Ohalete wants the $20K he says he's owed

Updated: June 6, 2005, 1:20 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Clinton Portis
Running Back
Washington Redskins
Rush Yds TD Rec Yds TD
343 1315 5 40 235 2

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 ago.

"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 Redskins roster.

"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."

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press