Bulletproof 'Backer All-Pro linebacker Joey Porter gave the Steelers a big lift just three weeks after suffering a gunshot wound

September 28, 2003

Early in the morning of Aug. 31, in the parking lot of a Denver
sports bar, the sound of a gunshot pierced the air. The 150 or so
people who had congregated in the lot scrambled in every
direction, and three more shots rang out. As he ran toward the
entrance to the club, Joey Porter, the Steelers' All-Pro
linebacker, felt what he thought was a kick in the left buttock,
but that was the least of his concerns. This was a life-or-death
situation, and Porter had three kids and a wife pregnant with
twins back home in Pittsburgh. He heard at least two more shots
just before he darted back through the door of the club and saw a
man take a bullet in the chest.

"Man, did you see that out there?" Porter said, breathlessly, to
a barmaid. He thought, How lucky am I? Nearby, a couple of people
discovered they had been hit. Porter thought he was unharmed, but
he saw others checking themselves for bullet wounds. So he turned
to the barmaid and said, "Am I shot?"

She saw blood trickling down his left leg. What Porter thought
had been a kick in the butt was the impact of a 9-mm bullet that
had entered his buttock and lodged in his right thigh.

Thoughts started racing through Porter's mind: There is no way I
can die. This can't be happening to me. My kids. My wife. The
twins on the way. Am I finished? Will I ever play again? Will the
Steelers just dump me? Where's the damn bullet?

Talk about your comeback stories. Exactly three weeks after the
shooting and 20 days after having the bullet removed from his
thigh, Porter took the field in his customary weakside linebacker
spot, for a game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. And he played
a significant role in Pittsburgh's 17-10 win. Porter was on the
field for about 70% of the Steelers' defensive plays, recovered
an ill-advised lateral from fellow linebacker Jason Gildon on an
interception return deep in Pittsburgh territory, and had two
tackles and a 14-yard sack of Jon Kitna that ended a Cincinnati
possession late in the third quarter.

"Three weeks ago we were just happy he was alive," Steelers
defensive end Kimo von Oelhoffen said afterward. "For him to come
out and play like he played today, it's unbelievable. I mean, who
does that?"

"The amazing thing is that I'm not sore--anywhere," said Porter,
still sweating 40 minutes after showering on Sunday. The 6'2"
248-pounder, decked out in a Cavaliers jersey bearing the name of
LeBron James, said he felt like a kid on Christmas morning. "I
guess the adrenaline carried me through, but I feel great."

Porter was amazed by one other thing from Sunday's game. Early in
the second quarter, as he rushed around the left side of the
offensive line toward Kitna, he was cut-blocked by running back
Corey Dillon. As the onrushing Porter tried to twist away, the
225-pound Dillon drove his shoulder into Porter's thigh. Yes, the
right one. "I turned around and said to one of the guys, 'Man,
Corey Dillon just cut me good, right on the spot where the bullet
came out,'" Porter recalled, smiling.

Porter paused when Dillon hit him, thinking it may have done
damage. But he was quickly relieved. "It felt perfect," he said.

The Steelers felt it was no accident that they went from giving
up 41 points to the Chiefs on one Sunday to holding Cincinnati to
10 points (though these were, after all, the Bengals). Porter, a
fifth-year veteran out of Colorado State, is as versatile a
linebacker as there is in the NFL; last season he was the first
player in NFL history to have at least eight sacks and four
interceptions (he had nine and four), a tribute to his
pass-rushing and coverage skills. "He had a sack and made his
presence felt today," said safety Mike Logan. "Imagine what he'll
be like when he's back in football shape in two weeks."

Last week, Porter told SI that he has gained a new love of life
and football. When doctors told him how lucky he was that the
bullet didn't sever a major artery or pierce an organ as it
traveled through his pelvic region, he concluded that it simply
must have been God's plan that he survive.

Porter, 26 and coming off his first All-Pro season, was in Denver
on Labor Day weekend to watch Colorado State play Colorado.
Afterward, he said, friends invited him to a Colorado State
gathering at the sports bar. Porter and his buddies were walking
toward their van to return to their hotel when the gunfire began.
The shooting was most likely gang-related, police said, and
Porter was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. One man
died, and five people were injured.

"I know this," Porter said. "God has given me another chance. And
I will play with a whole new purpose now."

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: AL TIELEMANS (2) Doctors removed a slug from Porter's right thigh, but thedefender felt no ill effects.

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)