The spotlight does not shine brightly on everyone. Yet the potential exists for it to burn anyone it finds, no matter how brief the exposure.
The NFL, for example, is littered with tales of superstar performers who succumb to the trappings of fame and fortune during or after their playing days, if they’re not careful.
Steve McNair’s slaying a little more than three years ago was a stark example of what can go wrong. More recently, the news has been more positive for the likes of Keith Bulluck and Eddie George, who have parlayed their fame into high-profile broadcast positions on satellite radio and network television, respectively.
Then there is Marico Portis.
Most people probably don’t remember the name, though he was with the Titans for two full years and was a starter at the University of Alabama prior to that. Fewer still would recognize his face.
No one who encounters him during Titans’ training camp workouts, though, will notice any ill effects from his time in the game.
“Football has been great to me,” he said. “It helped me get my degree. It still helps me now in the business world, just the connections and contacts I have and the clients you get from having played for Alabama and played for the Titans. That opened up a lot of doors that a lot of people can’t open.
“I’ve been able to live a great life.”
Portis came to the Titans in 2002 as an undrafted rookie. Blessed with uncommon natural strength (he set weight room records at Alabama) he managed to carve out a place for himself on an offensive line where even some of the backups had more than a decade of experience in the league. He spent all of 2003 and the first 15 games of 2004 on the practice squad. He finally was promoted to the active roster and, after a starter was injured early, played in the season-ending victory over Detroit. It was his only NFL appearance.
He went to Indianapolis when the Titans opted not to re-sign him the next season but was cut after training camp. After that, he rejected all inquiries from other teams.
“I was done with it,” he said. “It was time for me to go into my field. I was just tired of putting all the hard work in and at the end of the day being cut. I just figured it was time to put my degree to work.”
He earned that degree in criminal justice before his senior season at Alabama. So he began pursuit of a master’s in business administration, which he completed during his professional days.
His first job out of football was as a deputy with the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office. Four years ago, he became a manager with Guardsmark, a security firm that provides personnel and support for the Titans’ training facility and LP Field.
As a result, he has moved on, yet as an extra hand during workouts that are open to the public, he has found himself back where he was.
“I don’t miss training camp,” he said. “But I definitely miss the camaraderie, the sportsmanship in the locker room, the games and being around the fellows. But I don’t miss this time of year.”
The key to Portis’ post-NFL success is that he not only remained focused on the long-term, he also never lost sight of the fact that football is a game. All the things that came with it never mattered to him.
“He was a joy to have in the room because he brought that lightness to the game,” said Titans coach Mike Munchak, who was the offensive line coach during Portis’ time. “Sometimes it gets a little too serious, and he was a guy you could have fun with. … He was a good player, and it was just fun being around him. I think he brought a lot of energy to the room. We enjoyed our time with him.”
When that time ended, he was no different from when he started.
“I’ve always been a hard-working blue-collar guy,” he said. “Even coming in as an undrafted free agent I had to put the pedal to the metal. There wasn’t nothing given to me.”
The hard way
A look at some notable undrafted free agents who earned spots with the Tennessee Titans:
Wide receiver, 2001-06
A little-used quarterback at UCLA, he made his way on to the team the same year that two other wide receivers (Justin McCareins and Eddie Berlin) were drafted. He is among the franchise’s all-time top 10 in receptions (273) and receiving yards (4,033). His 233 yards in a 2004 game against Kansas City is the third-highest total in team history and the most since the franchise relocated to Houston.
He earned a spot the same year Rocky Calmus and Rocky Boiman were drafted in the third and fourth rounds, respectively. The University of North Texas product ended up as a two-year starter who made 128 tackles in 2004. The next season he made the only interception of his career, in which he returned 21 yards for a touchdown. He left the Titans when he signed a three-year deal with the New York Jets, who cut him after one season.
Running back, 2002
A training camp darling out of Louisiana Tech, he offered a welcome dose of versatility to the offense. He rushed nine times for 18 yards, caught 18 passes for 187 yards and two touchdowns and was the team’s primary return man for both kicks and punts.
A rugged, hard-hitter out of Southern Miss, he spent three full seasons with the Titans, primarily as a special teams performer. He returned in 2001 after a brief stint with Carolina and started 11 of the final 12 games. Sadly, his most memorable moment might have been on the practice field when he collided with Kevin Dyson, who sustained a devastating knee injury as a result.
He signed with Jacksonville out of LSU in 2010 but was cut before training camp, spent a month with Baltimore in camp and finally joined the Titans practice squad late that season. He made the roster last fall and appeared in nine games, which included extensive playing time in consecutive contests against Buffalo (five tackles) and New Orleans (six tackles).