Where Are They Now? Super Bowl Hero Tracy Porter Putting His Life Back Together

Dan PompeiNFL ColumnistFebruary 1, 2019

New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter (22) reacts after scoring on a 74-yard interception during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl XLIV football game in Miami, Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

In the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLIV, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne ran a slant pattern. New Orleans Saints cornerback Tracy Porter broke hard on the pass from Peyton Manning, almost as if he had been in the Colts' huddle before the play.

From that moment on, life never would be the same for Porter, who was only 22 years old at the time.

There would be confetti and cash falling from the heavens. There would be a street named after him. There would be a football scandal, and then a look at Manning from a different perspective. There would be five teams in five seasons. There would be dizziness, a racing heartbeat and an arrest.

Above all, there would be a title that can be etched onto his headstone one day: Super Bowl hero.

It was unimaginable for Porter, who grew up about an hour-and-a-half drive from the Louisiana Superdome rooting for Saints like Deuce McAllister and Joe Horn. At Port Allen High School, he was a quarterback, running back and wide receiver in addition to being a cornerback. He played basketball and ran track, too.

At Indiana, he had 16 career interceptions and was voted second-team All-Big Ten in 2007. At the 2008 scouting combine, he ran a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash. The Saints selected him in the second round of the draft that year.


Editor's note: This is the fifth installment in B/R's "Where Are They Now?" series, which profiles some former NFL postseason greats, their historic moments and what they're doing now.

Part 1: Freddie Mitchell

Part 2: Willie Roaf

Part 3: James Harrison

Part 4: Jacoby Jones

Part 5: Tracy Porter

Part 6: Mike Jones (2/2)


He became a starter as a rookie, but he lasted only five games before a dislocated wrist ended his season. His sophomore campaign was a different story.

During the 2009 regular season, he intercepted four passes and forced two fumbles. In the fourth quarter of the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings, he intercepted Brett Favre as Minnesota was driving for a game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter, which sent the game into overtime.

Porter after his game-saving play in the NFC Championship.
Porter after his game-saving play in the NFC Championship.Bill Haber/Associated Press/Associated Press

The Saints won, and during the run-up to the Super Bowl, Porter was a main attraction. He still remembers the week as if it happened yesterday.

"We landed [in South Florida] on Monday, and on Tuesday, the entire secondary watched film together," he says. "We were a close-knit group, and we wanted to put in the extra work because we knew what we were up against, going up against one of the greatest quarterbacks to play the game. We grabbed a couple of blankets and a couple of pizzas and broke down the film. We kept seeing this route combination they liked to run on third down. One of the veterans, Pierson Prioleau, said we saw it so much that if one of our guys don't pick this off, we don't deserve to win. That kind of stuck with me a little bit."

That Sunday, the Saints took a 24-17 lead on a touchdown pass from Drew Brees to Jeremy Shockey and a two-point conversion with 5:42 remaining in the game. But the Colts responded by driving to the Saints' 31-yard line with less than four minutes left.  

During a delay, Priouleau told Porter they were at a critical moment, facing a 3rd-and-5.

"We get a turnover or a pick-six here, and I'll carry you off the field," Priouleau told him.

Porter figured it was a veteran move, trying to relieve the pressure by getting a laugh.

When the Colts came to the line on the next play and wide receiver Austin Collie went in motion, Porter and safety Malcolm Jenkins made eye contact. That route combination they had seen over and over again was coming, and they knew it.

"We knew if we made hand signals, Peyton would see it and potentially audible, so we just looked at each other and nodded," Porter says. "He ran a slant across my face, I read it and made the break, made the interception. And 74 yards later, I'm in the end zone. The rest is history."

Peyton releasing the historic pass that winds up in the arms of Porter.
Peyton releasing the historic pass that winds up in the arms of Porter.Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The play put away the game, ensuring the Saints would win their only Lombardi Trophy to date.

"The high was euphoric," Porter says. "Words can't even describe the feeling of holding up that trophy. Outside of my kids being born, there was no greater feeling."

Porter has a photo of himself and his daughter, Samari, with confetti falling on the field after the game. She was a little over one year old at the time.  Another daughter, Synai, came along almost four years later.

There was a parade in downtown New Orleans. Parade organizer Barry Kern estimated there were 800,000 people in attendance, according to NBC Sports, and it was wilder than Mardi Gras.

New Orleans threw an epic party to celebrate the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV victory.
New Orleans threw an epic party to celebrate the Saints' Super Bowl XLIV victory.Patrick Semansky/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press

Then there was another parade in Porter's hometown for him and teammate Randall Gay, who is from neighboring Brusly. As Porter drove in on Interstate 10 for the parade, he was caught in complete gridlock on the Horace Wilkinson Bridge that feeds into Port Allen. Thousands of Louisianians had come to his hometown to celebrate.

