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Five Best And Worst Oregon Sports Stories of 2015

Friday, December 18, 2015


Wesley Matthews

The year is nearly at an end and what a wild ride 2015 was for sports in Oregon. We’ve had more than our fair share of ups and downs this past year. We’ve seen everything from championship dreams come true to championship dreams ending in the most painful ways. We saw the growth of teams and individuals and we saw the passing of heroes. We saw everything that makes sports a year round event. As we recall the year that was, I give you the best and worst Oregon sports stories of 2015.

5 Worst

5. Oregon State football goes winless in Pac-12 Conference

We knew Oregon State wouldn’t be great this year, but I didn’t think they were going to be this bad. Not being able to beat a conference team when even an FCS team, like Portland State, was able to do so had to sting a little. Maybe, a lot. It was a transition year for the Beavers with new quarterbacks that had no college game experience and a new coach in Gary Anderson. Give Anderson some time to make the Beavers his own team, he has a tough hill to climb to rebuild and put back in place a winning program and identity. Besides, it can only go up from here! Oregon State already has over 20 commitments for the 2016 campaign, with a couple of four-star prospects to boot. With any luck, Oregon State will stay off this half of the list next year.

4. Any talk of another major sports team that isn’t the NHL

Portland is ready for another major league franchise. I’m sure you’ve heard it before; Portland is the biggest city in the nation without a second major sport. But, can we stop with any chatter about MLB and NFL coming to the Rose City? Portland is not getting a baseball or football franchise. Neither has the support, the stadium or the funding. There is no way Portlanders would support a new stadium plan for football and support for baseball is tedious at best. The NHL remains Portland’s best hope. We have a stadium already in place and support for hockey around here remains surprisingly strong. The only thing stopping the NHL from coming to Portland is Paul Allen; he holds the keys to the Moda Center and nothing will get done without his support. Question is: Does he want competition from another team potentially taking away from the Blazers? Personally, I think it’s foolish to believe that support for the Blazers will wane if the NHL were to come to town. Both the NBA and NHL can thrive at the same time, especially in Portland. Let’s just quash any talk about MLB and NFL, please.

3. Oregon loses CFP National Championship Game

Yes, making a championship game should be on the best stories list, and it is, but Oregon failed to make the statement it has been yearning to make for some time now; that it is a national power on par with the Alabamas and Ohio States of the college football world. Ohio State dominated Oregon 42-20 to win the championship, leaving Oregon one win shy once again of a national title. Until Oregon actually wins the big one, it will continue to be seen by the rest of the country as just a fast moving gimmick. To many, Oregon is still a high flying finesse team that can be bullied around by tougher, stronger defenses. You know, by kids from the real America. Though that assumption is unfair, see Oregon’s 2011 BCS National Championship Game against Auburn as proof it can go toe-to-toe with the toughest college football has to offer, that stigma will never be washed away until a national title is firmly in its hands. Until then, that O in the middle of the Autzen Stadium will continue to be a joke as to how many titles the Ducks own.

2. Wesley Matthews Injury

Nothing transformed the fortunes of an entire franchise more than the injury that felled Wesley Matthews late in the Blazers 2014-’15 campaign. Not only did it derail a potential championship run for the Blazers, but it would later be an influencing factor in LaMarcus Aldridge’s decision to leave for San Antonio in the offseason following the Blazers first round loss in the playoffs.

Four of the five starters from that Blazers team would be gone when all was said and done, including Matthews, who was a fan favorite in Portland. A full rebuild is now in place for the Blazers, leaving Damian Lillard as the sole cornerstone of the organization. Injuries are a part of sports and happen all the time, but rarely do they have as much impact as the Matthews injury. Though he seems to be recovering in typical Matthews fashion with the Dallas Mavericks, the injury left Portland in tatters. What was once a title contending team just a few short months ago is now a likely lottery team. Now the question remains; just how long will it take for the Blazers to contend once again? This would have been an easy number one on the list, except for….    

1. Jerome Kersey passes away at age 52

Of the few indelible lines uttered by Blazers play-by-play legend Bill Schonely, “mercy, mercy, Jerome Kersey” was always a favorite of mine. Kersey was everything Blazers fans loved in a player; he hustled after every loose ball, did the dirty work when asked, and was an underdog (second-round draft pick) who became a fan favorite. Sounds a lot like someone I just mentioned on this list.

