23Apr

time to play the game

My parents knew at an early age that I was different than most kids. When I was in middle school, I would sit inches away from the TV set with a spiral notebook and my number-two pencil on NFL draft day, taking meticulous notes on every team’s moves throughout the day. If a player was traded, I would put a star by his name and a footnote on the bottom of the page detailing the specifics of the transaction. Nevermind that all of this information would be in the sports pages of the Washington Post the next day – even at the age of 12, I needed to be a part of the action as it was happening.

Fast forward nearly 20 years and not much has changed. I may have a wife, a mortgage and responsibilities, but at the end of the day I’m still the same kid at heart. The Washington Redskins, Capitals, Wizards, Nationals and D.C. United are very much a part of my day-to-day life, and therefore I decided to create this blog for myself and for any of the other district’s diehards.

What will hopefully set this blog apart from other places on the ‘net is that, from time to time, I have access to these teams. As a photojournalist, I come across opportunities to take photos and conduct interviews with some of D.C.’s finest. And if that’s not enough, as a Monday morning quarterback, I will happily share my thoughts and perspectives on each of the area’s Fab Five teams whenever the opportunity presents itself.

That’s more than enough about me. Let’s get to the good stuff.

27Sep

One on one with Marcus Washington

In a world where dog fighting, weapons charges and police blotters dominate the sports pages it’s refreshing to come across a player like Marcus Washington. Between his positive outlook, 100-watt smile and infectious personality he quickly became a fan favorite ever since taking over our nation’s capital in 2004.

As the Redskins head into their bye week, we caught up with the locker room leader to talk about everything from dealing with his share of adversity last season to the town where everyone knows his name.

You are originally from Auburn, Alabama. What’s it like there and what was your childhood like?

My childhood? Hmmm … there’s not really a whole bunch going on in Auburn. Most days just consisted of playing with your friends, running through the woods and playing all different types of games – football, basketball – a little bit of everything. But, not a lot. Growing up loving Auburn football, loving college football.

How early did you start playing football and how many other positions did you play when you were younger? What was your favorite NFL team growing up?

I started playing in the yard when I was younger. I started organized football when I got to the seventh grade, and I started off playing strong safety, fullback, tight end, wide receiver and cornerback in high school. Receiver and corner were my best positions back then.

My favorite NFL team growing up? Probably the Buffalo Bills. I just liked them because they won a lot, they had some really good linebackers and I liked Thurman Thomas, Andre Reed and all those guys.

Are you naturally athletic, or did you have to work harder to get to the highest level of competition? What other sports, if any, are you good at?

I’m pretty athletic, but I’m probably more tough than anything. Out-toughing people, that’s probably the biggest thing in football.

I played a little basketball. I had to work more at basketball – it didn’t come as natural. I used to really like soccer too. In high school I played forward and center in basketball, now I’m probably more of a banger – more of a Ben Wallace-type player. But I could play a little bit in high school.

You attended Auburn High School in Auburn, Alabama, which is also where Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker Demarcus Ware and New York Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora went to high school. How is that much talent coming out of one high school?

I don’t know. Guys just really enjoy playing football down there in Auburn. It’s such a football-oriented town, you just kind of fall in love with it and you’ve got the university pretty much in your backyard, so you can watch certain players and get an understanding of how I need to play, day in and day out, to get to the next level.

Me and Osi actually took a couple classes together in high school and Demarcus, I played ball with him and his cousins. Yeah, we all know each other.

After high school, you played college ball for Auburn University. What was your overall college experience like and what did you get out of your time there?

It was cool. I played for my best friend’s dad, who was my position coach growing up. I got converted to linebacker and that was my first introduction to the linebacker position. It didn’t come naturally at first, but by my junior year I started coming into my own and got better. I was a slow developer – developed kind of late and was kind of small coming out of high school.

How big time is the football program there?

It’s pretty big time – especially the football program. That’s SEC football and people live, eat and breathe SEC football down there. We don’t have any pro teams, so either you’re Alabama or you’re Auburn. It’s not like a lot of other states where it’s divided up and people love a professional baseball team or professional basketball team. We don’t have any of that. You’re pretty much either Auburn or Alabama.

You were drafted by the Indianapolis Colts with the 28th pick in the second round (59th overall) of the 2000 NFL Draft. Talk to us about what it felt like to get drafted to play in the NFL. Were you happy to be drafted or were you disappointed you weren’t picked higher?

You know, I was just happy to be drafted. I figured if I could just get there I could do the rest. Just getting there, especially being drafted on the first day was a pretty big deal. I didn’t have any parties or anything, but just getting drafted was a big honor.

How much of a transition is it to go from the college game to the pros? And, what was like playing for a team that was clearly one of the best in the NFL on offense but wasn’t nearly as prolific on defense?

For me it was a pretty big transition because I was a defensive end my last year in college and had to become a stand-up linebacker. So a lot of times early on the play would be going one way and I’d be going the other way because I wasn’t used to it. It came and I got better, but I’m still learning – even if I’ve come a long ways.

It was an adjustment, but I learned a lot by going up against a really good offense day in and day out. You learn how to compete against guys that are pretty good at what they do. I think I really benefited by going against those guys day in and day out in practice.

