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The Legacy of Clinton Portis

The smart money in Washington, D.C. agrees on only one thing when it comes to their Redskins – we’ve likely seen the last of running back Clinton Portis in burgundy and gold. After missing most of the 2010 season with a severe groin tear, Portis was placed on injured reserve after suffering an abdominal injury in the Redskins critical win against the Titans.

Done for the year. Again.

Given that his latest season-ending injury marks the third time in five years that Portis has failed to finish a season due to injury, and Mike Shanahan’s focus on establishing a consistent, credible running game, odds are that Clinton Portis has played his last game as a Washington Redskin.

If so, what are we all to finally make of a player who was nothing if not memorable throughout his days in D.C.?

Legacy. It’s a strange concept. There is no 'Hall of Legacies’ in Canton (or anywhere else) where the final, definitive measure of an NFL man is written. There is no official history, no final grades rendered. There is only the ethereal sense of what a given player’s career meant to a franchise, his teammates, fans, and the NFL at large. What are the words to describe a player’s entire NFL life? What will the talking heads say about a man’s career today, tomorrow, and in the years to come? How will fans remember a player like Clinton Portis? What will his legacy be?

No Redskin ever started their Redskins career with more promise than Clinton Portis. On Sunday, September 12, 2004, I watched from the stands as Portis took his first hand-off from Mark Brunell, juked past several bewildered Tampa Bay Bucs defenders, and put on the afterburners. 64 electric yards later, Portis had scored a touchdown on his first Redskins carry and made an indelible impression on every fan watching. Portis had the first of many 100 yard performances that day. That, my friends, is how you open a show!

Portis has had a hell of a career in Washington. A two-time Pro Bowler, Portis has eclipsed 1500 yards rushing for the Redskins in four of his seven seasons with the team. He has had twenty-six 100 yard rushing games during his seven seasons in D.C. And Portis is just 77 yards shy of a coveted 10,000 career yards rushing, a milestone that would put him in some prestigious company. On the field, Clinton Portis has been a gritty, tough, and shifty running back. When healthy, Portis was a game-changer for the Redskins, whether turning a small hole into a huge gain, throwing a crucial block in the backfield to spring a teammate, or throwing the halfback-option pass. At his best, he was something to behold. Simple.

But Clinton has always defied simple. As steady and reliable as he was on the field, he was sometimes inexplicably unpredictable off it. Portis fans would characterize his off-the-field antics as those 'loveable’, his critics as 'distracting’. His admirers called Portis the 'class clown’, while detractors simply deemed him 'a clown’. You just couldn’t be ambivalent when it came to 'CP’ – everyone had an opinion. The only one who never took Clinton Portis seriously was, well, Clinton Portis...

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