Say what you will about Clinton Portis, who officially retired from the NFL today as a Washington Redskin at one of those slightly awkward ceremonies during which faded stars officially pledge their allegiance to whatever team clearly didn’t want them anymore – and in this case, the rejection happened a year ago.
The perceived pros: He’s the team’s second all-time leading rusher; he was stubbornly rugged despite myriad injuries and he brought a dose of dazzle to a locker room that more often than not had to answer numbing questions about the dysfunction of the team.
The perceived cons: He wasn’t worth the 2004 trade that sent shut-down cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos in exchange for Portis; his off-field antics (“Jerome from Southeast,” jokingly defending Michael Vick’s dog-fighting charges) often were nothing more than a detriment to success and he tuned out then-coach Jim Zorn because he had the Big Ear of owner Dan Snyder.
The reality? In many respects, all of the above.
But Portis gave the Redskins a face, for better or for worse, that was unique in this town’s sports history.
The determined running back. The committed comedian.
And perhaps most memorable of all, the face of tragedy.
Portis’ locker was beside that of fellow former Miami Hurricane Sean Taylor. When the latter suddenly and happily had to deal with a newborn baby girl, Portis saw a change in his friend’s angry demeanor. Having also been influenced by then-coach Joe Gibbs, Portis began to slide away from the flash-and-dash persona.
But not in front of the cameras. Consider his comments today about his first meeting with Snyder.
“(A) cocky little short man and lo and behold it turned out to be Mr. Snyder.”
Snyder, sitting at a table alongside Portis, laughed heartily.
Not so in 2007, when Taylor was shot dead during a break-in at his Florida home. Portis was at the hospital within hours and was the one who relayed the news to his teammates that Taylor had died. Watching Taylor grow up had hastened Portis’ sense of maturity.
And then came the murder.
Taylor’s father, Pedro, at the time credited Portis with making the entire situation more manageable, telling this reporter that Portis did things – monetary things-- to help the immediate family that never would be forgotten. Asked about this, Portis only would offer that he did what he had to do.
But today he was frank.
“That situation did so much to me, really the game was never the same after that,” Portis said. “A lot of me left with Sean.”
Portis downplayed – and almost sheepishly so -- his various costume get-ups while he was a Redskin, and instead preferred to issue a plea.
“I hope I left an effect that Clinton Portis,” he said, “was a stand-up guy, that he gave everything he had.”
No argument here.
Skip Wood is a news reporter for WJLA.com who covered the NFL for more than 20 years. Please follow him on Twitter: @daybreakskip