It was a beautiful December afternoon at Invesco Field at Mile High. The weather was in the 60s, a subtle breeze was in the air and the stadium roared with the emphatic voices of 76,000 screaming fans.
The Denver Broncos were three point favorites against their arch rivals that day, despite the Chiefs being 11-1 to Denver's 7-5 at that time. Everything was on the line for Mike Shanahan's Broncos, who desperately needed a victory to stay alive for a shot at a wildcard playoff berth. There was no room for error in a game of such magnitude. They needed to stay focused on the present task in Kansas City, even though they knew the road ahead wouldn't be any easier with road games to end the year at Indianapolis and Green Bay.
If they didn't win against Kansas City on that memorable December 7th afternoon those games wouldn't have mattered anyways. But they did win via comeback — in a good old fashioned Broncos beat down of the Chiefs by the tune of 45-27.
Some of you may remember, some of you may not, but in all honesty how could one forget?
Clinton Portis already had become beloved by Broncos fans by the time the two teams squared off that day. After a record shattering rookie year where he posted 1,508 yards rushing, 15 touchdowns and several hundred yards of receptions and a handful of scores through the air and earned Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, it was easy for fans to support the former Miami Hurricane.
It wasn't just one of the greatest games in Broncos history, for the young running back out of Miami it would stand the test of time as the best game of his career.
Portis was a God on the gridiron that Sunday afternoon. Even eight men in the box couldn't stop him from tearing off 218 yards on the ground on 22 carries. Interestingly enough, it wasn't the most rushing yards a Broncos back had ever had in a game. Mike Anderson had registered 251 yards on the ground against the Saints in December of 2000 — a record that still stands fifteen years later. However, Portis' five touchdowns on the ground that day is tied for the second most by any running back in NFL History, just one shy of the six Gayle Sayers amassed against the San Francisco 49ers in December of 1965.
When it was all said and done, fans were convinced that he appeared to be the next best thing the Broncos had at running back since Terrell Davis, but that idea wouldn't last for long.
He didn't know it yet, but at the end of the season, Portis would be traded to the Washington Redskins in exchange for All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey and a second round draft choice that would become Tatum Bell. But looking back, his impeccable performance against the Chiefs may have been the bolster to his trade value that would net Denver their eventual Hall of Famer on the defensive side of the ball.
There just must be something about December football that brings to life the best in running backs across the league. That winter afternoon, Clinton Portis wasn't just another guy on the field. He was the man everyone was chasing. In fact, he was more than a man — he became a Broncos legend, even if his time with Denver was short, but oh so sweet.
This post serves as a Mile High Salute in remembrance of him. Thanks for what you did as a Bronco and thanks for bringing us one of the best Broncos in the history of the franchise via trade. Wouldn't it be awesome if C.J. Anderson brought us a similar memory Thursday night?
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