Because of Peyton Manning’s contract situation you were made you a free agent in March of 2004 and the Washington Redskins quickly made you an offer. Were you disappointed that the Colts let you go or happy to head to Washington?

I wasn’t really disappointed because you have to understand the business side of it. In a perfect world I’m sure they would have kept me. Bill Polian actually wrote me a letter just kind of saying that he hated to let me go and things like that, but I didn’t have any hard feelings about it. There were some great guys over there, but I fell in love with D.C. We built this team based on our defense, so everything kind of worked out for me in the end. There’s a lot of tradition here, we’ve got a hard-nosed type of squad and the fans here are great and really love football. It reminds me of Auburn a little bit – we even have our big rivalry with Dallas and that whole Cowboys and Indians type of thing. I fell in love with the Redskins and with D.C.

A lot of people who are critical of the Redskins say they continue to overpay for free agent busts instead of focusing on the draft. Well, you were a free agent, and since Mr. Washington came to Washington, you’ve made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and anchored a top-ranked defense that carried the entire team to the playoffs in 2005. So not all of the Redskins free agents are busts, right?

It worked pretty well for me. You know, there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Some teams like to do it from the draft. Some teams like to go out and get high-quality guys and we’ve been lucky to bring in some really good guys in here and we’ve been able to gel really fast. We’ve been pretty successful as a defense since I got here and I think we’ll continue to get better as a defense and as a team.

We think you’ve been spoiled a little bit – playing for Hall of Fame coach Job Gibbs and for future Hall of Famer Tony Dungy. Some players are only in the league long enough to play for a guy like Steve Spurrier, so how blessed are you to play for two of the best coaches of our generation?

I’m really fortunate because, the thing about great coaches is you learn a lot about football, but you learn a lot about life as well. You know, how to approach everyday life. Coach Dungy is a big Christian guy who has had to fight through some tough adversity and been pretty successful. You just kind of watch a guy like that and try to imitate him and you know you’ll be a pretty good man. And Coach Gibbs is the same way – he’s a Christian guy who very seldom curses, loves his family and is pretty much successful at everything he touches. Just being around people like that, I think it rubs off on you. Most times, when you hang around great people, they rub off on you.

Speaking of coaches who rarely curse, what is it like to play for Gregg Williams?

(Laughs). Gregg is a fiery coach, and I think on the defensive side of the ball you need a little of that. You need a coach who will light a fire up under you every now and then. I think if we gave Gregg a helmet on Sundays he’d be out there trying to make plays with us, so he definitely gets you going. He comes from that Buddy Ryan school of thought – a high intensity type coach. As a defensive player you love playing for a fiery defensive coordinator like that.

During a routine drug test last August, your urine sample was classified as diluted, and by league rules you were placed in the NFL’s substance abuse program. For the rest of the season you were subjected to random testing and you even had to undergo a psychiatric evaluation – even though you didn’t actually fail a drug test. How tough was it to go through all of that and should the NFL fix the system so they’re not penalizing a guy who could have simply drank too much water?

It was a tough deal last year. I hated it because I felt like I was being accused of a crime I didn’t do. It really pisses you off because you shouldn’t be guilty until proven innocent. It should be the other way around. But unfortunately, in that situation, it wasn’t the case. They definitely need to revisit that whole rule. I think in some of the other leagues – like in baseball or the NBA – if a guy’s sample is too diluted they just test him again. Especially if he hasn’t ever failed a drug test.

I’ve never failed one, all the way back to college, and this is my eighth year in the league. I got tested in the first couple days of training camp, when it’s pretty damn hot in Virginia, so you gotta be hydrated because they’re constantly preaching to us to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Well, you don’t wanna be too hydrated or you can get thrown into some crazy deal that haunts you all year. So, I think they need to revisit it and come up with some better ways to handle it to weed out the guys who are trying to mask something versus the guys who are just trying to take care of their bodies and do the right thing by hydrating.

Between the drug test, your hip injury last season and the dislocated elbow this preseason, I know you just wanted to get all of that past you and play football. How great has this solid start been for you personally and are the 2007 Washington Redskins for real? I know Coach Gibbs doesn’t like predictions, but can we expect a return to the playoffs?

It’s been great to put all that stuff behind me. Last year was a tough year for me, a tough year for the team, our coaches, the fans – everybody. It’s great to put all that behind you and start on a clean slate. So far we’ve gotten off to a pretty good start and we’re just trying to focus on the next game. We’re trying to go 1-0 for a week and not look too far down the road. We’re not worried about playoffs or starting to get measured for our Super Bowls rings or anything like that. We’re just out here working hard and approaching each game by putting our best foot forward and doing the best we can do. If we can consistently do that all year, then I think we’ll be fine.

Talk to us about gameday. Are your superstitious? Do you have a set routine – you know, a certain meal or music to get you in the right frame of mind?

I’m not a real superstitious guy. I like to listen to music to get hype. I like my music really loud so I can almost go into like another dimension. I don’t have a lot of superstitions. My towel has to be really nice and perfect, the way I like it and my music’s got to be loud. That’s it for me.

