You know the nicknames: Rip City, Soccer City, Rose City, Bridge City. Did you know most had competitive origins? Our sports passion would be nothing without humble — albeit strange — beginnings that trace our sport’s history back to over a century. From seeing a soccer match with the Rose City Riveters, to cheering on Dame Lillard and the Blazers, our home is a proud location for die-hard fandom and Pacific Coast communal bonding.
Portland Beavers (1903-2010) & Hillsboro Hops (2012-Present)
It all started with the Beavers. Not exactly a name that will elicit fear in the opposition.
Established in 1903, the Pacific Coast League team made its humble habitat in our city, chewing down small trees into baseball bats swung by the roster. That last part may or may not be Portland lore, but the team lasted for nearly 100 years, servicing 16 major league affiliates. The franchise started with plenty of splinters from their poor batting grip.
In their first season, the team set a Pacific Coast League that still stands in most losses (136) and most errors in a season (669). The team went on to win nine league titles before transferring to the outskirts of Portland in 2012, changing their name to the Hillsboro Hops — another not intimidating team name.
Portland Forest Dragon (1997-1999) & Portland Thunder/Steel (2014-17)
The best name to ever compete in Portland, our city’s first Arena Football League team relocated from Memphis, removing their Pharaoh adornments and settling on the magical name ‘Forest Dragons’. Spreading their wings at the Rose Garden, the fire-breathing beasts only blew smoke, never accumulating a winning record in their three seasons.
Reptilian tail tucked between their legs, they eventually moved to Oklahoma City and were renamed the Wranglers. Another Hail Mary was thrown in 2014 for a second Arena Football franchise. The Thunder, then Steel, played just three seasons, before the league folded in 2019.
Portland Trail Blazers executive Jon Spoelstra — father to Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra — wrote a book on promoting the Forest Dragons called “Marketing Outrageously”.
Portland Trail Blazers (1970-Present)
Speaking of the Trail Blazers, the most recognizable name on this list, our NBA expansion team arose in 1970 to rabid fanfare. From 1977 to 1995, the team sold out 814 consecutive home games, the longest streak in sports at the time, only to be eventually surpassed by the Boston Red Sox.
In their five-decade-plus run, our team advanced to the NBA Finals three times, only hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy once in 1977. Since the Bill Walton era, the team has transitioned through the Drexler era, Roy era, and the now dwindling Lillard era without any title success, the tenth longest drought in the Association. Their playoff appearance streak ranks second-longest in NBA history; their total playoff appearances are third all-time.
Back in their first season, announcer Bill Schonely famously declared “Rip City, Alright!”, after Jim Barnett sunk a half-court shot. Since 2013, the team has worn the phrase on their alternate jerseys and is the main theme to this year’s City Edition uniforms.
Currently, the Trail Blazers are the only team still around in the Pacific Northwest. The Vancouver Grizzlies relocated to Memphis in 2001 and the Seattle SuperSonics changed their identity to the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.
Portland Rain (2001-2003, 2009-2-11) & Portland Thorns FC (2012-Present)
The most successful major league sports team in our city is the newest addition. In their short run on the pitch, they are already the best club in NWSL history.
It was originally a shaky start.
The Portland Rain played in the WUSA from 2001 and folded in 2003; same with the Portland Rain 2.0 competing in the WPS from 2009-2011. Only a year later, the Thorns’ founding aligned with the introduction of the NWSL in 2012.
Lacing cleats in our city, for the third time, was on specific request by U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati to Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson. He followed his boss’ orders, becoming the first MLS owner to form a premier women’s soccer team. In their inaugural season, Portland drew a league-best 13,320 fans per game, an incredible rise from the under 3,000 average combined by the seven other clubs.
Keep an eye out for the Rose City Riveters — the Superman support group for the Thorns. At each game, they hold aloft tifos and dentate red smoke bombs that explode after each goal.
Portland Buckaroos (1928-1941, 2009-211) & Portland Winterhawks (1976-Present)
Only the most talented ornithologist knows what the heck a Winterhawk is.
Though there are no marquee names on the roster, the junior league WHL team has sent more than 100 players to the NHL since coming to our city in 1976.
It’s a surprise this iteration has lasted this long.
Hockey has been in our state since 1928 as the Portland Buckaroos, where they bounced around from league to league through 1941. A revival for the team happened in the WHL during 1960 and was so successful in their first year, that they were inducted into the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame. Until 1974, the Buckaroos won more games than any other team in professional hockey.
The current hockey squad has seen notable names that graced the ice including hall-of-famers Mark Messier and Cam Neeley. The team won a title in 2013 — their third time winning the whole thing and their 12th trip to the final.
Portland Timbers (1975-1982, 1985-2001, 2011 to present)
Through 45 years of professional soccer history, Soccer City was born.
Our city entered the professional soccer world in 1975 and competed through 1982 when the NASL folded. The iconic logo and name were resurrected two more times, like the Undertaker in every single wrestling match he’s ever been in.
A second iteration took from 1985 through 2001 in the USL, and finally settled in the MLS in 2011. It only took four seasons before the Timbers hoisted the MLS Cup in 2015.
Their title earnings joined the two-time champs Portland Thorns in locally hoisting championship gold, with both eventually exporting several players to represent the U.S. in the Olympics and the World Cup. The influence extends beyond the professional level. There is the interconnectivity of more than 600 soccer entities in our area, including youth, high school, college, and semi-professional squads.
Looking to learn more about Portland? Visit our blog each month as we post monthly blog posts with interesting information about Portland.