As I sit with a group of rowdy friends, swearing at Frank Gore and tallying their fantasy football points between fistfuls of tortilla chips, I cherish the environment that Sunday football cultivates. It’s interesting, because while I can pull for the 49ers to come out on top (de-facto fandom following LaMichael James) and they can root for the Wisconsin Cheese jockeys, there is no love lost.
I’ve always been more of a football fan by association than anything else. I don’t know enough about it to scrape through a fantasy league, I can’t honestly list the players on most teams (Leoz Maxwell Jilliumz?), and when a call doesn’t make sense I will heavily rely on the encyclopedic knowledge of my buddies to keep my head on straight. But I wouldn’t trade the blood-lust for anything.
There is, however, an absent dynamic among Oregonian football fans; and that’s unity. Sure, if we want to extend our homerism past state lines we have the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, and my personal favorite Denver Broncos, but there is only so much local pride derived from a reach in geography.
That is a big part of why the Blazers mean so much to Oregonians. The Blazers absorb nearly all the sports interest of an entire state that is otherwise void of professional sports teams (though the Timbers and Thorns are rising to prominence). There is a carefully constructed camaraderie that exists between basketball fans of the Pacific Northwest.
Heck, without teams in Seattle or Vancouver anymore, many desperate fans have joined the Blazer nation in the same way my (now somewhat tipsier) compatriots have joined the Seahawk fold. I will always maintain that Jason’s cat looks ridiculous in that football jersey, but I respect the dedication on his part.
Because of this rift in available home teams, watching football and watching basketball have always felt very different for me. While I relish the way ice-cold beers and red-hot tempers can turn a Sunday barbecue into a bonding moment, I equally appreciate the pre-existing bond between a room full of people all praying for the same shots to fall.
That’s why I can’t fault Rip City for getting up in arms about the recent changes our franchise has endured. The Moda Center will never have the same ring to it that The Rose Garden did, and the fallout with Taco Bell will leave many fans hungry for 14 years of free chalupas now behind them. When the dust settles, we will all make adjustments (willingly or not) to support the Blazers, but I can understand the frustration. This is our team. Our only team (soccer not withstanding).
Oregon can’t compete with its southern neighbor, California, that boasts 18 professional sports teams (four in the NBA alone), so we take an immense amount of pride in our most brightly shining gem. The Trail Blazers represent us, and we them. So while I delight in the raucous swearing surrounding Michael Finley that just graced my ears from the other room, I look forward to basketball season, when we can swear about Will Barton instead.