Clinton Portis announced his retirement yesterday, ending a nine year career that saw him rush for 75 touchdowns and almost 10,000 yards. Running backs burn fast and bright in the NFL, so the fact that he played less than a decade in the league, and retired at age 30, shouldn’t be all that surprising. It feels like he should be older than that, probably because it doesn’t make sense to the brains encased in our normal, flabby bodies that a 29-year-old superhuman could be on the verge of being washed up, but that’s how it is for athletes. You’re the best until you’re not, then five minutes later you’re gone.
While Clinton Portis’s numbers were certainly good (27th all-time in rushing yards, 50th in touchdowns scored), the thing that always made him stand out for me was the fact that he was a total goof. Pro sports are full of boring cliche-spouting robots, faux-tough guys posturing like members of the military, and borderline sociopaths, so it was nice — for a while at least — to have a guy show up to a press conference in a silly wig and/or hat, and introduce himself to the world as Southeast Jerome, or Kid Bro Sweets, or Sheriff Gonna Getcha, or whatever other wild, multipart moniker zipped into his brain the night before. We take sports way too damn seriously across the board, so when we get a goof like Clinton Portis (or Rasheed Wallace in basketball, or the pre-self-aware Manny Ramirez in baseball), we shouldn’t take him for granted. If nothing else, they give ESPN something to talk about besides TebowFavreJeterTebowLeBronTebowEtc, and I think we should all take a second and thank them for that sometimes.
So here’s to Clinton Portis and all the other goofs in sports — past, present, and future. Stay weird, y’all.
I’ll leave you with these two anecdotes from Portis’s retirement speech today, via The Washington Post:
“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.’
“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.’”