Portis Shoulders an Emotional Load

By Mike Wise
Thursday, December 6, 2007

To find pictures and profiles of the eight, costumed oddballs Clinton Portis created and dressed as during the 2005 season -- everyone from Dolla Bill to Kid Bro Sweets -- an old Internet link is needed. Simply inputting the words "ClintonPortis.com" today reveals only a black screen, overlaid with a burgundy and gold ribbon and the time period 1983-2007. In the foreground is the name Sean Taylor and the number 21.

That's it. No CPTV. No Coach Janky Spanky, who "believes the only way to stop Clinton Portis is to have 2 extra Sean Taylors on the field." None of the good-natured, if bizarre, silliness that came to characterize Portis off the field and lent an air of ease to this heavily starched franchise whose fan base still yearns for the Fun Bunch.

Maybe that playfulness will return one day. But the Portis who takes the field tonight against the Chicago Bears is not that person, not since he received a knock on his Miami door at 5 a.m. last Tuesday and was told of Taylor's death.

He didn't want to believe it; no one did, least of all Taylor's best friend on the team.

"I was just in shock, emotional shock," he said. "I couldn't accept it at first. Nothin' seemed real, nothin' at all."

He composed himself and did what adults do: He helped telephone teammates, sharing sobs with them. He drove across town to comfort Sean's father, Pedro "Pete" Taylor.

Portis returned to Washington the next morning with Pete and Jackie, the woman Taylor hoped to marry, and bore his soul during a cathartic and tearful team meeting last Wednesday. Then came the game against Buffalo. Never had he played with the kind of pain he felt Sunday, knowing he would have to deliver a eulogy in Miami on Monday.

Portis used part of his eulogy to talk about his friend's spiritual journey, adding that he recently began to have more conversations with the team's pastor, the Rev. Brett Fuller, about how to "become a better person, becoming a better child, a better lover and a better friend -- and more dependable."

He wasn't C.P. at that moment; he didn't use humor as camouflage; he was simply an emotional touchtone. Portis showed his authentic self, and nothing in the wake of Taylor's death would change that. The author Russell Baker once wrote, "Eternal boyhood is the dream of a depressing percentage of American males, and the locker room is the temple where they worship arrested development."

Yet anyone who spent time in Ashburn the past 10 days understands the locker room can be transformed into a sanctuary where young men also grow up -- where brooding 26-year-olds sometimes stop worrying about having their talent "respected," or whether they carry the ball 25 times per game. Instead, some find a deeper purpose and do what is needed of them in times of crisis.

"It's a different role," he acknowledged. "For myself, when it come to being a leader, I always felt [I'd] let my playing lead for me. I'm not a vocal leader. Go and talk to [Antwaan] Randle El, go and talk to James Thrash, go and talk to people who got the vocal conversation to lead you. The vocal part of me came out outside the cameras, outside the groups and outside of this," he said, pointing to a tape recorder.

Taylor's funeral was sandwiched by two games in five days. In the past two weeks, Portis has taken six flights to and from Florida, will have played three games after tonight and gone through an ordeal in which his importance to the Redskins grew exponentially in a non-football way.

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