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Clinton Portis and Mike Shanahan might have won Super Bowls together

Clinton Portis and Mike Shanahan

Clinton Portis, the man, the myth, the legend, retires from the NFL today at Redskins Park. He retires as a Redskins player. He retires with Mike Shanahan as the coach that both launched and ended his career. Ironic!

Sporting News cover with Clinton Portis
Portis on one of Hog Heaven’s favorite football players, not just favorite Redskins player…favorite football player. I’ve loved the guy since his rookie season when I discovered him as a free agent three games into the 2002 fantasy season. My team, Tony’s Ponies, contended for the fantasy bowl, thanks to CP. I drafted in the following season and was a near miss to make the fantasy playoffs.

I don’t have the fantasy values from then (Who knew fantasy records would have historic significance?), but in real games, Portis rushed for 3,099 yards and 29 rushing touchdowns for Shanahan and the Broncos.

Then, like Maurice Jones-Drew today, Portis wanted a new contract. Like the Jaguars, the Broncos did not want to give it to him. Both Portis and Shanahan suffered for that deal.

Shanahan was rebuilding the Broncos for another Super Bowl run, and he bought into his own hype that his system made running backs successful. What he needed was a shutdown corner to complete the pieces. Portis believed his gaudy performance would transfer to any coaching scheme.

Mike Shanahan, meet Joe Gibbs and Dan Snyder. Everyone in the NFL, except Mr. Snyder, could see the big “SUCKER” label imprinted on Snyder’s forehead.

Snyder had a problem, too. He had two ultimate shutdown corners on the roster – ageless Darrell Green and the incomparable Champ Bailey. By 2004, Snyder had already shown that he did not value Green. Deion Sanders had already come and gone. Bailey did not care for the way Snyder was running the team and made plain that he would not re-sign with the Redskins for any amount of money, even with Gibbs as head coach.

Gibbs gained value for value by trading Bailey to Denver for Portis. Because everyone knew Snyder could be played, Shanahan insisted that Washington throw in Draft picks to seal the deal. But, I digress.

Portis would become the second leading ground gainer in Redskins history while scoring 46 touchdowns along the way. He caught three touchdown passes and he has a 116 QB passer rating (6 attempts, 3 completions, 3 TD passes).

But those gaudy numbers did not follow. Gibbs’ Downfield Offense called for straight ahead rushing behind a muscular line. Shanahan’s West Coast Offense featured Portis as an edge rusher with cut back ability behind a quick, mobile line. Gibbs was all about power. Shanahan was all for movement.

Here’s the punch line. Bailey made seven Pro Bowls since 2004. He was a three-time first team All Pro from 2004 to 2006. Shanahan’s 2005 Broncos went 13-3 and challenged for the conference title before falling to the Steelers.

Portis had his best year with Washington in 2005 when he rushed for 1,516 yards and 11 touchdowns. Shanahan did not make the Super Bowl with Bailey. He might have with the year Portis had in 2005.

Gibbs learned that run-first offenses did not work in the new millennium as it did in the 1980s. Portis twice powered the ‘Skins to the playoffs for their highest achievements of the Snyder era, but he had no chance to make a Super Bowl without Shanahan’s offense.

I wonder if Portis and Shanahan will think about that this afternoon when they say good-bye.

There are two morals here. For veteran players, it is that the grass is not always greener on another field. For owners and quite a few fans, it is that trade and free agent talent transfers, but performance does not necessarily follow unless the new team uses the player exactly as the were used before.

Fare thee well, Clinton Portis. Thank you for everything.