Anyone who has ever stepped into the locker room or watched you on the field during a TV timeout knows you love music. What are you listening to these days and what should fans put in the CD player to get them fired up on Sundays?

You know, I’m all over the place. When I first come into the locker room we’ve got maybe an hour and a half before its gametime, so I’ve got the slow jams pumping. I don’t wanna get too hype too fast. So I’ve got some slow jams, maybe some south rock. But about 30 minutes before the game you start to crank it up a little bit. Right now we’ve got that Young Jeezy, T.I. and that Soulja Boy’s been pretty hot lately. That’s kind of how I do it.

For fans, I would definitely go T.I. with T.I. versus T.I.P. That’s probably the hottest CD out right now. The hottest single out right now is probably “Crank That” by Soulja Boy.

A lot of your teammates are big into video games. Between the PS3 and the 360, I know some big games of Madden and Halo are played. Do you play?

I’ve got a PS3, but I haven’t played it a bunch. Actually, I haven’t played it any. I’ve been over on the PS2. I love playing NCAA college football. That’s my favorite game. I think some of the guys play Madden and have tournaments, but I’m more of a college guy. I just like to run the option. That’s one of my favorite plays and you can’t really run that on Madden, so I always play it on NCAA.

What would you be doing for a living if you never got into football?

If I hadn’t played in college and hadn’t gotten a scholarship then maybe I would have went into the military. Try to do it that way and choose a profession. Or, I’m really into history, so maybe I would have become a history teacher.

Which military branch could you have seen yourself choosing?

My uncle was an Army guy, but I think I would have tried the Navy SEALs – that’s the coolest thing ever. I don’t know if I could even make it, but definitely trying would have been cool. I would have been able to say I tried it and got this far.

And what do you see yourself doing after you retire from football?

Maybe teaching history. I think I want to go back to school and study history a little more. Maybe teach, and I don’t know, maybe even a little coaching.

I’m not sure if you know this, but 2,551 miles from Ashburn, Virginia, is a town called Marcus, in Washington State. Have you ever been out there?

I’ve never been out there. A couple people looked it up on the internet and told me about it. I used to know the population, but I can’t remember it right now …

At last count, there was something like 117 people there. Even though you’ve never been there, how do you envision the town of Marcus, Washington?

I think it should just be happy all the time. There should be a happy hour and wingfest every day, you know what I mean? There should be a mandatory nap time, so people can get off of work and go home and take a nap. But people would definitely be hype and have a good time with a bunch of parades, parties and a real upbeat town.

So if you roll in do they automatically have to give you the key to the city? How does that work?

I think I should be able to get the key to the city. If it’s a town called Marcus, Washington that would only be right. I should at least be considered for the key, if not given to me.

It’s funny because you grew up in Auburn and then went to Auburn. Your name is Washington, and you’re playing in Washington. At some point, you’re going to end up in Marcus, Washington – it’s already been laid out there for you.

(Laughs). I think so. I think that’s probably my destiny. I’ll be a history teacher out there in Marcus, Washington. That sounds like it may be in my future.

And finally, when they make a movie based on your life who will play you and what will the name of the movie be?

I think Denzel Washington might play me in the movie, and the name of it would be “Grustling” – a mixture of hustling and grinding. We call it grustling.

Interviewed by Brian Murphy, September 2007.

23Aug

One on one with Clinton Portis

Since the moment he first stepped onto a football field, Clinton Portis has made the world take notice. He won a national championship at the University of Miami, earned rookie of the year honors with the Denver Broncos and broke the Washington Redskins single-season rushing record, all before he even turned 25.

While no one else has seemingly been able to stop Portis, we were able to slow him down long enough to chat with us about everything from playing for a Hall of Fame coach to growing up with the toughest mom in the NFL.

Where are you originally from and what was your childhood like?

Laurel, Mississippi, and it was filled with getting whuppins’ every day for something I didn’t do. I was the baby in the family and growing up if one of us got a whuppin’, all of us got it. I think some of my cousins would dispute that claim and say I never got a whuppin’, but I got more of them than anybody.

How many brothers and sisters are we talking about?

I got two older brothers, but cousins … I got a heap of cousins, you know. It was just one big family vibe.

How early did you start playing football and how many other positions did you play when you were younger?

I played football as a shortie. We played a lot of football out in the yard and in the church parking lot because they had a big open area up there. As far as organized football, I tried to play pee wee one year and they didn’t play me because they said I was too young to play. So the following year I went out and I ended up punching a little boy in the stomach for messing with my cousin. My momma wouldn’t let me play again, so I really didn’t play organized football until high school, in the ninth grade.

Are you naturally athletic, or did you have to work harder to get to the highest level of competition? What other sports, if any, are you good at?

I think it’s natural, but you know, the older you get the more work you gotta put in. Back in the day I never worked out, I never did anything, I’d just come out and play football. I think now that I’m getting older the athletic ability is still there – I still make some moves that are amazing to myself and make me wonder “Damn, how did I just do that?”

