This weekend was a sports extravaganza, my family and I travelled to Seattle on Saturday to watch the Oregon Ducks play the Washington Huskies at Football, followed by a hasty drive back down to Portland on Sunday to watch the Portland Timbers play the Seattle Sounders at soccer. A big Oregon vs Washington rivalry weekend!
We hadn’t been to a football game before and since our eldest son Craig is considering attending college at both the University of Oregon and the University of Washington, this sounded like a great game to attend, giving us a good excuse for an evening in Seattle to boot. Husky Stadium in Seattle is an imposing place, seating 70,000 die hard fans, of which I’m guessing at least 60,000 were rooting for the Huskies. This can be more than a little intimidating, being outnumbered 10 to 1 in a traditionally hostile venue.
We settled in and enjoyed some friendly discussion with the fans around us until a few minutes into the game a Washington supporter about three rows away decided to ratchet up the tension to a level that involved threatening my kids along with several female Oregon fans in the vicinity. As I responded telling him directly that he’d better pick on someone his own size, I was surprised by the reaction in the surrounding crowd. Rather than follow team sides, they took the side of decency and let the guy know that his actions were completely out of order and if he didn’t clean up his act there would be consequences.
This really impressed me and was very refreshing in a world where standing up for common decency seems to be on the decline. It is easy to get wrapped up in rivalries, as I have done many times and yet there was a very clear line drawn in the sand. This may sound obvious but so often it gets lost in the heat of the moment or the preference to turn away and not get involved. The Washington fans around us were clearly not going to let that happen and I thank them.
And so back to Portland for the Timbers v Sounders game, probably the most important game in the almost 40 year rivalry in soccer between the two cities. So how did the Timbers welcome the visiting Sounders fans? With humor and wit, perhaps the most powerful tool we have at our disposal.
A section of the Portland Timbers fans are called the Timbers Army and for big rivalry games, especially with Seattle, they unveil a large banner for the occasion. As you can see above this was no exception and rather than spew hate upon the opposition, wit was used to bring home the point. Seattle having spent over $10M on their team, multiples more than Portland, needed to be reminded that “Money can’t buy me love”. This was a brilliant introduction to a passionate game, fortunately won by Portland as was the Ducks game in Seattle.
A legendary soccer coach in the UK called Bill Shankly, once said “football is not life and death, it is more important than that”. After this weekend I think he got this one wrong but I’m sure he knew where to draw the line between impassioned rivalry and pure hate.