Clinton Portis: Jim Zorn was 'never even horny'

Chris Lingebach
November 02, 2018 - 12:51 pm
horny-for-zorny

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The year was 2008. The Washington Redskins – led by quarterbacks coach-turned-offensive coordinator-turned-NFL head coach (all within the span of one offseason) Jim Zorn – had set the town on fire with a 6-2 start.

FedEx Field was flooded with 'Horny For Zorny' shirts made and sold by The Junkies. Joe Gibbs had bowed gracefully back into retirement, but all was right, because his reincarnate was in charge and running things, seemingly correctly.

Lead back Clinton Portis was off to another vibrant start, with 944 rushing yards and seven touchdowns at only the midway point of the season. 

And then the bottom fell out. The Redskins did an about-face, going 2-6 down the stretch to finish in fourth place in a loaded NFC East, missing the playoffs.

This is the first time the Redskins have gotten off to a 5-2 start in the 10 years since.

What better a guest to reflect on this moment in time than Portis?

"Now Clinton, let's go back to that year, 2008," John-Paul Flaim said. "What happened? You're 6-2. We actually had t-shirts: Horny For Zorny. We were making a killing."

"Aw," Eric Bickel reminisced. "We were entrepreneurs!"

"I heard you recently talk about the hip-hip-hooray (cheer)," Flaim said, in reference to a radio appearance earlier in the week on 106.7 The Fan. "And you thought it was corny and things went downhill after that. What happened, in retrospect?"

"I mean, it's obvious what happened," Portis said. "You just said you had a t-shirt that said 'Horny For Zorny' – that lets you know something was going bad, because if you listened to Coach Zorn, he's never even horny. That's a sin in his eyes. If you all knew who you were horny for, then you would have known that that was a sin."

"Well that's why it was kind of funny, though," Bickel said.

"I can see Blue Shorts' headline already!" John Auville offered.

(And now you can see it, too!)

Portis went on to explain the dramatic drop-off as being the result of Zorn alienating the locker room. He recently shared that Zorn was holding him back, while simultaneously demanding he practice more.

"I just couldn't get into that," Portis said. "And I really think Coach Gibbs did such a great job building a team that was determined, that was hard-working, that was focused on being tough. And all of a sudden you get whatever that is that you just played (a hip-hip-hooray chant played in the background), and you get catch phrases like Horny For Zorny."

"Well, that was kind of us," Bickel clarified.

"Yeah," Jason Bishop said. "We created that."

"It's only so far you can go before you lose the team," Portis said. "And all the antics, like all the small stuff. You know, as a player, when you give everything to an organization, when you give everything to a team – like bust your ass, play through injury, play hurt – and all of a sudden on Sunday, I perform. I don't care how it boils down. On Sunday, I perform.

"If you look at today's game, that's the norm. People miss the entire week. And all of a sudden, it's like sports has been recreated, like football has been recreated. Like, Oh, well this guy didn't practice until Friday and he came out and had 100 yards. How did he do that? I did that my entire career. But all of a sudden it's like, because teams or the NFL make the decision, it's highlighted as, This kid is so sharp! He doesn't even need to practice."

"I was doing that my entire career and I was forced to practice," he said. "And then all of a sudden I begin to practice every day and I wasn't making the games. So it's totally backwards. When you're the savior or when you're the mainstay in the organization, and you're giving your all, you're busting your butt, all of a sudden someone turns the fans against you, like you're the issue. And, you know, for me, I think that's what happened in '08.

"Like, I became the problem instead of the solution. And once I became the problem, that's like being back-stabbed when you lay it on the line. Just the year before, I had just played with a broken hand and messed up shoulder to carry this team and people forget that. It just was one of those times where you start to feel as if you're not the focal point, if you're being tuned out. And for me at that time, there was so much going on in life, you just was like, to hell with it."

Portis would rush for 543 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.

As for what Jay Gruden can do to avoid a similar flip-flopping fate, it sounds like the best course is to continue operating business as usual. Anything but what Zorn did. Portis used the opportunity to compare the two coaches as a chance to get a few more Zorn barbs in, and he laid them on thick.

"I don't think you can compare Jay and Jim," Portis said. "I'm not even sure if it's okay to go to a bar with Jim. It's not okay to go to a bar as a grownup. If you're 21, you shouldn't be doing that. You probably have to go to church and drink holy water with Jim."

"But Jay on the other hand, when you look at the locker room, I think players really enjoy Jay," he said. "I've never really hung out with Jay to say, 'Ah man, this guy's so cool.' But then hanging with his kids, it's totally different. They all seem grounded. It seems to be a good time. I've never really heard players bash Jay, like, Ah man, this guy sucks. More guys look forward to playing for him. That's the difference.

"When you see Jay, he's definitely a players' coach. He's a relaxed coach – not a lot of yelling and screaming and back-stabbing. That's the biggest thing in coaching. You always want to know where you stand. You don't want people going behind your back, whispering about you and then saying one thing in your face."

"That was the biggest disconnect (with Zorn)," Portis said. "Because I could have a conversation with Jim and it was, Oh man, this is great! And then I hear from someone else that Jim really don't want me in the game. And I'm like, he could have said that himself, or you could have told me. Instead, you're sitting there beating around the bush."

And that's what happened to Zorn's 2008 Redskins.

They'd go 4-12 the next season.

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