Clinton Portis on Sean Taylor: Extraordinary
Clinton Portis and Sean Taylor were stars at the University of Miami before their paths crossed again with the Washington Redskins. Portis led Miami to a National Championship in 2001, and was the the second true freshman to start at running back for Miami since the 1975 season. Portis was then drafted by the Denver Broncos where he rushed for over 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons before he was traded to the Redskins in 2004. Portis was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and was one of the best running backs to play for the revered Redskins.
Taylor was a free safety and consensus All-American for the University of Miami before he was drafted in the first round (5th overall) by the Redskins in 2004. Due to his ferocious hits, Taylor’s teammates nicknamed him “Meast,” a portmanteau word from the expression “half man, half beast,” and in 2007, Sports Illustrated named Taylor the hardest-hitting player in the NFL.
Taylor died on November 27, 2007, from critical injuries after he was shot by intruders in his Miami area home. Taylor’s tragic death left his team in tears and a league in mourning. Portis talks about his friendship with Taylor as well as what it was like dealing with the loss of his teammate and best friend.
Run to the national championship with Miami and Coach Davis:
Coach Davis was the coach that brought me to Miami and he was a great coach. It’s unfortunate that his time ended abruptly at UNC-Chapel Hill, because I thought they were going to be a national contender last year. I have the greatest respect for Coach Davis, Coach Coker and the other Miami coaches.
Coming into Miami with the class that we had and seeing where everyone is today is really something special. I came in with Andre Johnson, Ken Dorsey, Bryant McKinnie, Vernon Cary, Phillip Buchanan and Vince Wilfork in the 1999 recruiting class.
My freshmen year we competed in every game and lost to the traditional powerhouses like Florida State, Virginia Tech and Penn State at the time, but we were in every game and lost in the last couple minutes. The defining moment for us as a team was during my sophomore year when we were finally ranked in the top 5 nationally, and we took a trip out to the west coast and lost to the Washington Huskies. At that moment everyone realized that no one was going to bow down to us, no one was afraid of us, and anyone could beat us if we walked in thinking that our opponents would just back down because we were the University of Miami. After that game we never lost again. Everyone on that team made up their mind that we were not going to lose again. We were cheated out of going to the national championship game that year and ended up beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl. As a team we were upset with the BCS system because the BCS put Florida State ahead of us and we had beaten them that season. After that happened we realized that we couldn’t leave our national championship hopes in the hands of the BCS system, we had to just outright win so there could be no debate.
The chase my junior year was unreal and we had a couple of really close games but we never lost sight of the ultimate goal. It was tough but it was outstanding to be a part of that chase.
Sean came to Miami after me, and he played both running back and safety at the high school level. I remember thinking, “This kid, Sean, is tight at running back!” But Sean didn’t want to play running back- he wanted to play safety. I thought he was crazy for wanting to play safety but it turned out that he was one of the best safeties to play the game so I would say he made the right decision.
Taking about the dynamic between the older and younger players at Miami:
There was definitely a team camaraderie between the guys so I think it made for an easier transition for the younger players from high school to college. We knew Sean was a hard worker coming in and the older guys always tried to recruit the younger guys for the “track team”. We wanted them to come out, run track and participate with us to help make the transition easier and in turn they feel like part of the team.
By the time Sean came in, all we did was play basketball. In the off-season you would find our whole team in the gym playing basketball and working out to build that brotherhood.
Talking about playing for Coach Gibbs:
It was the best thing that ever happened to me. But I will say that Gibbs ran us into the ground! Coach Gibbs taught me how to become a man and to take responsibility for your actions both on and off the field. I have the greatest respect for him as a person and all the hard work and dedication that he put in- not only as a coach, but also as a mentor and friend. He would always give his honest opinion and had the ability to talk to you without being judgmental. He cared about his players more as people then he did about us winning games. Don’t get me wrong…he loved winning too. He got the best out of you when it came to football, but I think it came from how much his players respected him as a person.
