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The Portland Timbers and Why We Love Sports

Monday, November 09, 2015


I have written a great deal about the Portland Timbers this season, and have made an honest attempt to do so from a dispassionate point of view.  But to attempt to pretend that the game against Sporting Kansas City wasn't one of the most thrilling, exhausting, and ultimately rewarding experiences of my life as a sports fan would be a disservice to you as a reader and dishonest to myself as a writer. 

Because that game was simply magical. 

How do you put words to a game like the Timbers played last Thursday night against Kansas City? Words like “thrilling”, “exciting”, and “heart-wrenching” simply do not do justice to the roller-coaster ride that the city of Portland was taken on throughout the evening. From the joy of Rodney Wallace's 57th minute goal to the heartbreak of Kevin Ellis' response in the 87th minute; the drama of Ellis, Krisztián Németh, and Rodney Wallace all scoring goals and all committing arguably red-card-worthy offenses; the feeling of dread after Németh's strike in extra time and the elation of Uruuti's 118th minute response. 

And the penalty kicks. Oh, the penalty kicks. 

I've watched soccer for over 20 years now. In fact, one of my first and most vivid soccer memories is being completely riveted by the penalty shootout between Brazil and Italy in the 1994 World Cup Final.  In all that time, I've managed to avoid having a true rooting interest in a penalty kick shootout until Thursday. 

I now finally understand why it's known as the cruelest way to end a match. 

Like Darlington Nagbe, I could hardly stand to watch. Every Timbers miss felt like a punch to the stomach, while every Kansas City miss that followed was a reprieve. Sporting's Jon Kempin, who isn't even the best goalkeeper on his own team, suddenly looked like the best keeper in the league. Watching Kansas City's Ellis and Saad Abdul-Salaam walk up with a chance to win the game felt like sitting in the electric chair waiting for someone to flip the switch, only to have those glorious North End posts call it off at the last possible second. 

But it wasn't until Abdul-Salaam's penalty somehow, someway hit both posts before bouncing out that I really felt like Lady Luck maybe, just maybe, was wearing a Timbers Army scarf that night. 

Ironically, it wasn't until Portland goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey, who was a striker for much of his youth, stepped up to take a penalty that I felt almost certain a Timber would score. After Kwarasey scored and then saved Kempin's attempt to win the game, the jubilation throughout Providence Park and really, all of the Portland area, was palpable. Personally, I will never forget the mixture of joy and relief I felt in that moment. 

Sports have a funny way of making us all feel and act like children again. Often times, this brings out the worst in us; cursing the children of a referee who blew a call against your team, getting in actual fights with rival fans, running naked on the field; none of these can be considered “mature” by any definition. But nights like Thursday reveal the unbridled, child-like joy that sports is capable of giving us, and that is why we watch, why we cheer, and why we always come back for more. 

The last time a moment in sports affected me so deeply was in 2011, when Brandon Roy summoned one last magical quarter in a Blazers uniform to bring Portland back from 23 points down against the Dallas Mavericks. Even four years later, watching highlights of the game give me goosebumps and I  still well up seeing Roy's post-game interview.

The Blazers didn't win the title that year; in fact, they wouldn't win another game. But the memory of Roy and that comeback will stay with me for many years to come. 

The Timbers can still win it all this year, making that game all the sweeter; but even if the Timbers fail to advance beyond Vancouver on Sunday, the memory of The Rose City Miracle (credit to Stumptown Footy) will live on in Timbers lore forever. 

I've been a sports fan all my life. In that time, I've rooted for champions, lottery teams, and everything in between; I've seen amazing performances, costly letdowns, and shocking results in what feels like every way imaginable. 

But Thursday was magic. Sports made me 10 years old again, lying face-down on the floor with one eye peeking out, because I couldn't bear to watch, but I couldn't miss a second.

Thursday was why we watch sports, and why we always will.  

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. 

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#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. 

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#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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