The athletic side of it comes from my upbringing – playing basketball, football or anything else. I can shoot, I can hoop a little bit. I ran track and did the high jump. I can play volleyball. I’m pretty sure if we get a kickball game going I could play kickball. I really want to work on playing tennis. My hand-eye coordination ain’t that good to play baseball, but I’m really just a sports fan.

Weren’t you a pretty accomplished track and field guy coming out of high school and college?

Yeah, we still have the high school state record in Florida right now. We ran the 4×100-meter relay team in 40.8 seconds. Most colleges don’t run that fast, and we ran it in high school. Coming out of high school, I competed in the 4×100, the 4×400, the high jump, the long jump and I actually medaled at state in five events – that’s the most you can compete in. So, I did alright.

You went to the University of Miami and were the second true freshman to start at running back for the Hurricanes since 1975. With the insane amount of talented running backs to go through Miami we gotta ask – how were you able to start so quickly when so many others had to sit and wait their turn?

It was just the right timing. Najeh Davenport went down the first game of the season and I really think they wanted to red shirt me or move me to defensive back. We had myself, Jarrett Payton, James Jackson, Najeh Davenport, and we were all competing. Because of all the people who doubted me and said I can’t do it, I was eager to go out and prove myself and I prevailed.

In 2001 you were able to experience something most college athletes only dream of, winning the national championship. How stacked was that Hurricanes squad and what’s your favorite memory looking back on that season?

I tell people about all of those players to come out of that team and some of the players I had the opportunity to play with. You go back to Bubba Franks, Dan Morgan, Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, Jeremy Shockey, Kellen Winslow, William Joseph, Sean Taylor, Ed Reed, Phillip Buchanan, Mike Rumph, Nate Webster, Jonathan Vilma, D.J. Williams, Rocky McIntosh, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee … the list goes on.

It was really exciting and looking back at those times and seeing how everybody competed back then, it’s no wonder they’re successful now.

You were drafted by the Denver Broncos with the 19th pick in the second round (51st overall) of the 2002 NFL draft. Talk to us about what it felt like to finally get drafted to play in the NFL. Were you happy to be drafted or were you disappointed you weren’t picked in the first round?

I was so mad I actually left the draft. After Carolina picked DeShaun Foster in the second round, I didn’t watch anymore of the draft. I was actually on the highway, going to Tallahassee, when I got the phone call telling me I had been drafted. I was really disappointed that I wasn’t an earlier pick. I swear, I thought I was a top ten pick after my pro day. I ran a 4.27 in the 40, didn’t drop a pass, my vertical jump was a 38 or 39. I had an unbelievable pro day, but then all of the sudden it was that I was “too cocky” and people questioned my attitude. People didn’t think I would pan out, and didn’t think I could take the pounding of being an every-down back in the NFL. A lot of people thought I was going to be too wild, but to this day I’ve never gotten into trouble.

Using that as motivation, you immediately made your presence known by earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and joining Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James as the only rookies to rush for more than 1,500 yards in each of your first two seasons. What enabled you to make such an instant impact at the NFL level?

You know, I told Coach Shanahan when he called me, “I really appreciate this and you’ll never regret it. I will be rookie of the year and I will give you everything I’ve got.” Coach Shanahan gave me an opportunity and I am grateful for it. To win rookie of the year and go to the Pro Bowls each of your first two years in the league, that’s pretty amazing.

Then, to come out and be the highest-paid back in the league in my third year and have the expectations of the world be placed on my shoulders, I had 1,300 yards and for the longest time I beat myself up about it. But now, any time I get 1,300 yards I’m going to be glad and take it in stride because most of the people that they give all the credit to or are all excited about never even did that. So if I was a 1,300-yard back over my career, that’s a nice average for me.

One of our favorite moments in your career occurred when you torched the Kansas City Chiefs for 218 yards and five touchdowns. What inspired you to celebrate the moment by breaking out a wrestling-style championship belt and where is that belt today?

I still got the belt, but it’s put up. That’s the attitude that I need to get back to. When I did that there was a lot going on, and I knew I wanted to be a feature back, a big-time back. I was going against the league’s hottest back at the time, Priest Holmes, and with the rivalry between Denver and Kansas City being as big as it is I was ready to play. Shannon [Sharpe] and Rod Smith came at me like, “C.P., whatcha gonna do? We gotta do something, we’re at home.” So that week I put it all on the line. That same week I went out and bought two new cars – an SL500 and a G-Wagen 500 – because if I’m going to make my money, I’m gonna make it this game.

At halftime I had like 12 carries for 52 yards. But the third quarter, man, was one of the most spectacular quarters ever. I didn’t even play in the fourth quarter of that game, which people fail to realize. But in the third quarter I had something like 150 yards on six carries, and three consecutive carries for touchdowns. You’d really have to be a stat freak to know that, but to this day I look back and have conversations with people and they say, “Man, you had 100 yards rushing in a quarter, let alone a game, and to get 100 yards in a game is kind of tough.”