I think the defining Coach Gibbs moment for me was seeing how he handled the tragedy with Sean. At that moment you realized it wasn’t about football with him, but it was about something so much bigger. We saw as a team how much his faith anchored him in all he did.
Talking about his relationship with Sean:
I kept pushing Coach Gibbs to draft Sean Taylor to the Redskins. People didn’t realize how talented and gifted Sean was because he wasn’t a media darling all the time. He was much quieter and kept to himself.
The way that Sean developed as a player and how he grew to trust Coach Gibbs was just outstanding. He never complained and always worked hard. For example, if it was hot outside then he would go outside and run in a full sweat suit, and if it was cold outside then he would come out in shorts and a t-shirt and fight through the chills. You would never hear Sean give excuses. I remember one day I came in to work out and Sean was there and was wearing jeans, flip-flops and a sweater. Sean said that he would run with me so I didn’t have to work out by myself. Sean ran 100’s with me, and as we were running he told me that he had already worked out twice that day. Sean had run with every group that came in to work out that day. He was just that kind of guy.
Sean was on his way to becoming one of the best defensive players to ever play the game. He left his mark on the league for the short time he was here, and it’s hard to imagine the player he could have become because he was that talented.
Talking about what was going through his mind when he flew down to see Sean in the hospital:
I remember getting a call from a friend who told me that Sean was shot, so I flew down to Miami and saw Sean in the hospital. I really thought that Sean was going to get better because his vital signs were strong and the doctors felt good about his recovery.
I remember getting a knock on my door at 6 a.m. and I could tell as soon as I saw Mr. Snyder’s [owner of the Redskins] face through the peephole that this was not the news I wanted to hear. I opened the door and Mr. Snyder was crying, and before he could say anything I said, “Don’t tell me that.”
And Mr. Snyder replied, “He’s gone.”
I felt like this was all a bad dream because it was such a shock. There is so much that goes through your mind when you get news like that. When you start to reflect on your last moments or last conversation with a person that you love and lost, you feel like there is so much left unsaid and it kills you.
The week before Sean died, my first son was born and our last conversation was me telling him that I had a son, and how blessed I felt to be a dad. Sean also had a little girl and he felt the same way about being a parent.
You never think that you’re going to have a last conversation with a person you love. I still remember Sean walking out of the locker room when we were leaving to go to Tampa [Sean didn't travel because he was injured], and it was impossible to imagine returning home and Sean not being there.
Everything that happens in life happens for a reason. The huge contracts that you see today in the NFL would have happened a long time ago because the highest paid player in the league would have been Sean Taylor, and the best player in the league would have been Sean Taylor. There really was no other competition. I’ve played with and seen a lot of talented guys, but hands down anyone who played with or against Sean Taylor knew that he was the best player on the field.
Talking about how the team coped and came together after Sean’s death:
The team was completely devastated. So many players elevated their game, and we as a team had to carry one another. We came back and had to play Buffalo that next week with heavy hearts and heavy eyes, and we started the game with ten men on the field in honor of Sean. We lost that first game against Buffalo without Sean but we didn’t lose again after that because we all had this attitude of “I can give a little more.”
My pre-game ritual involved getting pumped up with Sean and Santana. Sean and I would talk, compete and argue about which one of us was going to have the best knock-out blow, and that was how we would hyped for the game. We were the leaders of that team so our energy set the tone for the team.
Football takes a lot of faith because there are so many ups and downs that come with this game. When it’s bad, it’s not really as bad as it may seem, and when it’s good, you’re not as good as you may think. You have to find steady ground through both wins and losses, and not let yourself get too down or too high. Coach Gibbs always kept us on steady ground.
Talking about what he’s currently up to:
Right now I am just training and hoping to return to the NFL, but if that doesn’t happen then I am going to keep myself in shape so I look good on a TV set somewhere! I think being away from football for a year has given me the chance to sit back and find a new love and appreciation for the game. I definitely miss it and feel like I have a lot left to give.