Portland State Football Needs To Be Great Again

I still hear it all the time–although I’m not sure if it’s from any longtime residents–that one of the things people love about Portland is its quirkiness. I have some bad news for those individuals: Portland hasn’t been “quirky” since the ‘80s.

Portland was quirky when we had Ramblin’ Rod, when kids were running out to get Tom Peterson haircuts, and when the Portland Beavers dominated summer evenings. We were quirky when Voodoo Doughnut wasn’t criticized for being Voodoo Doughnut.

There is one solution, however, to help bring back some of the vibe of Portland’s bygone, quirky era. A winning Portland State football team.

The Vikings haven’t had an established run of excellence since the days of Pokey Allen, who was the very definition of a quirky. (To be fair, Tim Walsh had a decent run at Portland State from the mid- ‘90s to 2006) It’s time for Portland State to start winning again and bring back a unique, winning vibe to downtown. And I still think current head coach Bruce Barnum can get the job done.

Hard to believe that just two years ago we were talking about the Portland State Vikings being the best college football team in Oregon. At the time, that assessment had more to do with the quality of the Vikings’ play than a cynical comparison to the Oregon Ducks and Oregon State Beavers.

In 2015, the Vikings beat the Washington State Cougars in Pullman, Washington.  They became the first FCS team to beat two FBS teams in the same season. They beat a North Texas team so badly, 66-7, that North Texas fired its head coach immediately after.

Those were happy times at Portland State, a program that rarely sees the light of the media who usually plant themselves in Eugene and Corvallis. Portland State, for a brief moment in time, was the darling of college football in Oregon. “BarneyBall” was a popular phrase sweeping through downtown Portland in honor of the Vikings’ style of play under first-year coach Barnum. Though the Vikings would lose in the second round of the playoffs, it seemed like a new dawn for Portland State football.

Two seasons years, however, and the Vikings have just wrapped up a winless season. After opening the season by outplaying, and nearly beating, the Oregon State Beavers, the wheels came off the Vikings’ 2017 campaign. They didn’t just lose games all season, they were thoroughly beaten in every category. How fast “BarneyBall” has fallen.

So, what happened? Can “BarneyBall” be resurrected?

First, this is still Portland State. Not exactly a sought-after destination for recruits, which makes it hard for the Vikings to have much stability in quality players.

This year alone, the Vikings failed to find consistency at the quarterback position. They went through three quarterbacks during the year, hardly a recipe for success. Their team is young and untested. But, if the adage is true that you learn the most from losing, then the Vikings are presently the smartest football team in the conference.

Portland State seems committed to Barnum, and it may have no choice after signing him to a long-term contract after the 2015 season. This is a team on a budget, after all. But, that could be good news for finding recruits who don’t want to land on a program with a Lazy Susan of coaches currently in motion.

After this past season, there is nowhere to go but up. Barnum has a wealth of freshman on his team that he hopes to grow in the coming years and it appears he will get the chance to build the program from the rubbles of this past season. And we should be hoping that he and the team succeeds.

Portland State might be the last bastion of quirk left in this town. In a city that feverishly, and at the expense of long-time Portlanders, wants to be a big city, the Vikings are a perennial small market team even though they are the largest non-community college in the state. The Vikings don’t even have a venue to call their own, continually being that roommate who refuses to get a place of their own.

The days of 10,000-plus watching a Vikings game may be a thing of the past for now, but perhaps if Barnum can work some magic as he did in two years ago, then maybe people will return.

Perhaps a word from Terence Mann can help motivate Barnum:

People will come, Barney. They’ll come to Portland State like they always do, for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up Burnside not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at the gate as innocent as children, longing for a time when the Bridgeport Brew Pub was just a cool pizza hangout. Of course, we won’t mind if you don’t know any of the players, you’ll say. It’s only $10 per person and $15 for a beer. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and affordable housing they lack. And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in flannel shirts on a rainy afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere inside a stadium built solely for soccer, where they sat when they were children and cheered the players wearing Vikings uniforms. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they didn’t care about the Ducks or Beavers. The memories of old Portland will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Barney. The one constant through all the years, Barney, has definitely not been Portland State football. The city of Portland has rolled on like an army of corporate developers. It has been torn down like a local coffee shop, rebuilt as a Starbucks with another across the street. But Portland State has marked the times of quirkiness that can’t be beat. This field, this team: it’s a part of our past, Barney. It reminds us of all that once was odd and could be again. Oh… people will come Barney. People will most definitely come. But, you need to start winning games, first.

Let’s hope the worst is over for Portland State. Let’s hope the Vikings can bring cheer back to the Cheerful Tortoise, and bring some much-needed quirkiness back to downtown Portland.

About John Stupak 44 Articles
John Stupak is a senior writer for Oregon Sports News since 2014. John has followed Oregon sports for nearly 30 years. He is a life-long Portland Trail Blazers fan and has had the privilege of covering the Portland Thorns of the NWSL. Along with everything sports, he is fan of movies and of quality television (sorry CBS) in his spare time. John has a beautiful wife, Amanda, along with one soccer-loving, intelligent, and artistic daughter. John is an electrical tech designer by day and a writer by nights and weekends. You can follow John and all his musings on Twitter (@Stupak77).