It was the early 1970s and the City of Portland had made the decision to install artificial turf in ancient Civic Stadium. Rather than go with Astro-Turf, the common solution at the time, the city opted for a different choice. It was called Tartan Turf and it didn't last, hardened very soon and looked quickly like a worn carpet in the world's oldest hotel room.
I remember watching the workmen scrambling around the surface of the big old barn, applying the adhesive and then the carpet. I was working for the Portland Beavers at the time, trying to get through college. Bill Cutler, the man who owned the Beavers at the time, was there, too. He looked at me with a sad face and shook his head.
"It's like putting silk stockings on a hog," he said, then turned around and shuffled back to his dumpy office in the bowels of the dark stadium. Very soon, Cutler would move the Beavers to Spokane, unable to make a lease deal with a City Council here that seemed to think it suddenly had a big-league facility on its hands.
Our civic leaders have never really cared much about sports and their venues. If Paul Allen hadn't written a big check to build what's now Moda Center, our NBA team would have been long gone years ago. Our city would never have found the means to construct a new home for the Trail Blazers. We'd still be haggling over video boards and walk-through security for Memorial Coliseum -- trying to make an outdated, uncomfortable 12,000-seat arena work for an NBA team. Trust me, I speak the truth on this.
Yeah, the replay screens. They've been either dark or a blurry mess at the coliseum for years and the city -- or maybe the Portland Winterhawks -- are finally doing something about it. Because, as you know, watching hockey without being able to see the replay of a goal or a big save is ridiculous. Which, of course, is not the only reason the Hawks draw so many fewer fans when they play in the coliseum rather than the Moda Center.
Wow. The narrow leg room, crowded concourses, ugly rest rooms and frigid arena temperatures are still going to be there, but you now have a replay screen.
So many decades later, that's just another pair of silk stockings, folks.
I'm not going to get into another debate with the well-meaning people who pushed to get that dump declared a national treasure. It's pointless. Keep your national treasure and put a big red bow around it for all I care. What this city needs to do is actually build a NEW sports venue.
Are you aware Portland -- unlike any other major city in the world that I know about -- has NEVER BUILT A FOOTBALL OR BASEBALL STADIUM, EVER, in its history? It's renovated a few. Hell, we've had more renovations than the late Joan Rivers did. The city actually staged a minor remodel last winter so a college wood-bat league team called the Pickles could play in Walker Stadium at Lents Park. But actually build a new ballpark? A real ballpark? Or a big-time football stadium?
The city of Hillsboro is packing people into its Ron Tonkin Field for Hops games. That venue is next door to a very attractive football stadium, too. Portland? Well, we're still tweaking what's now Providence Park, adding new seats in a venue where the concourses are tiny and the amount of rest rooms is inadequate. And yes, we're throwing a few replay screens into Memorial Coliseum.
I'd tell you that's not how progressive cities do things, but it comes down to one thing: Recycling is great for pop bottles but not necessarily for sports venues.
Welcome to Portland, where some things never change. And national treasures now come equipped with replay screens.