Portis is having a very fun run

Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 3:21 a.m.
ASHBURN, Va. - Pop Warner coach Janky Spanky stood outside the Redskins locker room Thursday, an inflatable headset over his big rubber ears, diagraming a defense sure to stop unstoppable running back Clinton Portis.
"This could get me fired," he said. The secret: 13 players. Two extra Sean Taylors. "Give me 13 and Portis is stopped." What a shame the Redskins extended the contract of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams this week when they could have had Janky Spanky, an authentic coaching genius from his whistle to his way-too-tight polyester shorts.
Only the 1,000-watt smile gave away the man behind the get-up.
Welcome to Clinton Portis' much-anticipated masquerade news conference, where each week the record-setting running back introduces a costume-shop alter ego to lighten the mood at Redskins Park. With Washington on a five-game win streak, teammates demanded he keep up the act before Saturday's wild-card game at Tampa Bay.
"I kid you not, I didn't pick this outfit out on my own," said Portis, 24, who keeps a bin at his locker filled with accessories such as oversized sunglasses, a Batman mask and a pink bowler hat.
"Everybody in the locker room is probably still sitting at my locker. It's great that people get involved, because I didn't want to do this today. I really was done."
Say it ain't so, Janky Spanky. Portis, acquired from Denver for cornerback Champ Bailey in 2004 and a former Gainesville High School standout, never shies away from self-expression, even when the self he expresses is cryptic.
He has appeared this season as Southeast Jerome, a native of the District of Columbia's mean streets; Dr. Don't Know; Sheriff Gonna Gitcha; and Reverend Gonna Change, whose sermon ended the team's three-game November losing streak.
There was Inspector Two-Two with the blond pigtails, Dollar Bill with the lime-green leisure suit and Kid Bro Sweets, who had four arms and passed out candy stashed in the lining of his jacket.
"He's a funny guy and he plays good football," said Redskins receiver Santana Moss, a close friend since the two were college teammates at Miami. "That's the way he expresses himself. If he didn't do it, you wouldn't know the other side of Clinton. That's him. And no other guy can be him."
Portis' behavior might suggest he is searching for an identity, but the opposite is true. In his second season with the Redskins, Portis finally is comfortable being himself.
Right down to the orange wig. Of course, it's easy to masquerade around Redskins Park in a cape and goggles when you've just helped Washington make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Portis set a franchise single-season record with 1,516 rushing yards, including more than 100 yards in each of the final five games. His nine 100-yard games, including a 144-yard effort against the Bucs on Nov. 13, also was a team record.
"I can't count how many alter egos I've met," offensive tackle Jon Jansen said. "The only one I care about is the one that shows up on Sundays. That's the one we've had for 16 weeks. That's the guy we're hoping shows up for four more."
Portis is so comfortable in Washington, he offers Joe Gibbs his opinion on everything from personnel decisions to play calls. During a recent game, Portis told the 65-year-old Hall of Fame coach to switch to inside running plays.
"I knew what he meant," Gibbs said. "He's a student of the game. He said, 'You want to win the game?' I said, 'Yeah, I want to win the game.' He said, 'Gut and Power. Gut and Power.' "
So, Gibbs called Gut. And he called Power. And the Redskins won. "I will say this, we don't listen to him all the time or we'd be out here in our underwear," Gibbs said.
Bizarre knows no boundaries with Portis, who has been spotted cruising South Beach wearing pink capri pants. But the flamboyant Gainesville native has learned the value of limits. He even developed a staid side, choosing to spend much of the past offseason working out at the team facility in sleepy Ashburn, Va., rather than trot the globe.
Why? Gibbs asked. "It was maturity," Portis said. "At 6-10 last season, I wanted to do whatever to win. I didn't want to stay around here, but I wanted to step up my game to the next level knowing what had been placed on my plate. Now, this offseason, we've got to negotiate."
With the Redskins in the playoffs, Portis is being compared to another Gibbs workhorse - John Riggins. Their running styles differ, but their attitudes are similar.
"He gives 110 percent," quarterback Mark Brunell said of Portis. "What impresses me the most about Clinton is when he doesn't have the ball. It's when he's protecting the passer, when he's blocking for a receiver downfield. He's always going. It's very impressive. He's not the biggest guy (5-foot-11, 205 pounds), yet he plays like a big guy. He can do everything."
And, like Riggins, he can get a laugh. Gibbs, perceived as a milquetoast, enjoys Portis' flashy personality.
"If you don't have character on your football team, if you don't have guys who have a funny bone, if you don't have guys who add something to the team, it's going to be a miserable 16 weeks," Gibbs said.
"Where you draw the line is if it would hurt the football team or it's something negative about somebody else or someone trying to draw attention to themselves. With Clinton, he's having fun and enjoying it. If you do this and don't have fun, you're not going to have much of a team."
No chance of that with Portis around. Right, Janky Spanky? "I'm telling you, Gregg Williams has nothing on me," he said, raising his clipboard to diagram a blitz for television cameras. "I could have taken those Redskins to the Super Bowl. There's no way you could stop that blitz. That's all I do, come up with ideas."

Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.

Comments are currently unavailable on this article

▲ Return to Top