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Carrying Brother's Memory

Porter says his older sibling, who was murdered in Alabama two years ago, is always on his mind

January 23, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The details trickle out of Jerry Porter.

His older brother's name was Peter Gray. He was murdered on Aug. 15, 2001. It happened in Alabama. A woman cut his throat.

"She only got like 25 years or something like that," Porter told a few reporters, shaking his head. "In Alabama they've got the death penalty. I think she should have gotten it. Take a life, you lose your life -- that's what I say."

Porter, a rising star on the Oakland Raiders and the third receiver in a trio that includes Jerry Rice and Tim Brown, briefly opened up Wednesday about his brother's death, something apparently he has never done publicly. An extensive newspaper search in California and Alabama revealed no mention of the incident, only a two-sentence notation that Porter missed a day of training camp on Aug. 21 to attend his brother's funeral.

Gray was eight years older and far smaller than Porter. He stood 5 feet 8 and weighed between 140 and 150 pounds.

"When I was 16, I was already bigger than him," Porter said, smiling at the memory. "I picked him up and ran off the porch with him one time. Wasn't much he could do. I just grabbed him up and ran with him."

Porter was at training camp in Napa, relaxing in his hotel room when he got the devastating news in a call from a family friend. He kept the program from the funeral and said he thinks of his brother several times a day. Porter's teammates say his brother's death wounded him yet strengthened him.

"That was a turning point in his life, no doubt about it," Brown said. "I think he realized you have to take advantage of the situation you're in because you never know how long you'll be in it."

This has been a breakthrough season for Porter, a second-round pick in 2000 who caught one pass for six yards as a rookie. He increased that total to 19 receptions in his second season, but that pales in comparison to his numbers this season (not counting the playoffs): 51 catches for 688 yards with nine touchdowns.

More muscular than Brown or Rice, the 6-2, 220-pound Porter played all sorts of positions at West Virginia. He was a receiver, a defensive back, even an aspiring quarterback who was beaten out for the job by Marc Bulger, who now plays for the St. Louis Rams.

"Marc and I were competing for the starting quarterback job in 1997," he recalled. "I had two weeks in college before training camp to learn the whole playbook, and it didn't quite work out that way.

"But when we got a chance to play together, we were a nice pair. But ... our secondary was in shambles, so I had to go help out on defense."

The Raiders, who have had success making player conversions before, drafted him in hopes of developing a capable sidekick for Brown. Rice still played for the San Francisco 49ers at the time, and James Jett was minimally effective.

From the start, then-coach Jon Gruden and Porter clashed. Gruden thought he was too cavalier for a rookie and sarcastically nicknamed him "Chillin' " because that was the rookie's shoulder-shrugging response when Gruden would clench his teeth and growl, "How you doing?"

"I don't know what it was with him," Porter said. "He's that fiery kind of guy and I'm not that guy. You would think that the two guys would be able to coexist well, but he was trying to turn me into a fiery, rah-rah guy that feeds off the way he coaches.

"He would ask me how I'm doing and he'd expect me to say, 'Oh, great, Coach! I'm feeling great!' My response to 'How you doing?' was 'Chillin'. I'm chillin'. "

More than nonchalant, Porter was viewed as an arrogant know-it-all. And Gruden wasn't the only Raider who felt that way. Porter had some problems with older players on the team too.

"They were trying to tell me what to do, not as far as football, but they were telling me stuff like, 'Carry my pads,' or, 'Go and make sure you bring chicken for the away trips.' I couldn't just buy into it that way. And the way I said I wasn't going to do it, I guess it rubbed a whole lot of people the wrong way."

Times have changed and so has Porter. He's more humble now, something his teammates have noticed. And he's an integral part of the NFL's top-ranked passing attack. He has caught 10 passes and scored two touchdowns this postseason, pushing his team-leading total to 11 touchdowns.

Tampa Bay could have problems matching up with Porter in Sunday's Super Bowl, particularly when he lines up in the slot. He's significantly bigger than cornerback Ronde Barber, who often slides inside to cover the slot receiver, and faster than Pro Bowl safety John Lynch. Tampa Bay's third cornerback, Dwight Smith, might draw a lot of the Porter duty.

Regardless, Porter is itching to leave his mark on this Super Bowl. But he bristled when asked if he has something to prove to Gruden.

"I don't have to show Jon anything," he said. "I have to show [Raider Coach Bill] Callahan. If Jon sees it, so be it. We want to play this game and win this game."

Porter said he's just happy to be where he is, bracketed by two future Hall of Fame receivers who have helped teach him the game. Those are his brothers now, although his real brother is never too far away.

"He's always on my mind, like he's right here," he said, patting his shoulder. "I know he's watching me."

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