Being Thankful For Northwest Sports

The holiday season is upon us, and like many I find myself reflecting on the things I’m thankful for. Sure, there’s the usual- family, health, happiness, the Dallas Cowboys losing- but since this isn’t a mental health blog, I’m going to focus on less meaningful- but no less enjoyable- things. And there are plenty to go around….

I’m thankful for…  Thanksgiving football. This year, there were three NFL games and Texas-TCU (Remember when UT was a force to be reckoned with?). If you were so inclined, you could have limited outside interaction to communing with your TV’s remote control for about 11 hours. If you were willing to risk your family’s wrath and skip the turkey and pumpkin pie, you could have focused solely on football. I didn’t, but in my house the TV was inexplicably tuned to football from the opening kickoff of the Detroit-Houston game to the final gun at the end of Texas-TCU. In my defense, I was just using the television as background noise. It’s tradition…right??

Tradition is a good thing…and who am I to forego honoring such a long and storied history? Few things make for better traditions than Thanksgiving football. This year, it seemed as if the football gods were smiling on my household…though I suspect The Girlfriend had a very different perspective.

I’m thankful for… The Civil War game, which, while not Auburn-Alabama or Notre Dame-USC, is still the hottest ticket here in the Beaver State. This weekend’s game was only the fifth time that the Ducks and Beavers have met while both were ranked in the top 25. By now, you know that Oregon dominated the final three quarters en route to a 48-24 victory over Oregon State. The Beavers may have lost, but they acquitted themselves well. On this day, the Ducks simply brought more to the table.

Some of my Texas friends often have fun at the expense of Oregon. How, they ask, can anyone take a state seriously when their biggest football game involves Ducks and Beavers? Well, if you watched the Texas Longhorns on Thanksgiving Day, you understand that the state of Texas has nothing on Oregon these days.

Those of us who know our history can hearken back to the ‘80s, when both the Ducks and Beavers were punch lines to a long-running joke. I’ve written about 1983’s “Toilet Bowl” before, so there’s no need to revisit that. Still, today’s Oregon and OSU students have grown up watching both schools enjoy success on the football field. That hasn’t always been true, which made this year’s game featuring the #5 Ducks and #15 Beavers pretty special.

No one’s laughing anymore, because FCS football in Oregon is no longer a running joke. Oregon and OSU can compete with anyone, and fans and alumni from both schools can be proud of what their teams have accomplished. While Stanford’s victory over UCLA means that Oregon won’t be playing for the Pac-12 or BCS titles, 11-1 and a #5 ranking nationally is nothing to sniff at. OSU’s 8-3 record repesents and impressive turnaround from last year’s 3-9 fiasco. If nothing else, it makes convincing blue-chip athletes to spend four years in Eugene or Corvallis much easier.

If not for two missed field goals against Stanford…well, who knows?

I’m thankful for… A Seattle Seahawks team that, while not quite Super Bowl-caliber, is competitive and entertaining. I went to my first Seahawks game a couple weeks ago when the Minnesota Vikings were in town. As a rule, I root for 1) Minnesota, 2) Seattle, 3) Houston, and 4) Whoever’s playing Dallas or Green Bay. For that one Sunday, I wasn’t a Seahawks fan. They did beat the Vikings, though…and they looked pretty good doing so.

With a stout defense, a top-flight running back in Marshawn Lynch, and an outstanding quarterback in rookie Russell Wilson, the Seahawks can’t be taken lightly. They may not go deep into the playoffs (if they make it that far), but the cupboard isn’t bare. Even if this season doesn’t end with a Super Bowl title, Seattle is well positioned for the future. If they can keep the team’s core together (never a guarantee in today’s NFL), the Seahawks will have to be considered serious contenders in the years to come.

It was disappointing to make the trip to Seattle only to see my Vikings lose. The good news is that I can go back to being a Seahawks fan without feeling like a traitor to my heritage. I can enjoy watching Russell Wilson disabuse the football cognoscenti of the notion that he’s too small and too slow. And I can enjoy the Fran Tarkenton comparisons- especially since I’ve been a Vikings fan since I stopped teething.

It turns out that you can’t measure things like leadership and heart, which is why Tarkenton Wilson looks like someone who can be a top-flight quarterback in Seattle for years to come.

I’m thankful for… A Trail Blazers team whose roster isn’t populated by spoiled, disgruntled, fat, and/or out of shape crybabies. It’s too early in the season to have a feel for exactly who the Blazers are and what they’re capable of, but they’re fun to watch. Then again, after enduring the exploits of Raymond Felton, Jamal Crawford, Marcus Camby, and Gerald Wallace, a girls’ rec-league team would be fun to watch.

Like many Blazers fans, I was disappointed that Kaleb Canales wasn’t hired as the team’s head coach. I was skeptical of Terry Stotts, mostly because I didn’t know a lot about him. After seeing what he’s done with a young roster, it’s clear that Stotts knows his Xs and Os. It’s also clear that he knows how to coach and develop young players, which is exactly what this team and this city needs. After last season’s fiasco, it feels as if this edition of the Trail Blazers is headed in the right direction.

With a roster that was pretty much blown up after last season, the Blazers are a young team with far more questions than answers. Stott seems an excellent choice to deal with the ups and downs and inconsistencies of a young team. Some nights the Blazers will look like world-beaters, other nights like basketball’s answer to the Bad News Bears. A team like that needs to have a patient coach able to maintain an even keel in the face of adversity. So far, Stott’s demonstrated an impressive aptitude for navigating the challenges of a long NBA season. His personality lends itself to leading a team composed largely of young and inexperienced players. With a rookie point guard and inexperience throughout the team’s regular rotation, mistakes and teachable moments won’t be in short supply.

I doubt the Blazers will finish above .500 this season, but that’s OK. Building a championship-caliber team takes time and patience. Blazers fans will be patient as long as the team shows progress, plays hard, and presents well in the community. Beating the Lakers a few times certainly won’t hurt. So far, so good.

I’m thankful for… A Timbers team that’s shown Portland to be a top-tier soccer city. No one will confuse Portland for Liverpool or Barcelona, but Puddletown’s fan base (particularly the Timbers Army) is unique and impossible to ignore. While lacking the size of Seattle’s Emerald City Supporters, the Timbers Army is second to none when it comes to commitment, creativity, volume, and profane lyrics.

Who said a Timbers game was supposed to be a family show?

If the Timbers could just shore up their back line and find themselves a couple reliable finishers…. And that’s why this off-season is so important for the team’s future.

Yes, there’s much to be thankful for if you’re a sports fan in Portland, and I truly am very appreciative. Things could be worse; I could be living in Sacramento.

I hope y’all had a safe and happy Thanksgiving and that you had the good sense to avoid Black Friday. All that’s left now is to hold out hope that Santa remembers to deposit at least of few of the things on your Christmas list under your tree.

As for me, all I want for Christmas are Timbers season tickets. 😉

Jack Cluth is on Twitter. Follow him at @yuppieskum

About Arran Gimba