How shocking was it when he passed away at age 52 from a blood clot? Kersey was still an active member of the Trail Blazers family, and from all accounts he was as vibrant a human being as he was a player. Which made the news of his passing even more tragic. I can still remember Terry Porter holding back tears when remembering his old friend, fans and players alike mourning a Blazers legend on social media, and the number 25 popping up everywhere you went. They are the images and raw emotions that rippled through Portland on February 18. It was the first time I can remember being truly saddened and shocked by the passing of a player I grew up and revered. With the death of Kevin Duckworth in 2008, it marked the second passing to one of the great starting five’s in Blazers history from the late 80s and early 90s. Both were too young. Mercy, mercy, Jerome Kersey…..

Honorable Mentions: LaMarcus Aldridge bolts to San Antonio (see Matthews injury), Oregon stumbles out of the gate post-Mariota era, Portland Thorns trade Alex Morgan, Meyers Leonard’s mustache.

5 Best

5. Portland Thorns set NWSL attendance record

Shortly after the U.S. women won the World Cup, the Portland Thorns hosted the Seattle Reign at Providence Park that featured many World Cup participants in attendance, including Portland’s own Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Nadine Angerer, and Seattle’s Megan Rapinoe. A capacity crowd of 21,144 attended the game that saw the Thorns lose to Seattle 1-0. It was the largest crowd ever in NWSL history and solidified Portland as Soccer City, USA. It was also the second largest stand-alone crowd ever in the history of women’s professional soccer in the United States. 2015 would turn out be a very good year for soccer in Portland for both men and women. This event would be one of many celebrations centered around soccer this year.

4. Hillsboro Hops win 2nd consecutive Northwest League Championship

The Hops became just the ninth team in the history of the NWL to win back-to-back championships. Oddly enough, the last team to do it was the Yakima Bears in 1964 who would eventually become the Hillsboro Hops in 2012. That connection alone merits a spot in the best stories of 2015. The Hops get very little press and recognition in Portland, but they just keep on winning nonetheless, which should be commended and noted. Congrats, Hop Nation! I’ll have a beer in your honor.

3. Oregon reaches first CFP Championship Game

Despite the end result being number three on my list of worst sports stories of the year, being a part of the first ever College Football Playoff National Championship Game is a big deal and a great accomplishment. The contest preceding the championship game, the semifinal matchup against the Florida State Seminoles, was a first-class showcase of the Ducks at their best. Oregon, with quarterback Marcus Mariota, dismantled the Seminoles and their star quarterback, Jameis Winston, 59-20. Hopes were sky-high for the Ducks following that most impressive win. While a title would not come to fruition, it was still a banner year for Mariota, who would go on to win the Heisman Trophy, and for the Ducks, winners of another Pac-12 championship.

2. Portland State Vikings/Bruce Barnum

Perhaps more than any other story on this list, this one came completely by surprise. At the beginning of the college football season, everyone’s attention was on the University of Oregon, and rightfully so after the Ducks played in the national championship game earlier in the year and the curiosity surrounding how the team would compete without Mariota. However, the Ducks got off to a mediocre 3-3 start while Oregon State was busy gunning for a spot on the worst stories of the year. But, something else began to brew in Oregon. The Portland State Vikings were winning football games. Against good teams. Against FBS teams! For a short period of time, the Vikings became the talk of college football in Oregon for all the right, winning reasons. They beat both Montana teams in the Big Sky Conference, something that hadn’t been done since Man learned to stand on two feet and throw a pigskin. They beat two FBS teams including Washington State in Pullman. Though the season ended with a second-round playoff loss to Northern Iowa, it was a year to remember for Portland State and its coach, Bruce Barnum, who was named Big Sky coach of the year as well as FCS Coach of the Year. The term ‘Barney Ball’ was also introduced into the Portland lexicon, a term used to describe the Vikings blue-collar toughness and attitude. 2015 could be the beginning of a bright, new era at Portland State. Let’s hope winning becomes a new tradition for both the Vikings and Barnum. Long live Barney Ball.

