Linebacker Joey Porter storms out for pregame introductions during Saturday's preseason opener.
FLAGSTAFF – Pride isn't to be underestimated.
The paychecks to play football certainly aren't small, and for that Joey Porter is thankful. The quest to win isn't a small matter either; the veteran linebacker remembers that feeling he had in Detroit in early 2007 when he won a Super Bowl with the Steelers and the memory can drive a man.
Pride, though, is what energizes Porter, what keeps him motivated in his 12th NFL season. It's what has brought him to Arizona, anxious to show he shouldn't have been unceremoniously dumped by the Dolphins in the offseason.
"Pride is about my legacy," Porter said. "I don't want to be a player that, when it is all done, they are like, 'You know, he was good for the first 10 or 12 years and then he just fell off.'
"When I leave the game, I want it to be on my terms. Where I don't think I can play at the high level, so I decide to shut it down. Not where they decide I don't have it no more and they cut me. Every day I come out here, pride plays a big role, because pride won't allow me to play mediocre."
Porter is a Cardinal because he was needed. He was needed by a coaching staff that was looking for a dynamic outside pass rusher, something missing in recent seasons. He was needed by defensive veterans like Darnell Dockett and Adrian Wilson who were stinging after cohorts Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle skipped town in free agency. He was needed by a transitioning roster that could use Porter's simmering intensity and penchant for saying things without holding back.
Porter needed the Cardinals too. He needed to be reunited with coaches and players he had once been with in Pittsburgh that understood how he operated. And he needed to be needed, to have a team embrace him as a key component one more time.
At 33, Porter knows he doesn't have a lot of seasons left. He just wants a little time to show this season isn't his expiration date.
He had a career-high 17.5 sacks two years ago, and even last year – when he fell out of favor with the Dolphins – he had nine sacks, which would have led the Cardinals. With youth behind him (Cody Brown, the injured O'Brien Schofield), the Cards would like Porter to be able to bridge the gap for a couple of seasons until their draft picks are ready.
"There are a lot of things he brings to the table besides just sacks," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "Joey wants sacks, and there is no question about that, and I want Joey to have sacks. But I think that won't be the determining factor in how we measure him in the season. Sometimes he is going to have to take on the pulling guard and force the run back inside. He'll have to contribute to our scheme, maybe picking for Calais Campbell or Darnell Dockett on a stunt.
"But to be clear, I do want him to have as many sacks as possible."
Porter is also the guy who bellowed at Brown at a practice earlier in camp, angry Brown let tight end Stephen Spach grab his face mask without enough retaliation. Aside from his production, he meshes well with Dockett and Wilson to bring an edge to the defense.
Whisenhunt also knows Porter well enough to want Porter to become the role model for the young players that will eventually replace him.
"You can tell Joey loves to play the game of football and he loves his teammates," rookie linebacker Daryl Washington said. "Just a great guy in the locker room, a great guy to look up to, a great personality. He is one of those motivators, gets you ready even for a practice."
That's why Porter wanted to come to Arizona. There was a trust the Cardinals wanted him to be the player he always was, the player who starred in Pittsburgh (and was crushed when the Steelers didn't bring him back in 2007).
Porter went through two coaches in three years in Miami, and while he was a Pro Bowler in 2008, his playing time dwindled last season.
"I guess how I play, how vocal I am in the locker room, with what the coaches wanted me to do, Miami's mindset was, 'We don't really want a strong personality in the locker room,' " Porter said. "I don't know if they didn't think I was leading them in the right direction or whatever the case may be, but they cut me, and I was fine with that because it was clear I wasn't one of their guys.
"(The Cardinals) knew I'd be one of the best teammates you could have, no matter the picture painted of me with other teams. It didn't matter to Whiz because he knew the real me."
Fellow linebacker and close friend Clark Haggans said Porter "embraces" the questions swirling around him. Porter insists he'd step aside if one of the younger players beats him out, although he doesn't think that'll happen. Not yet.
He's too proud to allow that to play out.
"You read the papers and the web sites and they all say the question everyone wants to know is, 'Does he still have it?' " Porter said. "My key thing is, I don't know when I lost it. That's another year I have to prove it -- to them, to the coaching staff, to the fans of Arizona and most of all, myself."
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