Talk to fans from big time sports towns and they'll roll off their favorite teams.
An interview goes like this:
Me: Where are you from?
Sports Fan: Chicago.
Me: Do you have a favorite team?
Sports Fan: Here, or Chicago? I'll always be a Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks. And the team that tries to win baseball games.
Me: The Cubs?
Sports Fan: They don't have to try and win to fill up Wrigley. It's an iconic place by itself. The White Sox play ball. They've even won a World Series in the past century.
Me: How about a favorite Portland team?
Sports Fan: I'll go with the Winterhawks. I'm a hockey fan, though I just got tickets for the Mariners vs. White Sox series coming up.
Me: You like baseball?
Sports Fan: It's Chicago, so yes.
At a certain age sports become a touchstone more than a must-win deal. Memories of going to the games are more important than the games, and reliving those memories is even more important.
Like a favorite song on the radio calls you to another time and place, sports have the same power, the "Where were you when (fill in the blank) happened?"
Ask a Blazer fan where they were when the team won Portland's only NBA title and more often than not you hear, "I wasn't born."
Ask if they miss the Portland Beavers and they say, "I get down to Corvallis for a few games, so no."
During a recent podcast on Oregon Sports News celebrating Brad Stein's 100th show of The Slant, one guest suggested Portland's fan base is strained because Portland attracts athletes, not fans. It's a city of those who do, not those who watch.
The figure of 18,000 participants in the Hood to Coast Relay backs that up. So does 10,000 runners in the Portland Marathon.
If 28,000 people can run/walk great distances once a year, you'd think the rest of the city could jump in a car once in a while for a game.
Maybe it's an administrative problem, or a regional problem, but the number of teams that played in Portland and left seems longer than it should be. Was it the fans' fault?
Portland Beavers? Portland Mavericks? Portland Rockies? All gone. The nearest pro baseball team, the Hillsboro Hops, don't have a Portland home.
Portland Breakers? Portland Storm? Portland Thunder? Gone, but look for the Portland Boltz with their games also in Hillsboro.
Major league cities have major league teams, and Portland qualifies with the NBA Portland Trail Blazers and the MLS Portland Timber; but many fans think of the University of Portland Pilots when soccer is mentioned. That's what winning can do; create memories that stick, as in "Where were you when the women's team won their two national championships?"
The city needs winning teams to foster a yearning fan base. Pittsburgh Steeler fans wouldn't wave their terrible towels of the team was terrible. Washington Redskin fans wouldn't wear pig snouts if their team was always bad.
Instead of lasting greatness, Portland needs to reinvent the sports landscape regularly. Doing something spectacular, something that shocks the sporting world, always works.
Explaining that Portland's hockey team in 1916, the Portland Rosebuds, was the first US team to play in the Stanley Cup Finals, does little to warm a sports fan's heart.
Should Portland be satisfied with the Winterhawks in the playoffs, the Blazers showing flashes, and the Timbers getting rowdy? Is that enough to feed the fan base, to keep them coming back?
Indy car races at Portland International Raceway used to be a huge draw. What would it take to get them back, another version of the Portland Grand Prix? Portland could join the sophisticated cities of Europe and run the race on public roads.
Imagine the most exotic race cars in the world running from the top of the Marquam Bridge, up I-5 and over the Fremont, then down I-405 for one hot lap after another.
Who's Motor City now, Indianapolis?