Porter Update, Wrong Place - Wrong Time

With their regular season opener against the Baltimore Ravens now less than a week away, the Steelers received some very bad news when the team learned Pro Bowl linebacker Joey Porter was injured in a shooting that injured six people outside of a Denver sports bar early Sunday morning.

One of the shooting victims, 28-year-old Christopher Wilford, died. Porter, meanwhile, was listed in serious condition with a gunshot wound to his left buttock. The bullet is lodged in Porter's thigh.

"Joey was an innocent bystander hit by a stray bullet from a drive-by shooting," said Steelers head coach Bill Cowher. "This being a homicide, I can not disclose any more information at this time.

"All the tests are being done and at this time it looks as though the bullet did not hit any vital organs. He is resting comfortably in the hospital and we are in the process, barring any setbacks, of trying to fly him back here (Monday). At that point we will do further tests and further information will be available as we get it."

After playing their preseason finale Friday night against Carolina, Steelers players were given Saturday and Sunday off. They were to return to work Monday morning to begin preparations for their Sept. 7 regular-season opener at Heinz Field against Baltimore.

The incident occurred around 1:45 a.m. at the All Sports Bar & Grill at in downtown Denver, according to Denver police. Porter and the other people injured were walking to their vehicles in a parking lot when the shooting began.

Denver police are searching for the shooter and no weapon has been recovered.

"He was an innocent bystander. There was no confrontation or altercation that we know of at this time," said Denver police spokesman Sonny Jackson.

Porter, the Steelers' defensive MVP last season after leading or tying for the team lead in tackles, sacks and interceptions, was extremely upset over the incident.

"He is doing as well as can be expected," Cowher said. "He feels like he let the football team down. He was very emotional at the time. I talked to him and his wife. He begged me not to put him on (injured reserve)."

Players placed on the NFL's injured reserve list are out for the season. While Porter should be able to return at some point this season, it is not yet known when that would be.

Ironically, it will be Haggans who takes Porter's place in the starting lineup.

"We're a family," said Cowher. "Any time something like this hits your family – I know Joey won't want this to be a distraction and I don't think it will be. If anything this will draw us closer together. I think that's how you should respond as a family. Him being an integral part of that, that's the type of effect it will have on our team. Joey's going to be back. He'll be fine. He's a special guy. He'll be back.

"He is a lucky young man. That is the perspective we have to have at this time."

Porter, a third-round draft pick in 1998, became the first player since sacks became an official statistic in 1982 to have nine sacks and four interceptions in the same season.

Considered one of the league's best all-around linebackers, Porter also had two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles. Against Oakland in the second game of 2002, Porter made 10 solo tackles, had three sacks and intercepted two passes, earning him to AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Dale Lolley

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