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Steelers Porter comes out kicking in his return

Monday, September 22, 2003

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

CINCINNATI -- With one kicking motion of his right leg -- his trademark boot -- Joey Porter let everyone know he was back.

Linebacker Joey Porter celebrates after sacking Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna for a 14-yard loss in the Steelers' 17-10 victory this afternoon at Cincinnati. Porter also had two other tackles as he returned to the Steelers' lineup only three weeks after being wounded in a Denver shooting incident. (Tom Uhlman, Associated Press)
Click photo for larger image.

Most importantly, Porter let himself know he was back.

Back playing football.

Back making sacks.

Back getting on with his life.

"The boot let all the fans who was worried about me at home know that I'm OK," Porter said. "When they see me doing that, they know I'm OK. They don't have to worry anymore."

Porter made his return to the Steelers' defense yesterday in a 17-10 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals, just three weeks after getting shot in the buttocks outside a Denver restaurant. And he punctuated his comeback with a third-quarter sack on quarterback Jon Kitna -- one of four sacks the Steelers had in the game.

Porter didn't play all the snaps -- he came out, at times, in the dime defense -- and he didn't receive nearly the amount of action he thought from the Bengals, who rushed for just 57 yards on 16 carries. But when he sacked Kitna, he delivered an emphatic message to his fans, teammates and coaches

And he did by running down the field, pumping his fists in front of him and side-winding his right leg -- the celebratory gesture he makes after every sack.

"I had to show [the coaches] something, to let them know I'm OK," said Porter, a Pro Bowl outside linebacker. "By me showing that, they can feel comfortable that, OK, he's back. We can put him back at full workload."

Porter also convinced his teammates he was ready to play, despite missing the first two games of the season to let the gunshot wounds heal properly.

"As a defensive player, playing next to him, you want to make sure he's back," said inside linebacker Kendrell Bell, who had two sacks. "You don't want him out there hobbling and wobbling, like I did last year and couldn't make certain plays. I feel comfortable he's in there."

Porter's presence was not the reason Bell got two sacks from the right rush end position in the dime defense, the spot that has given him trouble as a pass-rusher. Porter never played the middle position in the dime against the Bengals, giving way to James Farrior for the entire game.

It remains to be seen if Porter will resume that role against the Tennessee Titans. For now, the Steelers are convinced he's on his way back to doing everything he normally does in the Steelers' defense.

Joey Porter: Being back on the field again "felt like Christmas." BGI subscribers can listen to Porter's post-game comments. (Peter Diana, Associated Press)
Click photo for larger image.

That even includes resuming his role as the chief trash-talker on defense.

"He was a little reserved," said outside linebacker Jason Gildon. "I don't think that part of his game got back yet. It'll probably take another week."

"At first he was kind of mellow," Bell said. "Then he started getting amped up.

"He was rowdy, but, after the sack, he was really a lot rowdy, because then it's like, he's back. ... When he got the sack, he made a really athletic move, and he didn't hurt himself. He felt comfortable after that."

For the record, Porter finished with just two tackles. He was also credited with a fumble recovery, which came after he was hit in the facemask on a lateral from Gildon, who pitched the ball to him during an interception runback.

Porter thought the Bengals would try to run at him to see if he was recovered from his injury. Instead, most of the attention he received came when Bengals players such as Kitna and running back Corey Dillon approached Porter on the field and wished him well.

"I was actually thinking I would get more action," Porter said. "I was kind of disappointed I didn't get as much action as I thought. I thought they would run the ball at me, a lot of outside runs, a lot of double blocks on me. It makes sense to do that.

"I was just patient. The first half I didn't get a chance to make too many tackles. Then I got a big sack and that fired me up the whole way."

Not that Porter needed to be any more juiced. He wanted to play last week in Kansas City, especially after coach Bill Cowher upgraded him on the injury report early in the week. But Cowher quickly changed his mind when he saw how excited Porter was at the prospect of returning so soon. After consulting with team physician Dr. Jim Bradley, Cowher knew he wanted to give Porter another week to let the wounds heal.

He told Porter to wait until he got to Cincinnati.

It didn't dampen Porter's zest for returning to the game he loves, just three weeks after his career -- and possibly his life -- could have ended.

"When you have a chance of not playing anymore, something you love to do, and you get a second chance to do it again, you're definitely going to appreciate it that much more," Porter said. "It could have been taken away forever. When you're out there, you never want to cheat the game again. You want to do everything you can do out there because you never know when that last play is going to happen."


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.

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