In our Broncos Legends series, we're revisiting the careers of some of the best players in franchise history with video highlights and rarely seen photos — and they'll join us to break down their favorite moments as a Bronco and more. Here's a refresher on Clinton Portis' time in Denver.
When Clinton Portis was selected by the Broncos in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft, he was not completely happy. The running back who had helped lead the Miami Hurricanes to a national championship was thrilled the Broncos had drafted him, but he was not pleased that teams had let him fall to the second round.
"I'm glad to be in Denver," Portis said after the draft. "But mark my words, everybody else is going to pay. That can be put in the newspaper, on TV, on the radio, I don't care where. They all should know that they will regret letting me slide. This is motivation."
As he embarked upon the path to fulfill those words, Portis would first have to emerge from a position group that boasted three 1,000-yard rushers, including former league MVP and future Hall of Famer Terrell Davis and 2000 AP Offensive Rookie of the Year Mike Anderson. However, the Broncos had decided to move Anderson to fullback, and injuries would lead to Davis' retirement before the season.
But Portis quickly showed that he was not just being given a starting role; he was earning it, as his teammates confirmed at the time.
"You've got to get him the first time because there is no second time with that guy," linebacker Ian Gold said during training camp. "If you don't get him while he's coming through that hole, it's all she wrote. This guy's got the speed of a wide receiver, but he can cut and shake like Barry Sanders. That's one dangerous guy. All I can say is, I'm glad he's on our team."
It may have taken a few weeks into the season for head coach Mike Shanahan and the team to take the reins off of Portis, but after he ran for 103 yards in his third game, they unleashed him as the starting running back beginning in Week 5. Over the final 12 games of the season, he would cross the 100-yard rushing mark seven times and run for 14 touchdowns.
By the year's end, Portis had set the franchise's single-season rookie record for rushing yards (1,508) and total touchdowns (17). He was also selected NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press.
His sophomore effort in 2003 was even finer. Of the 13 regular-season games he played that season, he rushed for at least 100 yards in all but two. He also set yet another franchise record when he ran for five touchdowns in a single game during a Week 14 game against Kansas City.
Though he missed three games with injuries, he still surpassed his rookie rushing mark with 1,591 yards, which is the third-best rushing total in team history. It also earned him his first career Pro Bowl selection.
But that would be Portis' final season in Denver; the Broncos traded him to Washington during the offseason as part of the deal to acquire star cornerback Champ Bailey.
Still, Portis' two seasons as a Bronco were remarkable. He is one of only three players in NFL history to have rushed for at least 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons; the others are Pro Football Hall of Famers Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. Among players who rushed the ball at least 500 times in their first two seasons, no one averaged more yards per carry than Portis, who gained 5.5 yards per rushing attempt.
One Pro Bowl (2003), 2002 Offensive Rookie of the Year (AP, Pro Football Weekly, Football Digest), NFL Rookie of the Year (Sports Illustrated), All-Rookie Team selection (PFW), October 2002 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month, 2003 Week 14 AFC Offensive Player of the Week
Broncos franchise records: most rushing touchdowns in a single game (5); most total touchdowns in a single game (5); most rushing yards by a rookie (1,508); highest career rushing average, minimum of 100 carries (5.50); highest season rushing average, minimum of 100 carries (5.52); most rushing touchdowns by a rookie (15)
Stats to know
Broncos career stats: 29 games; 25 starts; 563 rushes for 3,099 yards; 29 rushing touchdowns; 5.5 yards per carry; 106.9 rushing yards per game; 71 receptions for 678 yards; two receiving touchdowns
Total career stats: 113 games; 108 starts; 2,230 rushes for 9,923 yards; 75 rushing touchdowns; 4.4 yards per carry; 87.8 rushing yards per game; 247 receptions for 2,018 yards; five receiving touchdowns
In his own words
"I think I was an all-around back. ... Today everything is specified. You have a particular skill that's highlighted in today's game. Back in the day, bro, it was first, second [and] third down. on first and second you're running the ball; on third down, you better be able to block and catch and get things done. For me, it was just that determination. ... The competition was totally different. When you're looking at the likes of Fred Taylor, Edgerrin James, LaDainian Tomlinson, Priest Holmes, Charlie Garner, that was all in the AFC, not to mention the guys that were int he NFC. You look at so many backs that were so influential.
"And it was on you — how you performed determined your team's chance at winning. It was running the ball and playing solid defense. The game has changed so much, because it's a passing league and you try to downplay the running back position. You see several players that should be getting paid — Ezekiel Elliott had to go through the whole dot. Le'Veon Bell had to sit out an entire year. You see these guys that mean so much to a team, and they're willing to lose these guys after a good year. Todd Gurley just two years ago was up for MVP and all of a sudden he's in Atlanta. So this game has changed so much because the running back position isn't appreciated. There's no fullback, you know? It was kind of the heartbeat of your team, having the fullback, having someone smash-mouth [who can] go up and set a tone or set the tempo. You don't have those guys anymore."
Three games to remember
Week 15, 2002: Broncos 31, Chiefs 24
As we'll see again, Portis always got up for games against the Chiefs. He cherished the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Priest Holmes as another of the league's top rushers, and in this game against Kansas City, Portis proved to be the most complete running back. Though Holmes ran for 161 yards and added 22 receiving yards, Portis eclipsed him with 205 total yards from scrimmage (130 rushing, 75 receiving) and four total touchdowns to Holmes' zero. Portis' 66-yard receiving touchdown in particular was a thing of beauty as he eluded five attempted tackles.
Week 17, 2002 season: Broncos 37, Cardinals 7
Portis ended his rookie season with a bang, as he ran for 228 yards and two touchdowns. He may not have scored any long touchdowns like he did against the Chiefs, but he was especially elusive as he gained almost 10 yards per carry as led Denver to a win.
"He looked like Terrell Davis," Broncos defensive end Trevor Pryce said after the game. "That's the biggest compliment you can give a running back."
Week 14, 2003: Broncos 45, Chiefs 27
In Portis' final game against Kansas City as a Bronco, he somehow bested his previous top performance against Denver's hated rivals. Though he'd had two touchdowns in the first half, Portis had been largely contained by the Chiefs' defense, which limited him to just 30 yards rushing as the Broncos entered halftime with a 21-17 deficit. After the break, Portis emerged refreshed and ran for 188 more yards — and he didn't even play the final eight minutes of the game. By the time the clock hit all zeroes, Portis had run for 218 yards and a franchise-record five touchdowns.
"I'm going to say that was pretty fun," Portis said after the game.