A New Era Dawns

Note: this post will nod not even passingly at beer. It is, however, a rumination on the cultural evolution of Portland, so you could call it relevant at a macro level.

Portland is famously a terrible sports town. An immigrant city, it has for generations been peopled by incoming waves of New Englanders and Midwesterners who formed their allegiances elsewhere. This is its great virtue: people didn't happen by Portland accidentally; they had to go out of their way to get here. Ironically, our parochialism is maintained by these very besotted newcomers who want to preserve this mossy, quirky gem just as they found it. But it means they remain Steelers and Packers and Red Sox and Yankees fans.

The asterisk to our sports terribleness is the Trailblazers, a team so showered by love that players regularly hang around after their playing careers. They've only won one championship, and yet every year the fans treat them like royalty. (Boston fans, who have the luxury of winning--six championships in three sports in the last ten years--throw their teams under the bus at the first sign of failure.) Portland, a one-sport town. Anyway, that's what I thought until last night.

The Portland Timbers "debuted." Actually, they first debuted back in 1975, in the first of many half-assed attempts to bring professional soccer to the US. But last night they debuted as a major league team--and it felt like it. Despite the fact that it was pouring rain all day and pretty cold, the crowd arrived early and roared. It was a full house, and I don't think anyone there sat while players were on the field. The hardcore fans, the Timbers Army, around whom owner Merritt Paulson has wisely built his fan base, sang from a long list of chants throughout the game. Eventually, the crowd picked up a few of them and joined in. Our new coach, John Spencer, from Scotland, described it this way:
"Even during the warm-up, I thought it was electrifying," Portland coach John Spencer said. "Myself and the staff were talking and saying, 'This doesn't feel like the U.S. No disrespect to anybody, but it felt like you were playing in the (European) Champions League."
In this clip below, you get a sense of what the crowd was like. (It also features a young fella I've taken a liking to named Jorge Perlaza. He's rocket fast, and I hope to popularize the nickname "Lightning" Perlaza. Tell your friends.)

One of the enduring features of the Timbers is the mascot, a lumberman who cuts the end off a log when the Timbers score. (For decades, it was Timber Jim, whose name was retired to the Ring of Honor last night; Timber Joey now mans the saw.) After the Timbers let a three-nil lead slip, Joey walked around the concourse, revving the chainsaw.

In a surreal turn, almost none of the players had witnessed this before. The team is mostly newly assembled, and have been on the road while workers finished the stadium renovation. They seemed to be stunned by the spectacle--but also totally charged up. Here they were, a new team in what was supposed to be an expansion market, and it seemed like the fans had been here for years. It was truly a spectacle and felt like a watershed moment.

Like everything else, Portland's sports enthusiasms mark it as an oddball. but we're no longer a one-sport town.

Okay, one beer comment: it looks like Widmer and Budweiser have sole rights to beer sales, but I couldn't get anywhere near a tap to study it more closely.