WASHINGTON (June 6, 2005) -- A trial between former NFL teammates over a jersey number was averted when running back Clinton Portis agreed to pay $18,000 to former Washington Redskins teammate Ifeanyi Ohalete.
Ohalete will receive all but $2,000 of the $20,000 he was seeking as the balance due for a $40,000 agreement that gave Portis the Redskins jersey No. 26 last year. The case appeared headed for a trial in a Maryland District Court.
"We jostled around a little bit, and we came to that figure as a final resolution," said John Steren, Ohalete's attorney, who said one of Portis' lawyers made the offer.
Ohalete, who is now with the Arizona Cardinals, was 2½ hours from boarding a flight for the trial.
"I really wasn't looking for vindication. I just wanted to get this thing over with," Ohalete told The Associated Press from his home in Arizona. "I did my half and I just wanted what was mine in return.
"It worked out better for me. I didn't want to miss practice."
When Portis signed as a free agent with the Redskins in 2004, he said he wanted the wear the same jersey number he wore for two seasons with the Denver Broncos. However, No. 26 already belonged to Ohalete, and he was adamant that he wanted to keep it. 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 Ohalete then 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."
Ohalete said the contract was "pretty cut and dry. It shouldn't have come to this. It should have been settled long ago."
Ohalete doesn't expect to have any contact with Portis.
"I don't have any need to talk to him," Ohalete said. "I don't think we were friends before and I don't think we'll be friends now It was all business."
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.
But this case was one of the most extreme. Negotiations between Steren and Portis' agents, Drew and Jason Rosenhaus, went nowhere until Portis put the matter into the hands of a lawyer.
Steren said Ohalete was content to give up the $2,000, given the time and trouble it would have taken for the player to travel from Arizona for a civil trial.
"It would have been a little bit of trouble to come here," Steren said.
Portis' attorney did not immediately return a call seeking comment.