It’s easy to wonder sometimes whether or not Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebackers coach—and former Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker—Joey Porter is appropriately and sufficiently separated from his playing days. He has a robust and boisterous relationship with some of his defensive players, which entails elaborate pre-game rituals, and even in-game celebrations, at least one of which from recollection has drawn a penalty.
But, truth be told, that is just part of what makes Porter who he is, and no doubt one of the qualities in the former pass-rusher that the team valued in him when they chose to give him this job. He was an assistant linebackers coach in 2014 before being promoted to outside linebackers coach in 2015, a position that did not previously exist on the team.
The fact that James Harrison, an outside linebacker with whom he played, remains on the roster certainly does no favors in terms of allowing Porter to gain a degree of separation from feeling that he is still a part of the on-field aspect of the game.
“We both have the passion for the game”, Porter said about himself and Harrison, who was a rookie during the former’s fourth year. “I was a vocal guy that was going to play that type of way. He is a determined guy who is going to play his kind of way. When you used to put us out there on the field together, we had so much fun doing it”.
The coach admitted that he lives vicariously through Harrison, to a degree, who is not so much older than the player. Harrison is 39. Porter is 40.
“I still love to watch him play and live through what he is doing”, he acknowledged. “I love to watch him have success. One of the coolest things was watching him break the sack record”, which occurred last season against the Browns. His first sack in the NFL also came against Cleveland.
But it’s not just about football in their relationship. Porter recalled a conversation that he had with Harrison not long after the former Defensive Player of the Year lost his father. “He was in a tough spot not knowing if he wanted to play again because it was the first season he was going to take the field without his dad”, he said.
“We sat around and I told him, I don’t know what to tell you because that hasn’t happened to me. But for him to give up anything isn’t in his nature. I asked what would he want you to do. He knows you love football. You worked so hard. You get four or five more sacks and you will be in the history books”.
Harrison, of course, got that record. He not only returned for one more season in 2016, he inked a two-year contract this spring to continue his career, which has arguably been on an upward trajectory since he chose to come out of retirement in 2014.
“It allows me to still be part of the game”, Porter said about his bond with Harrison. “We mess around and get fired up for the game. Every day I go out there, I think I am about to play. In that brief time in pregame warmups, I get that energy back again. He knows it”.
“That is just me not wanting to let the game go and him still in the game”, he concluded. “It gets me fired up and gets him fired up too”.