I remember when Jamal Lewis broke the single-game rushing record. We were playing in San Diego and Sharpe asked me if I had seen what had happened and told me I needed to top Lewis. I was like, “Let’s go get it.” The first quarter I had seven carries for 121 yards and ended up hurting my sternum on a fluke play. I got caught in the clay and was falling on the play while my chest was left open; I got hit and couldn’t finish the game. I had seven carries for 121 yards in the first quarter and think I would have broken the record, but that will forever be unknown.

In March of 2004, the Denver Broncos traded you to the Washington Redskins for Champ Bailey and a second-round draft pick. What was your reaction to the trade and, looking back, which team got the better end of the deal?

I think it panned out for both. I think Denver got what they were looking for and Champ is a helluva player, probably the top DB in the NFL. And for myself, coming to Washington to gel with these guys, bringing that attitude, bringing that character and bringing my style to Washington, I think this was a perfect fit. I got the opportunity to be around guys who I came up with in Santana Moss and Sean Taylor and I was excited about getting them here. Just having the opportunity to come here was major.

I think Champ wanted to make a move and I did too, and to this day I’m still excited that Denver got Champ and a draft pick, which was Tatum Bell, out of the deal and Washington just got me.

Talk about making a strong first impression, on your very first carry for Washington you earned the love of every Redskins fan when you busted out for a 64-yard touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Memorable moment.

(Redskins fullback Mike Sellers walks up and asks Portis, “Who made that block for you though?”)

I don’t know because I didn’t follow my block on that one.

(Both players crack up and Sellers heads to the locker room.)

What’s it been like for you playing in Washington for a Hall of Fame coach and with such a diehard fanbase cheering you on every Sunday?

That’s been my greatest experience, playing for Coach Gibbs and playing for the Washington Redskins, which may be the biggest sports franchise in any league. The fans come out and support them, week in and week out – win, lose or draw. When I was in Denver I really didn’t think it got any bigger or better than the Denver Broncos fans, but then I got here and realized that everyone you run into is a Washingtonian or a Redskins diehard who remembers this time or remembers that time.

I would love to help this team get back to prominence and the level of dominance from that era, especially for Coach Gibbs. You really can’t find a better person, not just a coach, but a better person that lives the way he lives and believes the way he believes. That’s really how every man wants to be.

Last year you were injured while making a tackle during a meaningless preseason game. If you were commissioner for the day, how would you fix the current system? Would you shorten the preseason? Eliminate it completely?

Man, you know, if I was the commissioner I’d do a lot different. Like the individuality of the game – you want to sell that to the fans, but you’re really not letting the players be individuals. I would change that first and let players go out and have fun. A lot of the things that separate players and show the individuality of players is taken away – like celebrations or the dress code. I understand you want to make everyone look the same, but everybody is not the same. The way they market the NFL they’re making major money and that’s what it all boils down to, making money. They gotta get their money, but how much money can you make?

I say let the people go out and have fun. And I think the preseason should be about letting the people who are coming in, looking for a shot, have that opportunity. A lot of teams don’t do that. You don’t get the opportunity to go out and showcase your talent. You might get to play in one game or you might not. If you don’t even get into your first game then no one will ever know if you can play.

Because your season was cut short last year, it seems like critics are down on you. What’s your mindset heading into this season and what can the fans expect from Clinton Portis and the Washington Redskins in 2007?

You can expect C.P. to be back in the zone. I know no one is for me, everyone is against me. The people that are for me are probably the people that I sit down and have dinner with, and that’s it. That’s my family, my close friends and my teammates. Outside of them, it’s always “What have you done for me lately?”

People like negativity. They want to see you rise and see you fall. I know I didn’t fall, I got injured. I got injured doing something I love to do and that’s being aggressive and giving my all. Whether it’s preseason or not, I give it my all. When they turn the lights on, I go out there knowing I can’t give them garbage. I go out and play football – preseason, regular season, playoffs, anything. I got hurt putting myself on the line and people act like I fell off. I didn’t fall off, man. I was out there busting my ass in a game that wasn’t even meaningful. Once I get out on the field, I’m gonna go full speed. I think the whole thing was just a wake-up call. You’re only as hot as your last move and my last move it seems like was two years ago, so I ain’t that hot right now.

On the May 14th episode of Ballers on BET, you guaranteed that the Redskins would make it to the NFC Championship Game. Are you still standing by that guarantee?

You know, I really feel that way. Coach isn’t high on us making those kind of comments.

Well, it’s not like Coach is watching BET …

But it got back to him because I heard about it like two days after the show aired. Coach isn’t really high on you making predictions, he wants you to go out and play football. For myself, I feel like with the talent we’ve got here – we went to the playoffs when I was in Denver and the talent level that we had in Denver compared to what we have here is not even close. You had a bunch of guys in Denver who played great in that system or players the coaches knew how to play well in the system, but only a few standout guys like Al Wilson, Trevor Pryce, Rod Smith and Shannon Sharpe, but it’s not like everyone on that team was a Hall of Famer.

On this team you’ve got the possibility that as many as 10-15 guys could end up in the Hall of Fame. The possibility, the talent and the opportunity are there. Our record is 0-0 and it’s up to us.

You also appeared on an episode of MTV Cribs a couple years back that people still talk about today. Your basement has reached legendary status – with the glowing beds, mirrors on the ceiling, red hot tub and the stripper pole. Where was that house and do you still own it? If not, does your current pad compete with that one?

