Porter returns

<b>PITTSBURGH –</b> Joey Porter limped into the Steelers' practice facility and stood on the sidelines as his teammates worked. It was, in the words of his friend and replacement Clark Haggans "a big deal ... he was smiling and he looked a lot better than I'd anticipated. He just looked like nothing ever happened."

Of course, something did happen. Porter was an innocent victim of what police believe to have been a gang-style shooting in which one person was killed and five others were wounded in the parking lot of a Denver nightclub.

Porter explained that he didn't know any of the other victims, that his injury is similar to a deep thigh bruise and that, perhaps most important, he'll undergo a change in his lifestyle.

"It makes you value life a little more," said the 26-year-old linebacker, husband and soon-to-be father of five.

"Just having the thoughts in my mind of not being able to see my wife and kids was scary enough to just think I could have a drink at home by myself. It is not that important. I think my night life is pretty much over. I don't see me putting my wife and kids in jeopardy, for them to go through this again for somebody else's mistake. Even though the bullet was not meant for me, it still happened. I have to take it for what it was. I can't see me letting my whole family down for something as simple as going and having a drink."

Porter and Haggans traveled to Denver to see their alma mater, Colorado State, play rival Colorado. After the game, they went to a bar which was hosting a private party for CSU alumni. Haggans couldn't talk about his participation, citing the ongoing homicide investigation, but Porter provided details of the 1:47 a.m. shooting.

"I was coming out, leaving the bar, and I really didn't get any forewarning of what was going to happen," he said. "Usually, when something like that happens there is some type of argument, a fight, or something like that. But there was really no forewarning. I just heard shots fired. After the first shot was fired, I took off running. I really did not know I was hit. I kept running. We were running in a herd of people. I was trying to get back inside the bar.

"I guess when I was hit I thought I was kicked by somebody. I thought somebody just kicked me in the rear, so I just kept running. I really didn't know I was hit until I got inside. When I got inside, I heard somebody else ask if they were hit so that made me ask if I was hit. Then I saw a lady next to me and I just pulled down my pants and asked if I was shot and she said ‘yes.' After that, the people I was there with hurried and got me to a hospital."

Porter explained that he felt he'd let his family and teammates down. His wife, Christy, is pregnant with twins and his team, at the time, was entering the week of practice leading up to its season opener against the Baltimore Ravens.

"I'm kind of like the spark plug that goes out there and gets those guys going, no matter what times we are going through," he said. "For them to see something like that happen to me is like ... for him to be down right now is kind of tough."

Porter said he's "happy, but at first I was a kind of disturbed by everybody saying I was lucky to be shot. But it truly was a blessing, considering what the bullet did miss."

The 9mm bullet hit his left buttock before lodging into his upper right thigh. It was removed last night by Steelers' surgeon Dr. James Bradley. Tuesday, Coach Bill Cowher set the range of Porter's comeback at two to eight weeks.

"What it really boils down to is how fast the wound heals," Porter said. "It cannot get to a situation where it can get infected. I think if the hole closes up pretty fast, without any infections, than they can give me a [painkilling] shot and I will be ready to go."

Jim Wexell

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