I never thought a weekend in The City of Roses could be a historic occasion, but it was. From the moment we landed in Portland until the final whistle blew at the Chiles Center, history was made and records were broken. Some records were the kind we celebrate, like those BYU set on the floor at Portland's expense. Others were a bit more painful, like the one I set at Nike which came at my wallet's expense. Either way, this record breaking weekend in Oregon was one I won't soon forget!
Historical Event 1: Open Flights
Since 2006, I can count on one hand the number of times I've picked flights to a game, then got on them both without being bumped off 17 others and visiting who knows what random state. This weekend, the flight log was a simple SLC-PDX-SLC. That's an impressive feat considering this was my 54th BYU game outside Provo. I almost had forgotten what direct flights to/from my final destination were like. I've been to 9 football and basketball venues since the last time I didn't have to take a random detour or drive 200+ miles from an alternate airport to get to a game. It almost felt awkward, but definitely was refreshing! Maybe one day when I make my millions, I'll look into traveling like that more often. Until then, I'll stick to my (usually) adventurous standby habits.
Broken Record 1: Shopping
When it comes to my demographic (25-34 year old males), it's not often that a live sporting event is matched or over-shadowed by a shopping spree. It's open for debate on whether that happened on Saturday. Thanks to a friend employed by Nike, the BYU coaching staff, broadcast team and I were given access to the Nike Employee Store located just outside Nike HQ in Beaverton. Every athletic-apparel fan should experience that store in their lifetime, it's amazing! The store is open only to Nike employees, vendors and professional athletes. Each employee is also granted a limited amount of passes per year to share with friends or family. I suggest you start sending bribes to any Nike-employed friends ASAP.
It's common at the Employee Store to run into professional athletes who are playing in the area. An employee told me all NBA teams stopping in Portland, and even a few NFL players stopping in Seattle will make the trek to Beaverton on their off day. Saturday the Denver Nuggets were in town and happened to stop by the store while we were there. I was caught off guard when I was going through a rack of shirts and bumped into Ty Lawson. Even more surprising was how friendly he was and that he actually started a conversation. I'm not a Thuggets fan, but after that encounter, I'm definitely a Lawson fan. I wish all pros could check their ego at the door like he did.
The store itself is just like any normal Nike Town store, but perhaps a bit bigger. It has all the current clothing and shoe lines, with each Nike subsidiary represented: Nike, Cole Haan, Hurley and Converse. The kicker is that ALL merchandise is 50-70% off retail and tax free! Every item has its normal retail price tag attached, but then also has a custom discounted price sticker below it. Once your picture ID has been approved for entrance, you are handed a pass which includes a notice that guests have a $750 spending limit.
Originally I laughed at the thought of spending even half that limit; I've never spent over $200 on clothing/shoes at a store in my life. Three hours, four huge bags and 6 shoe boxes later, it was Nike who had the last laugh as I opened my wallet and handed over an amount a LOT closer to that limit than I'd planned. But I was perfectly happy to break the bank because I came home with almost $1,400 in merchandise. Luckily I was prepared and had checked two empty suitcases to get all my loot back to SLC. I've now banned myself from any personal shopping for at least six months.
Tillamook and the Coast
We had a few hours to kill once the shopping spree was over, so we decided to take a scenic loop out to the coast. Just like when I was in the area for the Oregon State football game, we made a quick stop at the Tillamook Cheese Factory. It's a pretty cool little stop if you're ever in town. It's also the only ice cream I've ever had that just might beat out the beloved BYU Creamery. Once we left Tillamook, we headed up the coast toward Cannon Beach, passing through numerous little fishing villages and beach towns. It really is amazing how different the Oregon coast is compared to the popular tourist spots in Malibu, Newport or San Diego. The huge evergreens, sheer cliffs and cooler temperatures make it almost feel like you're in Alaska. But unlike many northern beaches that feel almost like lakes, at some points along the Oregon coast the waves crashing in could rival the North Shore of Oahu. It's one of the most scenic stretches of highway I've ever been on.
We got to the Chiles Center about an hour before tip. From the outside, the arena looked like any other WCC gym, very small scale, limited parking, and it appeared to be tiny. But once inside, it's actually one of the larger venues in the WCC. It's comparable to the lower section of the Dee Events Center at Weber State. "The Palace on the Bluff," as they call it, seats just over 4,000 and most of those were cushioned seats. Unfortunately for Pilot fans, more than half of those seats were occupied by Cougars. I was very impressed by the Portland area fans, they represented well.
Broken Record 2: Hack the Cougars
I'll spare you the details of the game as I'm sure most of you saw it yourselves. However, in the spirit of my record breaking theme, I have to mention the two all-time records that BYU set in the sloppy 40 minute victory. First, 53 free throws attempted. Yep, that's right, fifty-flippin'-three. It's pretty hard to get any rhythm going when a whistle blows every 45 seconds. We missed more from the charity stripe than usual, but we still made 38, just two short of setting a record for made free throws.
Broken Record 3: Pickin' Pilots' Pockets
I'm sure Jackson Emery had to smile when he looked at the defensive stats for the night and saw 18 steals! Sure, a few of those thefts can be attributed to the Pilots' less than stellar ball security, but a majority should be credited to BYU playing aggressive defense. One of the reasons the Cougars have been able to win in spite of their dismal 3-point shooting is suffocating interior defense. If we can't score, then we'll just work harder to make sure you can't either!
