Portland Launches Arena Football Team (Again)

Fans of local football have reason to rejoice: We once again have a professional team in the Rose City. That’s right; Arena Football is back. The previous incarnation, known as the Portland Forest Dragons, played three seasons from 1997 to 1999 before relocating to Oklahoma. This March the new team, dubbed the Thunder, will begin play at the Moda Center (known to most as the Rose Garden).

The team is owned by Terry Emmert, who runs a transportation company in Clackamas. He also owns the Portland Chinooks, who play in the International Basketball Association. Emmert said to the Portland Tribune, “I believe we’ll be the only prosports franchise in Portland ever owned by an Oregonian.”

The Portland Thunder will be coached by Matthew Sauk, who was a quarterback at Orange Coast College and Utah State University. Sauk also played in the Arena Football League until 2008, when he became quarterback coach for the Spokane Shock. He later was the offensive coordinator for the Utah Blaze. This will be his first year as a head coach.

Emmert describes his coach as a “Chip Kelly of arena football.”

The team name doesn’t seem very locally flavored—I, for one, don’t associate Portland with thunder—but it was selected from hundreds of local suggestions. Entries came from season ticket holders and schools in a “Name the Team” contest. The contest winner, Seth Johnson, won a free pair of season tickets. Season ticket prices start at $99.

The first game for the Thunder will be on March 17 against the San Jose Sabercats. The AFL currently has 14 teams split into two conferences: National and American. The league’s goal is to offer a quicker and more high-powered showcase of football, like quarterbacks who regularly throw for five or six touchdowns. Last year’s first team quarterback, Spokane Shock’s Erik Meyer, threw 112 touchdowns in 18 games.

The current AFL is actually the second manifestation under the same name. The original had its inaugural season in 1987. The league games were sparsely attended and rarely covered by media until the league’s championship game, the Arenabowl, was televised nationally on ABC in 1998.

In the mid- to late-2000s, the league was struggling and teams were relocating or folding outright. Following the 2008 season, the league announced it would not play in 2009. Shortly after, it declared bankruptcy. All the AFL’s property was auctioned off, including team names and logos. The purchasers rebooted the league in 2011 under the same name and with several familiar teams.

The current AFL has plans to launch a China-based league called China AFL. The program is headed up by Philadelphia Soul president and part owner Ron Jaworski. They hope to establish a six-team, 10-week season in October 2014.

Regional talent will have an opportunity to play for the Portland Thunder. Open tryouts will be held on Dec. 19. The format will be a combine-style workout, and the head coach and staff will be present to evaluate the prospects’ capabilities. All participants receive a T-shirt and opening day tickets. This open tryout costs $75 if paid in advance, $100 at the door.