- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

He had financial security, an offense centered around his Pro Bowl talent and the attention that comes with security and ability. So Clinton Portis did the natural thing during his first year with the Washington Redskins following two stellar seasons in Denver.

He relaxed.

The figurative chips on his shoulder that drove him to succeed with the University of Miami and the Broncos were suddenly gone, replaced by a sense of contentment.

What this produced was Portis’ only losing season as a collegian or pro — a 6-10 debacle that saw him score only five touchdowns in 343 rushes, average 1.7 yards below his career mark and have only one carry of more than 25 yards.

“Those chips were pretty much gone, and it did affect me,” Portis conceded. “I felt like I had arrived. I was finally getting the publicity I felt I deserved. I felt like, ‘This is it!’

“Little did I know, it wasn’t what I was looking for. It humbled me. It made me appreciate things more. It made me enjoy being around my teammates more and playing football. And it showed me I couldn’t take anything for granted.”

A driven and re-focused Portis will return to Denver on Sunday when the Redskins play the Broncos. Traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey in March 2004, Portis has yet to show the home run ability that made him a star and persuaded Joe Gibbs to deal Bailey and a second-round pick to Denver, give Portis a $50.5million contract and make him the centerpiece of the Redskins’ offense. But now, like the rest of the offense, Portis at 24 is growing into his role.

Through three games, Portis is without a touchdown in 63 carries, though his average is a solid 4.2 yards. Additionally, Portis — without prodding from the coaching staff — has assumed a leadership role that sees him more chatty with everybody at Redskin Park.

“You can tell he’s more comfortable with the guys,” running back Ladell Betts said. “He’s called a couple little meetings already this year, so he has shown he wants that kind of role.”

Portis holds no animosity toward Denver coach Mike Shanahan for not re-negotiating his contract — which preceded the trade — and didn’t circle this weekend’s game when the schedule was released. But the people around him know how much he wants to win.

“Ask any player that’s gone back to play a team that traded them — you want to show the home folks what you’re really about,” Redskins running backs coach Earnest Byner said. “It’s tough not to have some extra energy.”

Passed over twice

Steve Spurrier thought Portis would make a better defensive back than running back at Florida. And 50 players — including three backs — were deemed better than Portis in the 2002 NFL Draft.

Although Portis grew up less than 15 minutes from Florida Field in Gainesville, he quickly rejected Spurrier’s idea and went south to Miami. He scored 20 touchdowns in three seasons and rushed for 1,200 yards as a junior.

Portis left college a year early and on Draft Day had a longer than expected wait. He turned off the television early in the second round and wasn’t chosen until pick No.51.

“It was miserable,” he said. “I thought I would go to Cleveland at No.16, but they took William Green. I thought I would go to Atlanta at 18 and team up with Michael Vick, but they took T.J. Duckett. When Carolina took DeShaun Foster at the beginning of the second round, I … walked out.”

Portis entered Denver’s starting lineup in the fifth game of 2002 and never left, starting the next 25 games. He had 17 100-yard games, averaged 5.5 yards, rushed for 29 touchdowns and made the Pro Bowl in 2003.

“I pictured myself playing my whole career in Denver,” he said.

But in a whirlwind month, Portis ended up with the Redskins.

The Cliffs Notes version: A report says Portis wants a new contract and will sit out training camp. … Portis says he wants a new deal but will report to camp. … Bailey tells Redskins officials he wants out. … The Redskins and Broncos start talking. … The teams work out new contracts with the players. … The trade that brings Portis to D.C. and Bailey to Denver is officially announced March4, 2004.

Nineteen months later, Portis said he was surprised by the trade and the $63million contract Bailey received.

“Denver said they couldn’t pay me, but they paid Champ,” he added. “That’s when I realized that teams in the NFL pay outsiders just as much as they’ll pay their own guys.”

Portis left Denver initially upset that Shanahan didn’t give him a new contract but that resentment has subsided. However, it took a while for Portis’ unhappiness with the Redskins’ 2004 season to melt away.

Portis gained 1,315 yards in what Gibbs called one of the all-time great rushing seasons in team history, but the Redskins’ offense ranked 30th in the NFL and didn’t break 20 points until December. All of it was a wakeup call to Portis.

“I don’t want to get used to losing,” he said. “Having that one losing season made me take on more of a leadership role. I wanted to show that if I was willing to bust my butt and hustle and throw my body into a defensive lineman that everybody else should go the extra mile, too.

“A year like that makes you appreciate things a lot more.”

Clinton being Clinton

While Portis waits to score his first touchdown, the Redskins have stormed to a 3-0 record and the NFC East lead. When he does have that first huge game — he has 10 multi-touchdown games in his career — don’t expect him to bring out his replica WWE championship belt that he occasionally wore on the Denver sideline.

“It’s been retired,” he said. “That’s behind me, like Denver is. Something else will come out soon that you’ll see. If we keep winning, you never know what I’ll come up with.”

Last week the Redskins’ 2-0 start prompted Portis to wear racquetball-like glasses during an interview, causing safety Sean Taylor to yell, “Go mow my lawn!” But around Redskin Park, it should simply be called Clinton being Clinton.

“That guy always has something up his sleeve,” Taylor said. “Clinton’s a character. I think last year he felt he couldn’t just come to a place and demand respect and leadership. But now that he’s been here, he’s built up his role and people look up to him and he’s sharing what he can — being funny, doing comedy and having fun with things.”

For the Redskins to continue their surprising season and the fun to continue, Portis knows he has to start scoring touchdowns — he was stuffed twice inside the 2-yard line against Seattle — and reaching the end zone against his old team would be an ideal time to start.

“I’m about to go crazy — everybody is scoring except me,” he said. “I’m starting to get gray and my hair is starting to fall out. I have to get into the end zone for the team to have a lot of success.”

At the same time, last year showed Portis that if the Redskins don’t win, his personal success is irrelevant.

“Your numbers don’t mean anything when you’re not in the playoffs and not winning,” he said. “I always want to be at the top of my game and be one of the top rushers. But the playoffs are more important so whatever I can do — blocking, receiving, whatever — I want to help this team.”

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