Portland's last go-round with indoor football begat "Forest Dragons"

Portland's last go-round with indoor football begat "Forest Dragons"
August 16, 2013, 11:15 am
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Yes, the Trail Blazers are exploring an opportunity in the Arena Football League. But for this city, it's "Been there, done that." Portland's first contact with the Arena Football League began in 1997 after Ed Gatlin decided to move his winless AFL team, the Pharoahs, out of Memphis and into Portland.

But being an absentee owner, he decided to hire a local marketing company, SRO Partners, to handle the team's marketing and publicity.

And that opened the door for the man who once wanted to rename the New Jersey Nets the New Jersey Swamp Dragons to finally get to use a form of that nickname in Portland. Jon Spoelstra, a legendary sports marketer who was once president of the Nets and Nuggets and general manager of the Trail Blazers, ran SRO. His daughter, Monica, and Ken Wilson also worked for the company. They knew they couldn't keep Pharoahs as the team's nickname (Hey, those guys had played in the Pyramid in Memphis) so they settled on Forest Dragons.

The nickname was terrific and so was the marketing. The big problem with the Forest Dragons is not only did they not win often, in a league where scoring a lot of points is a big part of the package, they didn't find the end zone often enough.

That first season the team went 2-12. Winning on opening night at home but then not again until the season's 10th game. I was there opening night but also on hand on for the team's third home game on May 23 against a fine Orlando team that spanked Portland 40-9. It may have been the least entertaining football game -- indoors or outdoors -- I've ever watched in my life. Portland could not score into double figures in a league where teams were routinely racking up point totals into the 50s. It would have been like scoring 30 points in an NBA game. Only worse.

The team finally got to the .500 mark in its third and final season in Portland but never made the playoffs before being relocated to Oklahoma, where it became the Wranglers.

One would think the sport would work these days in Portland, what with the renewed interest in college football here. There are enough former Ducks, Beavers and Vikings around not quite good enough for the NFL to pepper the roster of a local team, which should help the gate a little.

And certainly by now most people have probably forgotten that horrific 40-9 loss on May 23, 1997.