That was actually my house in Denver and I still do own it. I ended up seeing that, probably about a year ago, I was watching Cribs one day and then when they got to me and got to my basement, my eyes lit up. My phone started ringing and people were like “Oh, they’re showing your house on Cribs!” I had to tell them that it was from when I was in Denver – you see how small I was, you see how old that was. But everyone was still excited.

I only had a little bit of money back then, and I felt like I really worked for what I had. I designed it, I decorated it, I came up with the color scheme and I came up with all the ideas. I didn’t call anyone, it was just me sitting down in the basement figuring out what I wanted to do and that’s what I came up with. To this day I’m still proud of that place, but right now, what I’m doing to my basement will top anything you’ve ever seen on that program.

The Mad Scientist, Southeast Jerome, Dr. I Don’t Know, Sherriff Gonna Getcha, Dolla Bill, Reverend Gonna Change, Kid Bro Sweets, Inspector 2-2, Angel of Southeast Jerome, Coach Janky Spanky and Dolemite Jenkins. Which one was your favorite character and is there any chance we’ll see a new identity this season?

I enjoyed all of my characters. I really can’t say I have a favorite one because week in and week out the characters that I came up with just seemed to fit with whatever we were going through. I really think that got us through some tough times here. We had lost a bunch of games consecutively and we really needed to find a way to win. I think once that came along and once that got hot, players came in with a different attitude.

When I first started, I remember a few people in the locker room looking at me like I was crazy. They were thinking “What the hell is he doing and why is he doing this?” By the end of the year, there wasn’t a player in the locker room that wasn’t in my locker trying to find what I was wearing or what I was doing or had some kind of idea to give me. That just shows how the team came together. The first time I did it, only three or four people were sitting around the locker room laughing while everyone was thinking “Why the hell is this dude doing that?” But by the end, everyone was involved, even bringing in different parts for my outfits.

Toughness runs in your family. Two seasons ago your mother ended up punching a Philadelphia Eagles fan in the stands during a game. Were you at all surprised that your mom was ready to throw down and that an Eagles fan was involved?

To this day, that is still in the air. I wasn’t in the stands, but toughness does run in my family. I can’t say that my mom did do that because I wasn’t there in the stands. I think that fan is full of ****, and was in the wrong. This is a lovely game and we need to keep it lovely. It’s okay to jaw jack, but never get personal when you’re cheering for something you have no control over. No fan can control an NFL game. No fan at all. I think the game should be enjoyable and the fans should come out and have a good time – if you want to come out and get drunk and talk trash, keep it friendly. But once you take it personal and have to come to blows and hit someone in the face, it’s not worth it.

Which current player would you pay money to see play, and which offensive player gives you the biggest challenge when you line up against them on Sundays?

Right now it would have to be Sean Taylor, Frank Gore or LaDainian Tomlinson. You know, I really would pay to go watch LaDainian. From watching film and seeing him on TV, the things he does are exciting. How he manages to stay scot-free on so many plays is exciting because I’m in the same position and I can’t find a way to go through a hole untouched like that.

Madden 2008 just came out. Are you a Madden guy? Do you play the game?

Yeah, I played it for the first time today. I actually played with San Francisco, but I gotta go get the Playstation 3. That’s what everyone was telling me to go get because it’s the sweetest. I think they kind of downgraded the Playstation 2 version just so everyone had to go out and buy the Playstation 3. I was never gonna leave the Playstation 2, but now that everyone is raving about Madden on PS3 being so much better, I gotta leave my Playstation 2.

Actor Anthony Anderson sported your jersey in the summer-blockbuster Transformers. So we have to ask, when can we expect to see you make your Hollywood debut and which actors or actresses would you like to work with?

Man, it’s time. I want to work with all actresses; I don’t want to work with actors. (Laughs).

Put me in a movie with all actresses, like Sanaa Lathan, like Kerry Washington … you know, Jamie Foxx could even hang out. I figure if he could get them to laugh on set it’ll make my job much easier and I could just flirt the whole time.

And finally, when they make a movie based on your life who would play you and what will the name of the movie be?

I don’t know. It would have to be someone with personality, like Jamie Foxx or Cat Williams. Cat Williams would be a good one because of his sense of humor. What it would be called, who knows? The Mysterious Life of Clinton Portis or something. Maybe The Life and Times of Spanky Janky. (Laughs).

Interviewed by Brian Murphy, August 2007.

02Aug

One on one with Fred Smoot

Spend any amount of time at Redskins Park and within minutes the conversation turns to defensive back Fred Smoot. Especially if he’s within earshot. Or talking. After all, the loquacious veteran has never been short on confidence.

We caught up with the cocky cornerback after training camp to have him do what he does best – talk about himself – in an in-depth interview that focused on everything from the art of trash talking to what went wrong during his time in Minnesota and everything in between.

You’re originally from Jackson, Mississippi. What’s it like there and what was your childhood like?

