October 10, 2011

Some of the Hornets biggest fans happen to work right across the street from the Hive. During the winter months when the NFL and NBA regular seasons overlap, its common to see numerous New Orleans Saints players watching from the New Orleans Arena seats, fervently supporting the citys professional basketball franchise.

One familiar face youll often spot in the Hive is Saints cornerback Tracy Porter. Now in his fourth NFL season, Porter delivered arguably the most significant play in Saints franchise history, returning a Peyton Manning interception in Super Bowl XLIV for a fourth-quarter touchdown that helped seal a 31-17 victory.

Porter, who starred in football at Indiana University, initially considered playing college basketball for the famed Hoosiers, but a head-coaching change helped contribute to Porter playing football only.

I decided to just focus on football and see where it was going to take me, said Porter, whose potential hoops career was altered by then-Indiana coach Mike Davis departure to Alabama-Birmingham.

As it turned out, that decision led to an ultra-successful NFL career for Porter and a prominent role in Saints franchise history. Ive heard that you are the most frequent attendee of Hornets games among Saints players. Is it fair to say that youre the biggest basketball fan on the team?
Porter: I think so. Im one of the guys who go to a lot of games. Ive played basketball pretty much my whole life, basically from the time I could walk all the way up through high school. I love going to the games, getting a feel for the atmosphere. I can relate to (Hornets players), knowing what they go through. What kind of fan are you? Do you get vocal during games? I know some of the celebrity fans like to heckle the referees and opposing players.
Porter: [laughs] No, no, no, no, no. I dont get on the refs, because I know what they go through. They have to deal with coaches, players and fans, but in football the fans are not as close to the (playing area) as in basketball. The refs get an earful. So Id rather just sit back and enjoy the game.

I leave the (visiting NBA) players alone. Trash talk doesnt bother me, but Im just not the type to do that. I dont even do it when Im on the field! [smiles] So Im not going to do it from the stands. I read that you started playing football in high school almost by accident. What is the story behind how your gridiron career began?
Porter: One summer in high school during one of my offseason workouts for basketball, the football team happened to be in the weight room. Almost all of my friends were on the football team and had been trying to get me to come out and play. They cornered me and told me they were going to have a non-contact, 7-on-7 game, and explained that I wouldnt have to worry about getting hurt. After that, I decided to give it a shot. I enjoyed football, had fun and ended up playing that year on the team. How would you describe your basketball game? What are your strengths?
Porter: Being a smaller guy at 5-11, my speed of course is a big strength. I can handle the ball and played point guard in high school. I can see the floor. My ballhandling skills are the best asset I have. Approximately how many times have you autographed the picture of your interception against the Colts in the Super Bowl?
Porter: Id say at least 200 times. At least 200. When I do signings now, there are people who still come up to me today with that picture. Some of them even still have the copy of the newspaper, and Ill sign that for them. They usually say theyre going to run out and get it framed right away.

AP Photo

Chris Graythen/Getty Images What has your experience been like in terms of interacting with New Orleans fans?
Porter: Man, this is a unique fan base. They are extremely passionate about their professional teams. They take it personally, whether you win or lose. They hold us to a high standard, just as we hold ourselves to a high standard. Theyre not the kind of fans who, if we are losing in a game, will leave the stands early. Theyre still going to hang in and cheer for us, push us.

Its a unique relationship that we have. Thats why we dont have any problems when it comes to doing things in the community, or giving back by talking to kids in schools. They support us. I can speak for some of the guys and say that we enjoy being around them just as much as they enjoy being around us. You are also known for your creative haircuts. Some of the unique themes have included a nod to Pac-Man, one that included the Superdome, another with Stewie from the TV show Family Guy. Do you have any new ones planned for this season?
Porter: Im not sure. I usually like to unveil them on gameday (instead of announcing them in advance). Should I do one this season, I think Im going to go on Twitter and ask fans which design theyd like to see. Id like to see what they can come up with. Given that youre from Port Allen, near Baton Rouge, were you a Saints fan as a kid?
Porter: Absolutely. All the way back to when the fans were wearing bags over their heads. [smiles] They were known as the Aints back then. Besides Jimmy Graham who played four years in college at Miami whos the best basketball player on the Saints?
Porter: You mean after me? [laughs] Id say the guys in here who are the best athletes on the basketball court are Robert Meachem and Marques Colston. Both of those guys can play. Whos the worst? Jimmy Graham picked Jonathan Vilma.
Porter: [scanning around the locker room] OK, let me think about this. I would say its possibly Garrett Hartley. [laughs]

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