. And I think that him being an integral part of that, I think that's the kind of effect it would have on our team."

Cowher said an emotional Porter pleaded with him not to place him on the injured reserve list, which would have ended his season. He did not, but he has that option at any time. In order for Porter to play this season, Cowher must continue to carry him on the 53-man roster.

"He feels like he let the football team down," Cowher said. "That's the type of person he is. He's a very unselfish individual and he's put a lot of effort into this season and to where we are. He was very disappointed at the time and probably very emotional at the time. I think that's very understandable."

Cowher, however, did not fault Porter in any way, saying he did nothing to warrant being shot.

"He was an innocent bystander hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting. ... I think we should be very careful to pass judgment in situations like that," he said. "There are shootings that have taken place around our city as you're going to see and a lot of innocent people are getting hit. It's very unfortunate and it's the unfortunate part of our society.

"When high-profile people are in that situation, it comes to light, but unfortunately these things are happening daily and a lot of innocent people are having to suffer through it. As I told Joey, I'm glad we're having this conversation because there is one member [of the group] who's not talking to anybody today. You've got to keep things in perspective."

Porter's wife, Christy, and their three children were in Pittsburgh at the time of the shooting.


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878. Mike Bucsko can be reached at mbucsko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1732.

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