The only real excitement during the game came from my seat neighbor, "Grandpa Pilot" as I named him. GP was about 70 and had been sitting in that same seat since Chiles was built. Not sure why he chooses to sit in the middle of the visiting teams allotted seats, but to each his own. He made it clear to all of us very early that he'd paid for this seat and would be openly supporting his Pilots from the tip. I told him I respected that and expected nothing less from a booster. GP and I started out as friends, but that didn't last long. It only took about 10 minutes until GP wanted nothing to do with BYU fans, Coach Rose, or BYU players and their "illegal mission trips." I was somewhat polite in the first half, but after an hour of incessant digs, GP wore out his welcome with everyone around. When the Pilots went on 8-0 run early in the 2nd half, Gramps suddenly tightened his dentures, took a shot of Ensure and gained some liquid confidence. Bring it Gramps...it's on.
I didn't instigate any of the 2nd half sparring, but rest assured, not a single underhanded comment went free. For those that know me, you know I don't back down when it comes to talkin' smack. I'll spare the commentary, but GP learned his lesson and will never again start a fight he can't finish. C'mon pops, if you're gonna start yappin', at least make sure your team is winning and the fan you're jawing with isn't more educated about your team than you are. With six minutes left in the game, Grandpa Pilot realized it was past his bedtime and time to leave. On his way out, he made it known to everyone that the refs were paid off, the league hates the Pilots and BYU is a bunch of snobby cheaters. Peace out pops, your wings just got clipped. Once GP was gone, it made me laugh when about 10 people around me all applauded and told me how entertaining our "little conversations" had been. (Grandma Norton: before you call me and lecture me about respecting my elders, I promise I really did try to be nice...for awhile).
Historical Event 2: Occupy the Chiles Center
BYU fans have a history of supporting our teams on the road, but Portland fans took it to a whole new level. They didn't just show up, they flat out invaded the Chiles Center. At worst it was a 60/40 ratio, but I'd say it was closer to 70/30 for the boys in blue. It was almost funny to watch Portland fans and students in awe when the section to section B-Y-U-Cougars chant broke out. Portland Cougars showed up in buses, vans and carpools from all over the state. I was impressed.
Not only did they show up, they had also had planned ahead and gotten permission from the university to host a sanctioned Cougar Club meeting in the arena after the game! I've never been a part of a booster club meeting held on an opponent's home court. A few hundred fans filled a couple sections and were pleased to hear from Coach Rose, Noah Hartsock, Matt Carlino, and Craig Cusick. Coach Rose gave praise to the Portland fans for literally taking over Chiles. He noted that it was the first time in his coaching career that he'd seen a home team player foul out and loudly get marched off the court with the "Left-Right-Left...sit down" chant as he exited. He was amazed how loud it was and wondered how that had to feel on your home floor.
Each player took random questions from fans and also asked fan trivia questions about the team (mission locations, high schools, hometowns and personal favorites). Great prizes were awarded to trivia winners, like Nike hats and polos, Rise Up flags, DVD's, and a signed ball. Players not involved in the Q and A were on the floor signing autographs. It was a very successful event by the Portland Cougar Club.
Historical Event 3: My First Voodoo Doll
After the game we took a detour for a late snack before heading back to our hotel. As in every city, I like to ask on Facebook/Twitter where the local flavor is. In a landslide of comments, Voodoo Donuts was the winner. When we first pulled up I was tempted to bail, because though it was almost 11:00, the line was HUGE. The entire shop was packed and the line was 30 deep out the door. We decided we needed to see what all the hype was about, so we stuck it out. After about 45 minutes, we finally got our donuts. These weren't your typical artery cloggers, these things were intense! They have nearly 100 custom menu items, from original to gourmet. My personal recommendations are the "Memphis Mafia" (fritter covered with chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate chips, peanuts) and the Voodoo Doll (raised donut decorated as a doll, filled with raspberry jelly "blood" inside, and a pretzel stake through the heart).
Beware, your eyes will be bigger than your stomach! We ended up with plenty left for breakfast Sunday morning.
As an unusual surprise, most of the coaching staff was at our gate when we got to the airport Sunday morning. Since the team had taken a smaller charter jet than usual, the staff had to hang out with us common folk and fly commercial, poor guys. The University of Utah's women's team and staff were also on our flight. When we all got to baggage claim back in SLC, two of the girls saw us all decked in BYU gear and asked where we'd been, I told them we'd spent the weekend in Portland (we just got off the same flight, still can't figure out why she asked where we'd been?). They saw our mass of bags and asked why the six of us had more luggage piled up than their entire team. I just smiled and told them we'd done a little shopping and couldn't resist a good sale. What, you've never seen six guys leave the girls at home and go on a shopping trip? Oh, that's right, Utah is an Under Armour school, I'm sure they wouldn't understand.
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That's it for now, you'll hear from me again after we take on the Broncos in Santa Clara. Unfortunately I can't make it to the next road game a week from Thursday in San Francisco -- I do actually have to work on occasion.