Sounders FC vs. Portland on Saturday night marks the rebirth of some great sports rivalries between the two Northwest cities.
The rivalry had gone as cold as tundra. Sports fans in Portland and Seattle had become civil, in some cases even sympathetic, toward each other.
The hate has faded. Teams, even entire leagues, have disappeared.
Sure, Portland and Seattle can argue over quality-of-life issues. Mt. Rainier vs. Mt. Hood. Puget Sound vs. the Willamette River. But there hasn’t been a game, hasn’t been that good old-fashioned contempt that familiarity breeds.
A rivalry needs parry and thrust. It needs rage and antagonism. It needs consequences.
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It needs what the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers are reigniting on Saturday night at Qwest Field.
This is a game that you circle on your calendar, like a holiday. The first game in what certainly will be a long, rich rivalry.
“There’s a real buzz about the place, isn’t there?” said Alan Hinton, who coached the Sounders in the North American Soccer League from 1980 to ’82 and is an analyst on Sounders broadcasts. “Playing regular games is exciting, but this is absolutely magnificent. Playing at this level against the Timbers is absolutely big time.”
This is the rebirth of a rivalry. It may not have the religious ramifications of Celtic and Rangers. It may not be steeped in the history of FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, or Everton and Liverpool, or River Plate and Boca Juniors, but Sounders vs. Timbers will be real and raunchy and the passion in the stadium will be every bit as inflamed as it is at Camp Nou.
“This is absolutely great for both the cities and for the fans in both cities,” said Bobby Howe, who was a player-coach for the Sounders in the NASL in 1977-83 and coached the Timbers in the USL in 2001-05. “And I think it’s important for the MLS right now to create these local derbies.”
The rivalry between these cities has lapsed. It has been in hibernation, waiting for something new to happen. Honestly, even the Sonics and Trail Blazers’ rivalry fizzled in the final years.
And in their heyday, the Sonics’ real NBA rivals were the Lakers of Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the Rockets of Hakeem Olajuwon and the Utah Jazz of John Stockton and Karl Malone.
Really, the best and most sustained rivalry between the two cities happened before the NBA, NFL and Major League Baseball came to Seattle.
It happened in hockey. The Portland Buckaroos and Seattle Totems of the minor-league Western Hockey League waged wondrous wars in the 1960s.
“I remember going into the old arena in Seattle with the Buckaroos and those fans were really rough,” said goaltender Don Head, who played and was an all-star for both Portland and Seattle. “Everybody sat close to the ice and it was a wild crowd. When you went in there, you sort of felt like you took your life in your hands.”
Harry Glickman, one of the founders of the Buckaroos, who later became Trail Blazers president, remembers a lawsuit that was filed by a Seattle fan against the Buckaroos. A fish was thrown onto the ice in Seattle one night and one of the Portland players picked it off the ice, threw it back into the stands and the fish hit a fan.
“Those kind of things happened,” he said. “You had a great rivalry in the old PCL with Portland Beavers and Seattle Rainiers in the days of Fred Hutchinson. But of all the sports, the one in hockey was probably the most intense. And it went on for a period of years. It was more than geography. Both Seattle and Portland had some really good teams in those years.”
Think of this renewed Sounders and Timbers rivalry — both competed in the old NASL and in the lower division USL — as something as hard-boiled as the Totems and Buckaroos, but without the fish.
This will be Portland’s “Timbers Army” against Seattle’s “Emerald City Supporters.” It will be a night of songs and chants and taunts that will start long before the opening kickoff and continue until the last fans leave the building.
“People are talking to me about there’s going to be some fan trouble,” said Hinton. “There won’t be any fan trouble. There was never any fan trouble in the ’70s and ’80s. The fans will come in. They’ll do the best they can. They’ll cheer for their team and that’s the way it should be.”
It will be tense and acrimonious, the way all good rivalries are.
“Just like we did in 1977, a victory against Portland at this stage of the year could light that fuse that could really set the season moving forward,” Howe said. “It’s rivalries like this that provide that little extra spark for the season.”
Buckle up. The Timbers are back. A rivalry is reawakening.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com