I don’t think I’ve made any secret of the fact that I loved Clinton Portis’s costumes, his ridiculous press conferences, his “Portis Pockets Straight” and “53 Packages” quotes, even as other media members tired of them. The not practicing thing I could have lived without, but I think sports can get a good bit of life and verve from athletes with amusing personalities, as long as such personalities don’t get in the way of teamwork and results.
Not everyone agreed. Portis has implied several times over the years that he stopped doing the wacky personality bit because of media criticism and scrutiny, but I’ve never heard him expand on that thought as much as he did this week during an interview with Jim Rome. The radio host asked the former Redskins running back whether he’d be able to find a team that would embrace him for being who he is, allowing the characters to come back. Then this.
“I would love to, but it would have to be on the coach, it would have to be in an organization that let the players be themselves,” Portis said. “You know, I think so much is going on within the Redskins organization, where the individuality was being taken away. You know, if you look around, you’ll never see a billboard of a player for the Redskins. I think Donovan might have had the first one last year. They really don’t promote individuality. I think two years ago was the first time we started Pro Bowl balloting.
“So it’s just going to an organization that wants to see players go out and use their personality and be themselves and still bring it to the field and participate and give everything they can. That’s the kind of organization I want to end up in; i.e, perfect example is the Jets. You know, I think everybody on the Jets has fun. If you look at those guys, they’re flying around, they’re having fun. You look at the Packers, they were having fun. I don’t think you can take away the fun and the individuality in players and expect to get their all.”
Rome, being a wise host, extended the segment past what was supposed to be the last question, asking Portis whether it’s tough to be in a league that stresses conformity to such a degree.
“It is, and I think that takes a lot away from the NFL,” he said. “You look in the early days: you look when T.O. was T.O. and Chad Johnson was Chad Johnson and myself, those personalities. You can’t cover a personality and expect players to play the same. I don’t think if you had Deion Sanders on your team and you told Deion he can’t showboat or he can’t do anything, that the plays that he made are the same.
“I think that brings so much excitement to a team, that brings so much into a locker room. Of course you’re gonna always have haters, people who feel like you’re singling yourself out and you shouldn’t do that, but you can’t even celebrate as a team. You know, if you run and jump and high-five three or four of your teammates at one time, it’s a fine. There’s a lot going on that people don’t know about.
“It’s kind of hard to go out when everything is Plain Jane. And you’ve got to go out and you’re asked to do something, you’re asked to perform at the highest of levels, but after you perform, it’s kind of like you’ve got to go hug the referee, that’s the only person you can celebrate [with]. If you go throw the ball in the stands, it’s a fine. If you jump up in the sky and somebody else throw their hands up, it’s a team celebration and it’s a fine. So I think just having individuality in the game, finding a way for players to appreciate and have joy in what they’re doing is needed.”
This all started when Rome had asked Portis about his best football-playing experience, and he suggested it was the first playoff run under Joe Gibbs, when the running back had lugged a mediocre team into the postseason.
“We had some amazing times at the U, but I think my best time in the NFL was maybe 05-06 season,” Portis said. “The winning streak, sharing it with my teammates. I think me, Sean Taylor-- rest in peace — and Santana at that time had one of the most cherishable years and runs that you could find. I think if you go back to that, that’s the way a team was supposed to be. Every game was hard-fought, nobody ever gave up, we had guys such as Marcus Washington and those guys who hustled around the field, who stayed, and everybody energized each other.
“Myself, Sean and Santana, all the time we huddled up on the sideline, knowing that one of us had to spark a play or somebody had to make something happen, and it happened....That was one of the most memorable seasons that I’ve ever been a part of.”