1. Timbers win MLS Cup

What better way to end the year than with a parade, Dwight Jaynes be damned! Hard to believe the Timbers were a borderline playoff team with only a handful of games remaining in the regular season. After 12 matches, the Timbers were dead last in the Western Conference. But, circumstance and injuries forced Timbers coach Caleb Porter to tweak his rotation and they never looked back. Portland got hot at just the right time and what followed was a remarkable journey to the MLS Cup, including a for-the-ages penalty kick shootout in the knockout round of the playoffs against Kansas City. The Timbers went on to beat the Vancouver Whitecaps in the conference semifinals and then beat first-place FC Dallas in the Western Conference Championship. Portland won the MLS Cup Final against the Vancouver Crew and vanquished nearly 40 years of Portland not having won a major league title. It was a magical run, complete with all the excitement and heart-stopping moments you would expect from a championship run. 2015 will be remembered as the year the Timbers won their first major league title. We salute you, Timbers.

Honorable Mentions:  Marcus Mariota wins the Heisman Trophy, C.J. McCollum’s rise, anytime Bill Walton trends on Twitter.

And that, is 2015. We look forward to 2016 and to all the wonderful and not-so wonderful stories to come. Happy New Year everyone!

GoLocalPDX partner Oregon Sports News: Since 2011, Oregon Sports News has provided entertaining, hard-hitting local sports news & commentary every weekday. To read more from this author, check out Oregon Sports News by clicking here.


Related Slideshow: 12 of the Greatest Sports Movies of All Time

Hank Stern ranks his top twelve favorite sports films. 

Prev Next

#12 Rollerball

Some of the non-athletic scenes in this dystopian classic show their age, but Rollerball is a strangely prescient film that anticipated both the corporatization of sport and fans’ limitless taste for violence. Bonus points for the ominous intro music.

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#11 A League of Their Own

A comedy that looks back to the antithesis of corporate sport – a women’s baseball league during World War II with many memorable lines to choose from (e.g.,”There’s no crying in baseball.”)

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#10 Remember The Titans

Yes, filmmakers took liberties with some of the facts dealing with the integration of a high school football team in Virginia. But there’s a reason football teams often screen this film on the eve of big games. It’s a damn inspirational tale.

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#9 The Natural

This film has grown on me over time. Originally, it seemed slow and schmaltzy. Now, it seems well-paced and charming. Then and now, the re-created scenes of pre-World War II ballparks arrive like perfectly preserved postcards from the past.  

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#8 The Longest Yard

Not the remake with Adam Sandler and Chris Rock. But the hilarious original with Burt Reynolds and Eddie Albert as a wonderfully villainous warden who pits the guards against the inmates in a grudge football game that includes former Green Bay linebacker Ray Nitschke and other ex-football players like Sonny Sixkiller and Joe Kapp, both stalwart Pac-8 quarterbacks long, long ago.  

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#7 Slap Shot

The Hanson brothers. Enough said.

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#6 Rocky

Often imitated, but never replicated. The definitive underdog boxing story featuring Sylvester Stallone before he became a self-caricature in multiple sequels. Impossible to hear the theme song without being motivated to get off the couch.

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#5 Seabiscuit

A fantastic book as well as a great movie. Like “The Natural,” Seabiscuit captures its Depression-era setting for modern-day viewers taken back to an era when horse racing actually meant something in America. 

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#4 Requiem for a Heavywei

A too often-forgotten film these days but a wonderful boxing drama that shows the sport’s underside with memorable  performances by Mickey Rooney, Jackie Gleason and Anthony Quinn.

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#3 Hoosiers

Want to know something about small-town America in the 1950s and about Indiana basketball? This hoops movie does all of that with a healthy dose of redemption throughout. 

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#2 Bull Durham

There’s a pretty good case to be made this movie played a huge part in the rebirth and re-marketing of minor league baseball. As written by former minor leaguer Ron Shelton, there are many great scenes to choose from but this one is a favorite. 

Prev Next

#1 Raging Bull

A rags-to-riches-to-rags story of boxer Jake LaMotta meets the actor born to play him, Robert De Niro. Not a false moment in this black-and-white powerhouse.


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