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OWINGS MILLS — Joey Porter embraces his personal reputation as a dastardly villain, labeling it as a measure of extreme respect.
Call the Pittsburgh Steelersâ€™ hard-hitting All-Pro outside linebacker a dirty football player. Call him a cruel, vicious outlaw who straddles the NFL code of conduct. All Porter asks is just donâ€™t render him irrelevant by ignoring him with a lack of jeers Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
â€œIf theyâ€™re not calling you names then you havenâ€™t got the respect,â€ said Porter, the fifth-ranked pass rusher in Steelers history with 57 Â½ career sacks. â€œI know the respect we have in Baltimore because it never stops towards me. Thatâ€™s a good thing, I look forward to it.
â€œCincinnati, Baltimore and Cleveland are definitely stadiums I look forward to going to because they donâ€™t like me when I walk into the stadium. Itâ€™s because of my actions, how I play the game, and how I carry myself. Iâ€™m one of those players that they love to hate, but really wouldnâ€™t mind me being on their team.â€
In the fierce rivalry between the Steelers (4-6) and the Ravens (8-2), Porter is probably the ultimate remaining symbol of the past vitriol in a series traditionally defined by fierce hits, high stakes and trash-talking.
Porter is one of the few combatants who still engages in verbal assaults. Itâ€™s been a few years since Baltimore displayed much public bitterness toward the Steelers.
At least nothing that rose to the level of former Ravens cornerback James Trapp stomping on former Steelers receiver Plaxico Burress in a fight four years ago, or Burress comedically being labeled as â€œPlexiglasâ€ by Shannon Sharpe.
Itâ€™s been two years since Porter roughly shoved Ravens tight end Todd Heap to the ground after Heap limped to the line of scrimmage with a severely sprained ankle during a clock-killing spike, an action that the Ravens labeled as classless at the time.
"Porter is an [expletive]," cornerback Chris McAlister said at the time. "That’s the bottom line. There’s no reason for anyone to take a cheap shot like that."
However, the Ravens declined to escalate the situation when asked about the controversial linebacker Wednesday.
â€œSometimes, you just ignore Joey,â€ Heap said. â€œHe likes to talk. Sometimes, I donâ€™t even know what heâ€™s saying out there. Thatâ€™s him. Thatâ€™s his style of play.
â€œItâ€™s definitely not my style of play. I like to go out and just play on the field and get the job done. So, Iâ€™ll let Joey talk and Iâ€™ll do some playing.â€
Naturally, Porterâ€™s version of events differs considerably. He regards what happened as not a big deal whatsoever.
â€œThis is football,â€ Porter said. â€œLook at how hard I pushed him before passing judgment on it. What if he came up there and heâ€™s running a fake like heâ€™s limping and then scores a touchdown because heâ€™s acting like heâ€™s hurt?
â€œI pushed him. I didnâ€™t hit him with my elbow. I didnâ€™t maul him to the ground. If he would have had two ankles, if he was not hurt, that push wouldnâ€™t have bothered him. Thatâ€™s something theyâ€™re going to make a bigger deal out of it because of who I am and the rivalry.â€
In a poll of 361 NFL players conducted by Sports Illustrated this summer, Porter was voted the second-dirtiest player in the league by his peers behind New England Patriots safety Rodney Harrison.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t bother me because you canâ€™t see anything that I did dirty, nothing,â€ said Porter, who spat on and fought with Cleveland Browns running William Green two years ago and was ejected. â€œI havenâ€™t seen myself doing anything illegal or anything dirty to anybody.
â€œItâ€™s just part of a rap sheet that you get, more my mouth than anything. They try to take what I say and flip it.â€
A native of Bakersfield, Calif., who grew up in a crime-ridden neighborhood plagued by gangs, Porter was a victim in a 2003 shooting outside a bar following the Colorado-Colorado State football game. Porter was shot in the left buttock with the bullet lodging in his right thigh. The incident prevented him from playing in the Ravensâ€™ season-opening loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field the following week.
A verbal dispute between Porter and Baltimore middle linebacker Ray Lewis escalated into a heated argument that erupted near the Ravensâ€™ team bus with cooler heads prevailing and no punches being thrown.
Porter accused Lewis of mocking him by imitating his trademark boot motion after a tackle. Lewis said he merely told Porter that he was in his prayers following the shooting.
Since that confrontation, Porter claims heâ€™s made peace with Lewis and accepts accountability for what transpired.
â€œItâ€™s been over with,â€ he said. â€œHe spoke to me during the Super Bowl, at the Pro Bowl , stuff like that. It was just me being young at the time when it happened. Itâ€™s not like he did a whole lot to really get me going, but this was just part of the dislike for each other with the teams.
â€œItâ€™s the mentality I have to have and I know itâ€™s the mentality he has to have. Thatâ€™s just how the game has to be played.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland