Steelers linebacker Joey Porter should have stuck with "Huckleberry."
That's what he called Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. after the teams played Nov. 19. It was not a term of endearment by any interpretation. But it was a thousand times better than what Porter called Winslow after Winslow took a cheap shot at Steelers linebacker James Farrior late in Steelers' 27-7 victory Thursday night.
"I have no respect for that guy. He's a [slur]," Porter said into the television cameras, using an insulting term that describes a person's sexual orientation.
"He's soft, man, he's soft."
Even for Porter, that was way over the edge.
He didn't just embarrass himself.
He embarrassed the Steelers.
Bill Cowher is expected to meet with Porter today to discuss exactly that when the players report back to work at the team's South Side headquarters. He called Porter's comments "inappropriate" during his weekly news conference yesterday.
Porter is expected to apologize today or tomorrow when he meets with the local media, if not at Cowher's urging, then at his agents'. His representatives figure to go into full damage control mode over this. They have Porter's image to rescue. There are potential marketing opportunities at stake. Even the NFL's most-feared man -- as some have called Porter -- has to be careful about what lines he crosses.
The NFL could weigh in later in the week with a fine for Porter. It should be a whopper.
Forget that we live in a P.C. world. That's not the point here, although Porter's slur was just as offensive to a certain group of people as the use of the n-word would be to another group.
This is more about business. Porter has made millions from the Steelers and the NFL. He, like any player, coach, team official or league official, has to realize who makes all that jack possible. People from every race, religion, ethnic background and sexual orientation buy NFL tickets and merchandise. It's pretty stupid to use a derogatory term that's insulting to any group.
Actually, Porter used it twice the other night.
Shame on him.
This isn't the first time Porter and Winslow have had words. Before the first game in Cleveland this season, the two exchanged trash talk as the teams warmed up. "It was good. I need that. It got my rage going," Porter said afterward. "I know I've got my Huckleberry now."
Probably even Winslow.
Winslow took a different approach with Porter last week. He tried to shake his hand before the game only to be rebuffed. Porter wanted nothing to do with him.
Then, Winslow took a 15-yard personal foul penalty for knocking Farrior down after a fourth-quarter play, prompting outrage from many of the Steelers. Linebacker Larry Foote was among the most vocal, calling Winslow and the Browns "wannabes and never-will-bes." Porter just took it too far.
Hardly anyone laughed this time.
Certainly not Winslow.
"If he wants to be a tough guy or whatever, that's fine," Winslow told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "But that's a classless act. I see what type of guy he is now and just lost a little respect for him."
In a sense, Porter is one of the Steelers' all-time most fascinating characters.
There probably isn't a guy with a bigger heart on the team. That showed before the final regular-season game against the Detroit Lions last season when he organized a tribute to Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and moved LeBeau to tears by having the players wear LeBeau's retro No. 44 Lions jersey to the game. "The last thing you want to do is let him down," Porter said of his enormous respect for LeBeau. It also showed before Super Bowl XL when he held back the other players so Jerome Bettis could lead the team on to the field in Detroit, his hometown. "I wanted the cameras to shine on him alone," Porter said.
Those were amazing acts of kindness.
But Porter has another side. He occasionally gets caught up in the macho, most-feared-man nonsense. His trash talking is usually more humorous than annoying. "Joey will talk about your mother. He'll get personal with you and say anything," Foote has said. But, occasionally, Porter loses his grip. It happened after a game against the Baltimore Ravens in 2003 when he chased Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis to the Ravens' team bus, presumably to fight. It also happened before a game in Cleveland in '04 when he was involved in a skirmish with Browns running back William Green and was ejected.
Most regrettably, it happened last week.
This was worst of all.