Portis, who is from Gainesville, Fla., played at the University of Miami from 1999-2001. But were it not for Portis’s mother, he might have ended up playing for Ron Vanderlinden at Maryland:
“Going to Miami at the time that I went, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Portis said. “I just remember telling my mom that, you know, ‘I’m going to college, and I’m going to the University of Maryland,’ and from that point on she didn’t answer a University of Maryland football phone call. She threw away all the mail, and I walked in the house and said, ‘Did any of the coaches call?’ And she said, ‘Yeah. Miami.’ And I said, ‘That’s it? That’s the only team that called?’ She said, ‘That’s the only one that I can remember.’ ”
The Denver Broncos selected Portis midway through the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft. But when Portis met with various teams in Indianapolis at the pre-draft combine weeks earlier, he’d suggested they take him considerably earlier than that:
“I remember sitting in Indianapolis at the draft meeting, and everybody saying, ‘Well, what you bringing to the table, and where do you feel like you should be drafted?’ ” Portis said. “I told them I should be the third pick in the draft. I told them, ‘I understand David Carr to the Houston Texans. I understand Julius Peppers to the Carolina Panthers. But at No. 3, you got to trade with Detroit to get Clinton Portis, and then I will be rookie of the year.’
“And everybody looked at me like I was on drugs, which I’ve never even done before. Everybody looked at me like I was crazy, like, ‘Seriously, where do you think you should be drafted?’ I said, ‘Seriously, you should trade with the Detroit Lions and pick me No. 3.’ That didn’t happen. But the best thing that did happen was I went to the Denver Broncos.”
For those of you who were curious, no team ended up trading with the Lions for the third overall pick in that draft. Instead, the Lions selected quarterback Joey Harrington out of Oregon. In the seasons that followed, the Lions may have regretted that decision.
Portis, as you may have noticed, never lacked for confidence. Or a sense of humor. One thing he may occasionally have lacked was a sense of appropriateness. His first day of practice as a rookie with the Broncos didn’t start off so well:
“I remember the first day of practice getting in trouble because I had a feather in my” helmet, Portis said. “I got in trouble for lining up and having a bird’s feather in my helmet while I carried the ball. And I remember [former Broncos tight end] Shannon Sharpe taking the rap for it. And I clear-as-day did it. Shannon wasn’t even beside me at the moment that it happened. I remember Shannon taking the rap for it and telling coach that he had [done it]. I always appreciated that. I was 20. All I did was talk trash. That was it. They called first team backs, and I got up. [Former Broncos running back] Terrell [Davis] said, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘That’s where I’m going to be at.’”
Portis was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 after rushing for more than 1,500 yards. Following that season, Portis attended an ESPN awards banquet, where he had an amusing encounter with a man that gave him some ironic advice:
“A guy walked up and started a conversation with me about how I liked Denver,” Portis said. “And I was like, ‘It’s cool. It’s a cool place. I love playing for the organization, but I don’t feel like they want to pay me.’ And he said, ‘You don’t feel like they want to pay you?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I don’t think they’re going to pay me.’
“And he said, ‘Well don’t worry about money. Play the game the way you play it and have fun and enjoy it, and they’re going to take care of you.’ And I didn’t know who it was. He just vanished into the sunset. I just knew it was a little short man, who was cocky and had a stance like this . . .”
At that point, Portis stood with a staggered stance and stuck his chest out as far as it would go.
“. . . and lo and behold . . . ”
Portis pointed his right thumb towards Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who was sitting next to the podium.
“. . . it turns out to be Mr. Snyder.”
In 2004, the Broncos traded Portis to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey and a second round pick in that year’s NFL Draft. It took a while for Portis to warm up to some of his new teammates, but they eventually won him over:
“I remember I used to be so scared when Chris Cooley lined up in front of me, and I would look, and his legs would be shaking, and his hand wouldn’t be in the dirt,” Portis said. “And I was like, ‘Man, they got to get this H-back out of the game.’ I used to be so afraid.
“But every play I realized he gave his best, and the guys around me gave all they had. That’s all that you can ask those guys for. You can’t ask them to do anymore than they can do. And I never looked at one of my teammates as if he was taking a play off, as if he wasn’t prepared, as if he wasn’t trying to spring me, which allowed me the opportunity to go when they had the ball in their hands to try and spring them. It built a bond, and I think it was so special.”