It’s good. I’m not going to say it’s a small, country town because it’s the capital of Mississippi, but I was raised in the inner city in a single-parent family. Everything wasn’t always easy, that’s why I had to dig in, take school seriously and understand that I had a gift that could help us get out.

How early did you start playing football and how many other positions did you play when you were younger?

The funny part about it was that my mom found out she was pregnant playing pick-up football games with my uncle and them in the yard, so I guess I’ve been playing ever since then. She found out she was pregnant when my uncle tackled her.

In high school I was cornerback, wide receiver, and quarterback – you know, anywhere they could get the ball in my hands.

Are you naturally athletic, or did you have to work harder to get to the highest level of competition? What other sports, if any, are you good at?

I’m a natural athlete, but I’m also a worker. You put two and two together and you got a great athlete. Actually a lot of people thought I was going to play basketball. I was real good at basketball. I got a lot of game – I can take it to the rack, I can shoot the jumper and I play a lot of good defense, evidently. I’m one of those guys, I’m versatile like that. Just put me somewhere. I probably could play soccer if I ever wanted to play it, but I never tried. Could be a shortstop; I don’t know, never tried.

As we all know, you went to Mississippi State. What was your overall college experience like and what did you get out of your time there?

I loved it, man. After coming to the league, it’s nothing like being the man on campus. When you’re the man on campus you get everything because you’re the king. It was a great time for me playing SEC ball, and it was one of the best times for Mississippi State record-wise.

You were drafted in the second round, 45th overall, by the Washington Redskins. Talk to me about what it felt like to finally get drafted to play in the NFL. Were you happy to be drafted or were you disappointed you weren’t a first-round pick?

I was mad because I was supposed to be a high first-round pick, but I got in trouble. You know, you live and you learn. I got in trouble the week before the draft and it caused me to drop over 30 picks. I was just happy someone took a chance on me and believed in me.

Where should you have been drafted?

Very, very high. If you recall I was ranked the second highest defensive player on the board, so just go by that and tell me where I was supposed to be picked.

How much of a transition is it to go from the college game to the pros? And what does it take to be a top-tier cornerback in the NFL?

It’s a big jump. I’m sorry, but for a corner – especially when you’re the number one corner in the nation – you’re not used to getting beat. You probably ain’t got beat your entire career, except maybe when you were younger. But you come into the league, it’s unavoidable. Point blank.

Like the man told me “you’re going to get beat, so what you do next is the problem. What makes a corner in the NFL good is that I just don’t get beat as much as you do. Just realize that and keep that mentality. It can make or break some corners.”

You joined the Washington Redskins in 2001 and immediately made an impact – leading the team in interceptions for three consecutive seasons. A wise man once said, “Two-thirds of the world is covered by water. The other third is covered by Fred Smoot.” How historically accurate is that statement?

That is an accurate statement. I made that statement during my junior year in college. I really felt like the world was covered with Fred Smoot. You could find me everywhere – if it wasn’t water, it was me. I still feel that way now; I’m back to that same guy.

You’re such a talented trash talker that they had to create a whole new category for you, called “Smoot Smack.” Is anything off limits on gameday when you’re on the field and trying to get in someone’s head?

There’s nothing off limits. Ain’t nothing off limits when they’re talking to me, so there’s nothing off limits. Now, I’m not going to the grandmamas, none of all that, but anything else is open field. You know, I’m going to talk about whatever I can. If I can use it against you and get your mind on me instead of what you supposed to be doing, I’ll try it.

You wouldn’t do grandma jokes?

I don’t really do grandmama jokes.

What about moms?

I’ll go to mama, but I’m not gonna do grandmama. I got a little respect. (Laughs).

Excluding yourself, who in your humble opinion are the best trash talkers in the NFL?

I think my class had a lot of trash talkers. Look at Chad Johnson of 2001. You got Steve Smith of 2001. You got Joey Porter, who I think came out two years before me, but Joey’s gonna talk it and Joey’s gonna walk it. Rodney Harrison’s always been one of those guys who is gonna mouth off. There’s a lot of guys out there that’s gonna give it to you.

We’ve got to ask, who is ‘Silky Johnson’ and what the heck is the Fred ‘Silky Johnson’ Smoot Award?

Silky Johnson was my alter ego when I was here the first time. He’s a smooth type playa’ that don’t even play football. He’s just a regular guy; my regular Washingtonian guy. It’s something me and Shawn Springs used to play with.

You ended up signing a six-year, $34 million contract with the Vikings in 2005. While you were clearly a fan favorite during your first four years in Washington D.C., things didn’t work out the same way in Minnesota. What went wrong during your two years there?

Different people. Different people, different situation. I didn’t like it from the go. It wasn’t my type of people. It wasn’t my type of flavor. It sure wasn’t my type of defensive scheme. It just didn’t work. I think, if you look at trades and the free agent market, less than probably 30 percent of those free agents actually fit in and come represent.

Look at Randy Moss. You’re not going to tell me that Randy can go from being one of the most dominating receivers in the NFL, and then goes to Oakland and becomes a non-factor. Your surroundings have a lot to do with how you play and you being happy. Anybody can play better when they’re happy. When you’ve got a lot of stuff on your mind it can kill your performance, no doubt.

