WASHINGTON -- Big-time sports has come this: Two former NFL
teammates are on the verge of going to court to settle a dispute
over a jersey number.
A crude, one-paragraph contract has led to Ifeanyi Ohalete,
plaintiff, vs. Clinton Portis, defendant, on the docket for civil
trial Tuesday in a district court in Maryland. Simply put: Ohalete
wants the $20,000 he feels he is owed for giving Portis the jersey
No. 26 when both were members of the Washington Redskins a year
"It's certainly what we expect," Ohalete's attorney, John
Steren, said Monday. "It's certainly what we're demanding."
Athletes' attachments to certain jersey numbers is ubiquitous on
all levels, leading to spats when ordering uniforms for church
league softball and deep-pocketed deals between marquee pros.
Eli Manning, for example, had to pay for punter Jeff Feagles'
family vacation to Florida to snag the preferred No. 10 after the
New York Giants drafted Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in
2004. Feagles also got a new kitchen in his home from Plaxico
Burress when he gave Burress his No. 17 after the wide receiver
signed with New York.
When Portis signed with the Redskins last year, he immediately
honed in on No. 26, which he wore for two seasons with the Denver
Broncos. However, the number already belonged to Ohalete, who
didn't want to give it up. Protracted negotiations led to a
contract signed by Portis, Ohalete and witness Brad Berlin, the
Redskins equipment manager.
"The document is being drawn on June 4, 2004, to verify the
agreement between Clinton Portis and Ifeanyi Ohalete for the sale
of Ifeanyi's jersey number in exchange for monetary compensation,"
the contract said.
It called for Portis to pay Ohalete $40,000 in three
installments: $20,000 immediately, $10,000 by Week 8 of the NFL
season, and $10,000 by Christmas Day. Portis paid the $20,000 up
front and got his coveted No. 26. Ohalete switched to No. 30.
But then Ohalete was cut by the Redskins during training camp in
August and was claimed off waivers by Arizona. Portis apparently
felt Ohalete's departure voided the rest of the contract, so he
didn't pay the final two installments.
"I think he's crazy," Portis told Sirius NFL Radio after the
suit was filed in late December. "How could you request something
when you got cut, but I would have had the number anyway. I think
he's crazy, so I guess we'll be in court together."
That has been Portis' only substantial comment on the lawsuit.
His agents, Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, have said even less.
Ohalete has said the contract speaks for itself. The agreement
makes no stipulation that either player has to remain on the
"It's a simple contract," Steren said. "It's fairly well
written, and it's fairly unambiguous. We hope the judge will see it
that way, too."