The DC sports landscape is often devoid of star power, but in 2004 the Washington Redskins landed one of the premier running backs of the past decade from the Denver Broncos. Seven years later, the Clinton Portis era has come to an end as the Redskins have cut ties with the high profile running back in an effort to jumpstart a youth movement.
Portis will leave Washington with the team mired in the same uncertainty present throughout his time here. The woeful state of the franchise diminishes his individual accomplishments, but it seems fitting the Redskins were as volatile as their star player during this emotional roller coaster of a relationship.
The enigmatic yet talented Portis flew to the top of the Washington sports scene during his tenure here. He brought a vibrant presence to the Redskins as an entertainer off the field, and as a warrior on it. There was little question he established himself as the face of the franchise during his stint with the Burgundy and Gold, and with his release on Monday, he leaves a legacy which will be heavily scrutinized in the coming weeks.
The most impressive aspect of Portis' time with the Redskins is his loyalty to Joe Gibbs. Gibbs expected Portis to change his running style and the young back bought into the new system regardless of his comfort level with it. He bulked up to prepare for the bruising role Gibbs wanted him to play and abandoned the one-cut mentality he had been taught in Denver. He wasn't a great fit for Gibbs' scheme, but rather than voice his displeasure at the situation, he adapted and rushed for over 1,000 yards in three of the four years he spent with the coaching legend.
He burst out of the gate with a 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry as a Redskin, led the team to playoff berths in 2005 and 2007 and departs as Washington's second leading all-time rusher behind the great John Riggins.
While Portis managed to succeed with Gibbs, it is easy to think about what could have been. Gibbs handed him the ball 695 times in his first two seasons with the Redskins. He was never quite the same afterwards. It's no secret that Portis refused to commit to a steady workout regimen during the offseason. Preparing for football in the weight room wasn't a priority and it hampered his production.
Neither Gibbs nor his predecessor Jim Zorn could ever convince him to come to training camp in tip-top condition and as the workload wore him down, Portis found his skills eroding. The extra weight cut into his speed and injuries forced him to think twice about seeking out contact.
However, when he was at the top of his game, there weren't many better. In 2005, he posted nine 100-yard games on the ground including five straight to end the season. The Redskins won their last five games that year and made the playoffs.
His most memorable season might have been 2007. Portis and the Redskins overcame the emotional toll taken on them by the murder of Sean Taylor, winning their last four games to surge into the postseason. Portis scored twice in a Week 17 elimination contest against the Cowboys, spurring a dramatic victory to clinch a trip to Seattle. After his second touchdown, he paid tribute to his friend by revealing a Sean Taylor t-shirt under his jersey. The image of Portis flipping into the end zone after breaking two tackles is one of the lasting memories created at FedEx Field.
The entire team fell apart after a 6-2 start under Zorn in 2008, and Portis was never the same after an incredible eight game stretch that year. By the time Mike Shanahan entered the scene to reunite with him, the back was already well into the twilight of his career.
Portis was no stranger to controversy. He talked about fighting dogs during the Michael Vick saga, dressed up in ridiculous costumes, skipped practices, and publicly challenged Zorn's authority. But despite the oddities, he was a beloved figure.
Two thousand carries, a concussion and other various ailments took their toll on Portis, but no one ever questioned his passion. Few backs were willing to blow up linebackers in pass protection on one play and run the counter trey the next. He was versatile, powerful, and skilled; a complete gamer. He played on inconsistent teams who probably depended too much on him, but has still compiled 9,923 rushing yards to date.
However, when examining Portis' career in Washington, it's tough to gauge just how important a figure he is in Redskins' lore. He possessed limitless potential yet never quite reached his ceiling. I am not trying to diminish Portis' accomplishments by saying this, but injuries, a heavy workload and a lack of discipline in the offseason prevented him from being perhaps one of the greatest running backs ever.
Before I'm accused of being overly critical, remember that his dominance was short-lived. Coming from Denver, Portis had churned out two monster seasons, which he never truly duplicated in Washington. It's hard to complain about four 1,000-yard campaigns, but coming over in a trade for Champ Bailey, the NFL's best corner, Portis was widely considered the top up-and-coming running back in the league. While he was a great asset, he was ultimately a second-tier back who flamed out by 2008.
What Portis did contribute was an identity to a Redskins team who had been desperately searching for one. He was not a member of Dan Snyder's infamous list of underachieving, overpaid acquisitions. Instead he became one of Gibbs' "core Redskins" making them relevant again if even for a short time.
And considering what a commodity relevancy is these days, he will be missed.