Faced with the possibility of missing his own parade, Porter had to call for a police escort to get him through the crowd.

"I was in awe," he says. "I was in shock. It shows what the Saints mean to that area."

They said Porter put Port Allen on the map, so Port Allen, in turn, put Porter on the map—literally. It changed the name of Village Street to Tracy Porter Street.

He was in high demand for appearances. In the first two weeks, he made around $100,000. He's not sure how much more he made after that, but it was a lot.  

At those appearances, there were some unusual requests. One kid came in wearing white gloves and carrying a PlayStation 3. He wanted Porter to sign it, but he didn't want any fingerprints on it. A man asked Porter to autograph his leg. He said he was going straight to the tattoo parlor to have the signature outlined in indelible ink. And then there was the baby he signed.

While New Orleans partied, the NFL began investigating allegations that Saints coaches were offering cash rewards to defensive players who injured opponents. In March 2012, the league announced it had obtained irrefutable proof of a bounty program dating back to 2009. The Bountygate scandal resulted in suspensions, a fine and a forfeiture of draft picks.

Porter remembers all of it.

"We could spend years debating it, going back and forth, he said, she said, you say, he say," he says. "But at the end of the day, we know what happened. Football is a physical sport. We're not out there playing two-hand touch. No one is out there to intentionally harm anyone. That's never the goal. To say that's what we did, I could never stand for that."

In the two years after the Super Bowl, Porter dealt with injuries and didn't play up to the standard he set in 2009. He became a free agent after the 2011 season, and his best option was to sign a one-year, $4 million deal with the Broncos. It wasn't easy leaving New Orleans because of his emotional ties to the city, the fans and the team, but he understood football was his business.

Porter and Peyton Manning became teammates during No. 22's only year in Denver.
Porter and Peyton Manning became teammates during No. 22's only year in Denver.Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

He showed up in Englewood, Colorado, in March before players reported for workouts. But one player was already there in the gym—Manning.  

They had something they could have talked a long time about, a shared experience that meant a great deal to both. Whatever thoughts each had about the interception would be left unsaid.

"We just looked at each other and had the head nod," Porter says. "We were there to win another championship, not to reminisce about the past."

In the season opener, Porter returned an interception of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for a touchdown and was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week. For a moment, it was like the 2009 season all over again. But then opponents started throwing his way more and more. He gave up two touchdowns in a game against the Texans.  

Seizures, dizziness and a racing heartbeat led to his missing 10 games. The cause was not determined, and the problems went away. But his season was lost, and he would be moving on when it ended.

He would spend one year in Oakland, where his old position coach in New Orleans, Dennis Allen, was head coach. Then he spent one injury-plagued year in Washington and two years in Chicago.

In the spring of 2017, the Bears released Porter, and he hasn't played in the NFL since.

In October 2017, he was arrested in Baton Rouge "for allegedly pushing and grabbing his dating partner around the neck and face during an argument," according to a police report obtained by the Advocate. A search of his car turned up a 9mm firearm, a narcotics grinder and one ounce of marijuana. He was charged with possession of Schedule II drugs with intent to distribute, possession of a firearm and controlled dangerous substances, possession of drug paraphernalia, possession of marijuana and battery of a dating partner.

According to the Advocate, the case has no paper trail within the court record, and East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar C. Moore III said he couldn't comment on how it was resolved. The absence of public information could indicate, among other things, that Porter's record has been expunged, meaning it was sealed or erased.

"Everyone makes mistakes," Porter says. "But I will never be guilty of assaulting a woman because that's not what I do. The other things [possession of firearms and drugs] are on me. You live and learn."

Porter never intended to retire. At 32, he believes he still has some good football left in him. But between his troubles with the law and his knee issues, Porter has had no NFL suitors since the Bears released him.

Even if he never plays again, Tracy Porter has quite the lasting legacy as a Super Bowl hero.
Even if he never plays again, Tracy Porter has quite the lasting legacy as a Super Bowl hero.Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press/Associated Press

His knee is better now, and he's training in California and Baton Rouge, where he still lives. His goals this year are to get back into the NFL and to hold at least one charity event every month with his Phresh Start Foundation, which "seeks to help children improve and enhance their lives through education, sports and philanthropy," according to its website.

He gets frequent questions about his life-changing interception and never is bothered by them. Porter still cheers for his Saints and still marvels at Brees.

"I'm still close to some of the guys, Coach [Sean] Payton, Coach Allen [now the Saints defensive coordinator], some of the people in the front office," he says. "There's no salt in the wounds. I still love the Saints to this day, and hopefully they still love me."

               

Dan Pompei covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @danpompei.

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