We understand that there’s a business side to it, but how did you ever leave Washington to begin with?

Like you said, it was the business side. And obviously, we didn’t break on bad terms. Both sides knew what was going on and because of cap problems and this and that, things happened.

For better or for worse, people will forever link your time in Minnesota with the infamous “Love Boat scandal” for which you pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and being a public nuisance on a watercraft. What did you learn from that entire ordeal?

(Laughs). Just to stay away from people. The thing about it was; it wasn’t so much that it happened. It was how people perceived it, and that they blew it up and what they tried to make it look like. That’s what really got me mad about things. I just learned to leave stuff alone and to watch where you’re at and who you’re around.

As if you weren’t already dealing with enough adversity, you lost your half brother, Matthew Taylor, last November and had your season ended prematurely one month later when you broke your jaw in a car accident yourself. Looking back, how tough was 2006 for you and how important was it for you to get a fresh start?

Like I said, Minnesota was a dark cloud. During those two years I don’t remember a good thing happening. It was one thing after another, almost like a snowball effect. Then, when I first got to camp, I ended up hurting my knee and we all thought I was going to have to have surgery. Then my brother died, and I don’t think I got right from that the rest of the season when it came to me being focused enough to play the game. Then, I go home for Christmas and break my jaw. You know, if Fred Smoot can’t talk because he’s wired up for a month and a half – I don’t know what was more painful, my jaw being broke or me not being able to talk.

Obviously you remained close with many of your Redskins teammates even after you left Washington, but did you honestly think you would be able to return to D.C. once the Vikings let you go?

Most definitely. I had talked to my agent and told him I wanted out of Minnesota, so he talked to them and told me I had to go in and talk to the owner and talk to the head coach, Brad Childress. I let them know that it wasn’t anything against them, but that this place was not for me. So we had to break my deal to get out of there, and once I was released Gregg [Williams] hit me up on the phone about an hour later like “Whatcha gonna do?”

I didn’t really need to talk to anybody else. I had the Saints and a lot of other people calling, but I wanted to be happy. I wanted to be happy doing what I do. This is where I’m happy doing what I do.

What is it like coming back home to the Redskins after these last two years? Watching you during minicamp it’s clear you’ve got your smile and your swagger back, how great is it going to feel the first time you make a play and the FedEx Field crowd screams “SMOOOOOOT!”

I feel good because I know that play is coming. I’m happy as a person, I’m happy as a player. I’m happy with the decision I made to come back. I’m just ready to step out at FedEx Field again because the last time I was there I had on the wrong colored jersey.

What can the fans expect from Fred Smoot and the Washington Redskins in 2007?

They can expect a lot because we’ve been quiet this offseason. I’ve never been a Redskin when we had a quiet offseason. Coach made sure to bring in people that not only can play this game, but can relate to the people that are on this team. The people that played here last year are real salty because of the way the year went. So you bring in two more guys like me and London [Fletcher] and we’ve got guys here who are ready to come in right now and do what we gotta do. He and I have played for Gregg before, so we know his expectations. They feel like they’ve brought in the right pieces to fit in with what they already have.

I think we’re gonna be good because we have no buzz. Everybody thinks they Redskins are just gonna be alright, but we’ve got Clinton [Portis] coming back. Ladell [Betts] is gonna help run the ball and we’ve got three or four wide receivers and five or six corners. We’re ready to play, man.

You’re still a young guy, how much longer do you see yourself playing professional football and what will your life be like once you decide to hang it up?

(Laughs). Until [Redskins owner Dan] Snyder says I can’t play no more. If Darrell [Green] can play for 30 years I can at least get me 18.

Could you see yourself ever getting into coaching or do you think your brash style would be better suited for a role in the media?

Media is probably more my style right off point, but as I get older I’ll get into coaching.

Which current player would you pay money to see play, and which offensive player gives you the biggest challenge when you line up against them on Sundays?

I’ve played with so many great players – being a Redskin you’re gonna play with a lot of good players – probably my guy that came out with me, LaDainian Tomlinson. Every time he gets the ball there’s a chance he can score.

Talk to me about gameday. Are your superstitious? Do you have a set routine – you know, a certain meal or music to get you in the right frame of mind?

Yeah, I’m superstitious and I do some stuff the same. I’m always listening to down south music, no doubt. But how I do my stretching – I come out before the team and do the same stretches, listen to my music and go talk to some fans.

What’s in your iPod right now?

Man, I got like 5,000 songs in my iPod. I’m a guy who likes old school stuff, I like new school stuff, so basically I put it on shuffle and go off on that.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

That I’m humble. I think that everybody thinks that because I talk a lot that I’m cocky and brash, but I’m a humble guy.

What would you be doing for a living if you never got into football?

I’d probably be broadcasting. I’d probably would have went and tried to play basketball. If not sports, I’m also a business man. I’m part owner of a construction company in Mississippi and I love the side of business too.

If they were to make a movie based on your life who would play you and what would the name of the movie be?

I’d probably get T.I. to play me, and it would probably be called “From Savage to Lavish: The Story of Fred Smoot.”

Interviewed by Brian Murphy, August 2007.

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