On my tour of camps this summer, I spent a half-hour in Denver with Tracy Porter, who signed a one-year contract with the Broncos to get his career back on track. He made one of the biggest interceptions in Super Bowl history 32 months ago, but Porter has also missed 21 games due to injury in his career. When right, he's a very good and very instinctive corner, with a great knack for breaking on balls at the right time.
Porter showed that again Sunday night, when he timed a Ben Roethlisberger pass perfectly, stepped in front of Steeler receiver Emmanuel Sanders, picked the ball out of the air and ran 43 yards for the clinching touchdown.
I couldn't help but think of Porter most famous interception. As it turns out, neither could he.
"It crossed my mind,'' Porter told me after the game. "It definitely crossed my mind."
February 2010, New Orleans-Indy Super Bowl, 3:30 to play, Saints up 24-17, Colts driving for the tying touchdown. After a long week of film study of Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne, Porter knew when Wayne would cut on certain routes, and he knew when Manning would release the ball. From the Saints' 31, Manning threw up the left seam, Porter picked it off at the 26 and ran 74 yards for the insurance touchdown.
September 2012, final minutes, Porter baited Roethlisberger (with Manning on the sidelines watching), stepped in front of Sanders, intercepted it, ran 43 yards down the right side for the insurance touchdown.
Both times, Porter knew he could be aggressive playing the ball because he had safety help over the top. This time, he knew he'd get a heavy dose of attention from Roethlisberger. "They were going to come my way, obviously,'' he said. "Champ Bailey's on the other side, and I don't know too many quarterbacks who want to go after him.''
So Porter gets his welcome-to-the-Broncos moment. If he stays healthy, and if the 34-year-old Bailey stays healthy -- and neither, of course, is guaranteed in this game -- the Broncos have solved the biggest question any defense in the NFL has these days. Namely, can we hold up at corner?
In camp, I asked Porter if he'd had a moment yet to talk to Manning about Memory Lane, about that night in South Florida when Manning, on his way to becoming a two-time Super Bowl champ, threw a pass that will live in Colts infamy.
"No,'' he said. "I mean, we're both professionals. It'd be sort of rookie-ish to mention it. If he wants to talk about it one day, we will, but that's not the kind of thing I'd ever bring up to him.''
On Sunday night, I asked if it had come up yet with Manning.
"No," he said.
It's one of the fascinating plays in Super Bowl history. Did Wayne give up on the route a little early, and should he have tried to at least knock the ball away when he saw Porter had a line on it? Should Manning have even thrown it; was he a little cocky about his chemistry with Wayne, which worked so well for so long, and which confounded even the most experienced of secondary players?
"I remember a lot about that week,'' Porter said. "On Tuesday, our day off at the Super Bowl, the whole secondary -- me, Roman Harper, Malcolm Jenkins, Randall Gay, Usama Young, Pierson Prioleau -- got together to watch extra film, to break down Peyton. I remember seeing the same play to Reggie Wayne on third down and a certain distance (3rd-and-medium), we saw the same look, over and over and over. I will never forget what Pierson said after we'd been watching play after play, same thing: 'If someone doesn't pick this ball off in the Super Bowl and run for a TD, we're going to have a serious problem.' ''
And of course, it happened. Wayne lined up left, it was 3rd-and-medium (actually, 3rd-and-5), and Wayne went up the seam, about to cut right, and Porter, just as Manning released, broke on it. The rest is history.
Now the Broncos, with Manning and Porter in house, will try to make their own history, and play the last game of this season in New Orleans, where Manning was born and raised and Porter began his pro career. They're off to a good start.
Onto your email:
PETERSON'S GOOD. SO WHAT?
THE NFL IS FORCING QUARTERBACKS INTO THE GAME TOO SOON.
I think this, and I'll use Ryan Tannehill as an example: Miami's offensive coordinator, Mike Sherman, was Tannehill's college coach. Joe Philbin, Tannehill's head coach now, was on the Green Bay staff when Rodgers sat for most of three years learning behind Brett Favre. Do you think they would say, "Let's rush Tannehill into action before he's ready?'' I don't think so. It may be, in retrospect, that they'll think they rushed him into the games. But I think these guys are old pro hands, and they'd know if they were hurting Tannehill long-term by playing him now. You might be right. Time will tell.
ON ART MODELL.
You've got lots of company. I tried to paint a picture of both sides
One big difference between the Modell Browns and the Rooney Steelers: The Rooney family didn't go into deep debt for the Steelers. The Rooneys spent within their means. Modell did not. I remember sitting with Dan Rooney in his Three Rivers Stadium office maybe 20 years ago, and there was a leak in the corner of his nice (but not posh) office. A bucket collected the water from the leak. I remember distinctly Rooney saying that was just a part of the deal when you have your office in a declining building, and he didn't have the resources to go build a $50 million (or whatever it would cost to build a state-of-the-art training facility and practice bubble). It was a shot at the teams, like the Browns, that spent money that they didn't have.
I MAY HAVE TO, AND IT WON'T BE THE FIRST TIME.
Can we see more than one game first?