Defiantly Old School

By Thomas Boswell
Monday, January 2, 2006


As Joe Gibbs walked past the Redskins' bench last week at FedEx Field, running back Clinton Portis started screaming at his Hall of Fame coach. "It's 'gut' and 'power.' Do you want to win?" yelled Portis, demanding the up-the-middle, punch-in-the-nose plays he loves to run.

"Yeah, I want to win the game" said the surprised Gibbs, not accustomed to being asked by his players if he prefers to win.

"Then it's 'gut' and 'power,' " repeated the 5-foot-10, 212-pound Portis, who doesn't look like nature intended that he be used as a human battering ram.

"Okay, I got it," said Gibbs, who did as he was told.

For the last five weeks, the Redskins have been using guts and power, returning to the kind of intimidating, old-school football that defined the first Gibbs era. At the center of that transformation has been Portis, who may not look like massive John Riggins, but has pounded opponents to pulp in five straight victories that have put the Redskins back in the playoffs.

On Sunday, Gibbs chuckled at that memory of Portis demanding more of the bludgeoning runs that often defined Gibbs's teams between 1981 and 1992. Here at Lincoln Financial Field, Gibbs watched in admiration as Portis once again "powered" and "gutted" his way to 112 yards and two scores against the Eagles, including the game-deciding, 22-yard, fourth-quarter scoring run that put the Redskins ahead 24-20 and ignited an eventual 31-20 win. In the process of playing hero, Portis broke the all-time Redskins rushing record with 1,516 yards for the season, including 573 yards in 131 carries in those last five vital games.

Portis's final scoring run, on a play that began horribly but finished in the end zone, was emblematic of a Redskins game that might easily have been lost to a determined Philadelphia team that enjoyed its opportunity to play spoiler. Asked how the played was designed, Portis grinned and said: "I think that play was designed for a two-yard loss. But I was fortunate. With the spin move, [the cornerback] disappeared, and all I saw was daylight. When I got close to the goal line, I had to dive, because otherwise I was going out of bounds."

As he has done so many times this season, Portis combined raw speed, spinning agility and an acrobatic gift that allows him to gain an extra yard or two with reckless last-second leaps or twists. Above all, however, Portis brought two qualities to the Redskins that they desperately need -- passion and toughness.

"What's best about Clinton is his heart. He's a competitor from the word go," Gibbs said. "I don't know of another running back that plays the way he does when he doesn't have the ball under his arm. He's very physical. He'll pass protect and he'll try to hunt people down to get blocks for his buddies. He's very, very aggressive."

"With all the punishment that I take in a game -- they get you dirty at the bottom of the pile -- I try to return the favor," Portis said. "When I don't have the ball, I've got my chance to do the same to them."

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