According to former Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis, the 2008 Washington Redskins were destined for big things, right up until first-time head coach Jim Zorn “ruined” it.
The sin of Zorn, charged with the unenviable task of taking over a veteran locker room that had lost star safety Sean Taylor in a tragic shooting death a season prior: squashing a tradition of taking shots of Hennessy, a brand of cognac, before games.
“I don’t think you come out of the dark place, because you look at 2007—2008 probably could have been or would have been my best year in football,” Portis said alongside Santana Moss in an interview with NBC Washington. “Then all of the sudden that [expletive] Coach Zorn just really ruined that. And if you think about it, it was around the same time. He ruined that moment. He ruined that recovery trail. I think it’s known now—even if it’s not, I don’t give a damn; I’m grown—myself, Santana and Sean, prior to the game, we would take a little shot. … We were drinking Hennessy. Me, Santana, and Sean, we did this for a year and a half before anyone knew. It was never two, three, four shots. … From that point, we did it every game. All of a sudden Coach Zorn comes in, and [says] ‘Oh, yeah, guys are taking sips for Sean.’ What?”
Here is a clip of them talking about the pre-game shots. I would watch the whole interview though. It’s 45 minutes but it flies by pic.twitter.com/BxIiXGLyr0
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) December 5, 2017
According to both Portis and Moss, questioning the Hennessy tradition led to the coach’s losing the locker room.
“It bothered me when that happened, too, because we [were] doing it way prior to him getting here,” Moss said. “So he spoke out about it, ‘Hey, I hear you guys . . . you know that liquor is a downer? Don’t you feel down when you drink?’ And we’re like, ‘What is this conversation going to?’ And then I remember stepping out of the meeting room and he grabbed me, like, ‘Santana, are you one of those guys?’ And I think he wanted me to tell on everybody. And I said, ‘Coach, look here man, I don’t know about everybody else, but yeah, I’m that guy. But do you have a problem with my play?’ … He just kind of lost a lot of us. He said that, and that kind of lost us together when it came to him. Like, ‘Man, he spoke of that name wrong.’ You know, that’s kind of like a low blow. Like, don’t bring his name up in that way, you know what I mean? That’s wrong.”
While Portis did put up monstrous numbers year, rushing for 1,487 yards and nine touchdowns, team success proved more elusive. The team went 8-8 that season, then 4-12 the next before Zorn was fired.
Obviously consuming alcohol, even in small quantities, before a game isn’t advisable. But for all you NFL head coaches out there, if your players are honoring the memory of their lost-far-too-soon close friend in a way that isn’t hurting anybody, maybe let them do so in peace.