Redskins' Portis Has Always Had Plenty on His Mind

As a kid, Clinton Portis looked up to his older brother, Gary Hampton, but knew better than to follow in his footsteps. Now Portis finds himself an NFL star and his brother's keeper.
MAP: Laurel, Mississippi
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 14, 2008

W hen the days end and Clinton Portis climbs into his car at Redskins Park -- which, depending on the season or the day of the week or his mood, could be the Maserati or the Bentley or the Maybach, and don't think the choices stop there -- he winds his way back through the woods and up the driveway to his seven-bedroom mansion tucked into the Northern Virginia suburbs. Whether he has practiced or not, whether he has commented on the state of his health or his team or his coaching staff, he is in a cocoon there. "My home," he said last week, leaning on the back of the gold sectional couch that dominates his living room.

His mother, Rhonnel Hearn, may have cooked dinner if Clinton wasn't tending to the task himself, pork chops or catfish or fried chicken or all of the above. His baby son, born this offseason to Portis and his girlfriend, may be crying upstairs or preparing to wake him in the middle of the night. And his big brother, Gary Hampton, may be there to take it all in, the flat-screen television above the fireplace, the pool table. Portis has enjoyed such amenities all his adult life, but they are still new, still fresh to Hampton.

The superficial stuff about Portis is easy to grasp. People know about the 5,876 yards he has gained for the Washington Redskins, a total exceeded in franchise history only by John Riggins, the Hall of Famer. They know about the roughly $20 million he is guaranteed from the Redskins by the time his contract is up, after the 2010 season. They know what happens when he has something on his mind.

"I say it," he said, and that might be criticizing his offensive line in September and then praising it a few victories later, or this week delivering a crushing assessment of his rookie head coach on "The John Thompson Show." He seethed about playing sparingly in the second half of last Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens and responded on the radio by sarcastically calling Coach Jim Zorn a "genius." It was Portis at his most combative and competitive. The target happened to be Zorn, but depending on how he's feeling about the team's performance, it could have been anyone.

The Redskins' season, featuring four losses in five games, is crumbling, and if they don't beat the Cincinnati Bengals today, they have little hope of reaching the playoffs. The 27-year-old man who could carry them there looked neither like workhorse back nor lightning rod Wednesday night, wearing black slippers, sweatpants and only a white T-shirt over his rounded shoulders, mumbling only a word or two as his family buzzed around him.

He had just endured the scrutiny that followed his incendiary comments, a meeting with reporters at Redskins Park in which the questions basically boiled down to: Are you on board? It is, Portis believes, a simple question about a complex issue, and there is likely no more complex Redskin than Clinton Earl Portis.

"People don't understand," Portis said. "People don't know. Everybody's opinions is their opinions. People don't know whole stories about a life."

People don't know that by the time Gary Hampton saw his brother play in an NFL game, in September against the New Orleans Saints at FedEx Field, he was 38. They don't know that when Portis scored the first of his two touchdowns that day and faced the front row of the stands in the west end zone, the kiss he blew was not only to his mother, but to his big brother, the first post-touchdown buss Hampton had ever received.

And people certainly don't know that later that evening, Gary Hampton returned from watching Portis play, entered his new home, the one owned by his brother, walked back into his new room, stepped into the adjacent bathroom and shut the door behind him. People don't know that when he did, he cried.

An Understanding of the Life

Clinton Portis saw all of it when he was 9, maybe 10. His mother worked at an electrical transformer plant from 6 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon, so Rhonnel Hearn's house in Laurel, Miss., was open for business whether Hearn endorsed it or not. Everyone knew that by 2:15 p.m., she'd be pulling her car back in the driveway, blaring her horn.

When his mother was away, Clinton would see the mounds on the kitchen table. Flour, he figured, in one pile. Sugar, he figured, in another. "Don't touch it," his older brother would say. It was nothing to see guns. Assault rifles. Pistols stuck in the bushes. Portis's eyes widen at the thought, even now.

"I had an understanding of it," Portis said. "I knew exactly what was going on."

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