By Michael Wilbon
Saturday, February 4, 2006
DETROIT This just in: There was no eruption from Steelers linebacker Joey Porter on Friday. He apparently had no contact with the media, and therefore made no public threats. Nobody from Seattle or even the great Pacific Northwest offended him, to our knowledge. No Seahawks player dared suggest that they might try to play the game hard and actually win it, which would have offended and angered Porter to no end.
And depending on how you like your Super Bowl -- sensible or noisy -- this news either pleases you to no end or bores you to tears. Personally, I could do without Porter. Yes, there are folks in the media who have no interest in listening to the lunatic ramblings of a caveman. There were more worthwhile stories in 30 minutes of listening to former Super Bowl MVPs gathered here than Porter will ever produce in a lifetime. His verbal assault on Seattle's Jerramy Stevens has been, to me, more weirdly comical than anything.
But a couple of Hall of Famers and Super Bowl MVPs, John Riggins and Marcus Allen, make a compelling case that Porter is what the Super Bowl needs, which is to say "spice." Not only is there a Porter on every single team in the NFL, there's been a Porter on every team in the NFL since the beginning of time and if one doesn't emerge during Super Bowl week, then why on earth are we gathered here in the first place?
Riggins, who added his own spice to the Super Bowl 23 years ago and does so now on television and radio, said: "God love Joey Porter. He's a shot-and-a-beer crowd versus the latte crowd. This whole thing is about the sports geeks, like [Seahawks owner] Paul Allen versus the Industrial Age Steelers. It's a clash of cultures! [Porter's rant] was exactly what we need. The one thing we can't do is take the Super Bowl too seriously. I used to do that . . . [I] woke up one day and thought, 'What kind of boob am I?' No, no, no, this is entertainment."
The folks who are warmed by Porter's antics this week are reminded that there's a tradition at the Super Bowl of, well, making oneself visible.
Joe Namath's guarantee that the Jets would win Super Bowl III happened all the way back in January 1969, even if my colleagues did take three days to actually report the guarantee. And there have been various episodes of varying entertainment value. Duane Thomas once said something to the effect that, if this is the ultimate game, then why do they play it every year. Riggins once wore white tie and tails to Jack Kent Cooke's pre-Super Bowl party.
Jim McMahon did everything from offend the women of New Orleans to moon some flying object that entered the airspace over the Bears' practice field 20 years ago. Thomas "Hollywood" Henderson became more famous for what he said than what he did at Super Bowls. And my personal favorite came when Russ Grimm of the Redskins said he would run over his mother if necessary to win a Super Bowl, and the Raiders' Matt Millen said, "I'd run over Grimm's mother, too."
My problem with Porter's screed was that it wasn't clever, just loud. In case you missed it, far as Porter's voice carries, Seattle's Stevens said the whole Jerome Bettis-returns-home-to-Detroit theme was indeed a nice story, but it wouldn't have a fitting ending because Bettis wasn't going to leave with the Lombardi Trophy. Ooooh.
Porter, who had basically been told not to start any trouble, felt perfectly within his rights to join the trouble if somebody else started it.
"You are barely getting on the field in your fourth year," Porter said of Stevens. "And he got on because somebody got hurt, so I don't really respect his game or anything he talked about. I am out for anybody in [Seahawks] blue, but definitely him. I want to see how much he is going to back up his words."
And on it went for two days. Porter talked about sending Seahawks to the sideline with injuries. Blah, blah, blah. And many journalists acted as if they'd seen water after wandering for a week through the desert. Of my objections, Marcus Allen said: "Joey isn't saying anything he hasn't said all year long. The guys I didn't like talking when I played were guys who shouldn't be talking because they couldn't back it up. That stuff doesn't bother me, and it never bothered me. There are different personalities on every team. And this is who Joey Porter is. This is his personality. We always had guys who talked [on the Raiders] and it never changed my game.
"Is this blown up because it's the Super Bowl? Yes, of course it is. But talking has always been a part of the game. It should be. There's always been a degree of colorful behavior in football. I don't think his teammates really even care. They know what he says during the course of a season. And they know all the altercations he's been in."
The Riggins-Allen sentiment wasn't unanimous among the MVPs. Chuck Howley, the great Cowboys linebacker and the only MVP from a losing Super Bowl team, said: "I don't know if that goes with the game. I cringed when I heard some of it. I guess it pumps some guys up. They talk and beat their chests when they're 30 points down. I'd want to go and hide somewhere. Look, we put forth challenges in the 1960s and '70s. We had rivalries, but I still felt it was friends being friends. But now, I don't know if some of these things go with the game."
Riggins, who, of course, used to color outside the lines now and then, is about as opposite in personality as one can get from Howley. Riggins said: "Hey, it's the press's job to turn this into the WWF and go and tell the other guy exactly what he said. It's the old 'You wait until he comes into my town; I'll take his belt' sort of deal."
It's impossible to successfully argue with Riggins's assertion that pro football is entertainment, and the Super Bowl is the crown jewel of the industry. Colorful personalities have been a part of the game since its inception, and if we saw fewer of those personalities suppressed, then Porter wouldn't appear to be so radical. Riggins knows exactly who is at fault.
It didn't surprise Riggins that Porter had to bust out of the wraps put on him by his coach, Bill Cowher. "I've never met a coach yet who isn't paranoid," Riggins said. "You need to be paranoid to be a coach. I love Joe Gibbs, but he used to come down on Dexter [Manley] and me before Cowboys games. We'd be beating our chests and Joe would get that look and say, 'Some of you guys.' You don't want every football player to be sitting with his knees together and his hands in his lap. Then we'd all have to play for Tom Coughlin."