You could hear the nervous chatter, even through the doors. Coach McAuley squeezed out of the home locker room, shielding his players from the tunnel that would eventually lead them to the end of their six game unbeaten streak. Beads of sweat dotted his ample brow. He nervously glanced across the hall to where the Green Machine were gathered and receiving one final rally from Coach Porter, ready to take the pitch, and the glory.
As a referee for the match waiting in the tunnel, it was hard to watch and not be influenced. It was clear the Timbers were going to come out timid, if not scared. And the Green Machine? All smiles. Like school boys. Um…
Talking about cancer sucks. Cause cancer sucks.
But talking about Atticus is easy, and fun. Because Atticus is easy and fun. And tough. Really bloody tough. It was a soccer ball to the belly one day at school that alerted Atticus and his family of the tumor he had – the blow hurt too much to be just an impact kinda hurt. In this way soccer just might have saved his life. Literally.
But he had tremendous doctors. And has an incredible family. And he has friends and a team that love him dearly, and that all rallied around him something fierce while he was sick. And with that support, Atticus’ crazy toughness shined, blindingly so. But it would be his heart, and his moxy, that would end up blowing us all away, in no small part because his heart would end up being reflected exponentially by this town.
As we took the field the crowd was raucous, exploding into joy. I thought it was my headband, but then I remembered the teams were behind me. You could see the strong Timbers Army contingent filling their usual haunt, but judging by the 3,000 plus bodies, it was TA, and then so many more from the community. All of the Sunnyside Environmental School 3rd grade had taken the bus to JW Field to root on their classmates in the Green Machine. And by the numbers it would seem there was not a better lunch break in all of Portland on this day, or maybe any day, ever.
The environment clearly had the Timbers rattled, so as referees, we just wanted to get this game going and try and calm everyone down. From the outset you could see Coach Porter’s influence as the GM pressed hard in the early goings, even exposing themselves to some Timbers counters that were the only thing keeping the game close. Atticus Lane-Dupre was on top of his game, weaving and feeding his team mates, until he just got too hungry had to start burying the goals himself. The Timbers had words for us referees on a couple of calls, but we are professionals (um…) and used to this kind of greasing for the second half. With the GM up 6-3 toward the end of the first half, Timbers captain Will Johnson got a bit desperate and wrapped up Flynn “Pretty Jumbo” Mayne in what could only be described as some Chilean grapple move, earning a yellow card for his efforts. We read the rule book, and that kind of behavior simply isn’t allowed. It was an easy call to make. Halftime could not come soon enough for the Timbers, so we waited to blow the whistle. And then later we did. Blow the whistle. To end the half. Half time.
Atticus beat cancer.
That right there is good enough. Great enough. Really all that needs to be said. But this is one of those stories that has legs.
Make-A-Wish is undoubtedly one of the all-time great organizations. Just think about it. Puppies. Disneyland. Tacos. Whatever. You name and they are on it. But they will tell you, as they told us, this was one for the ages. Cause Atticus is no dummy. His request did start out humble enough – a couple autographs, maybe kick the ball around at a Timbers practice. But as the Lane-Dupre’s staring discussing it with Make-A-Wish, Atticus realized that it would be super awesome to have his team with him to kick the ball around with the Timbers. You can see where this is going. And if ya check the photos, you can see just where the Timbers took it.
It didn’t have to be like this. It could have been a meet and greet between the Green Machines and the Timbers out in Beaverton. A coupla autographs, watch practice, and call it good.
But that is not what the Timbers organization is about. PTFC showed not only true class today, but World Class. They just forgot to tell the lads that Atticus beat cancer, and he wasn’t about to have any trouble from a coupla footy players.
At the start of the second half Coach Porter unleashed his true genius that, even as an impartial referee… ahem… I had to admire. Porter emptied his bench, releasing all thirteen Green Machiners onto the pitch to the visible horror of the Timbers. On this move it would seem Coach McAuley may have been outcoached on the day. But it would only get worse. The Timbers started to press as the game was slipping away, finding each other with some cross field switches that were simply outta reach for the Green Machiners, and getting some good pressure on the goal. One blast from Jewsbury was deflected wide by an amoebic green mass, resulting in a corner kick for the Timbers. But this is where it went pear shaped for the Timbers. On the ensuing corner Jewsbury lofted it into the air for Will Johnson, but it was gamely cleared by the Green Machine. As Johnson retreated to track the clearance he steamrolled Henry “The Ghost” Phillips, dropping the young man to the turf, and then narrowly missing putting a boot on Phillips’ head. Egregious is too kind a word. I could have used three whistles. I was seething at the time, blowing that whistle like Charlie Parker blowing out a birthday cake. Luckily my partner in crime (poor choice of words for a referee team? Nah! Sepp Blatter gave us the thumbs up!!) Ref Hutchinson was Johnny-On-The-Spot and produced the second yellow for Captain Johnson. Hit the road, Jack. Er, Will. Whatevs.
From there on out it was a see-sawing slug fest with both teams giving as good as they got. Rincon showed some slick footwork (when he wasn’t getting pantsed by “Pretty Jumbo” – I couldn’t find my whistle on that one… prolly cause I was laughing too hard), and Gleeson made a case for seeing some field time. Um… okay maybe not. But Atticus and the Green Machine also would not let up, and in extra time with the score knotted at 9 apiece, Lane-Dupre made one of his patented weaving runs, leveling Futty and Gleeson as they made pathetically futile slides, on his way to scoring the winning goal. Green Machine 10 – Timbers 9. Full time.
Untold. Well, now told.
The crowd lost their cookies.
As the Green Machine clapped to the crowd, and after Atticus dutifully raised his log slab, they then came upon representatives of the Timbers Army, presenting them with their personalized tifo and No Pity scarves. As 8 and 9 year olds having just nutmegged a former member of Manchester United and the French National Team for a goal (watch the tape), some of the significance of that particular moment was maybe lost just a bit on them.
But Ref Hutchinson and I are 107ists. We are proud Eleventy-Ones. We have done work with OPI. My son Henry and I (yes, he that was creamed by Will Johnson) helped paint this year’s opening day tifo. We know the power of the TA, and not just the Tetrising power. The game today is simply not the same without the Timbers Army. Still woulda been fun, no doubt. Still something to remember, to be sure. But this was epic. Indelible.
The capos. The tifo. The smoke.
Portland Timbers Football Club made this happen. Team.
The people came to cheer. Town.
And the Army made it epic. TA.
As the teams warmed up prior to the match, I was humbled by the chance to warm up in that environment as well, and took the opportunity to do so. I ran a ball the length of the pitch to the south goal, got my knee over the ball, and blasted it upper corner from 16 yards, with the crowd chanting at my back. That was it, all I needed to dip into my own selfish part of this TimbersWish.
That is what Atticus’ big, big heart gave to all of us. This chance. This moment. How many tears up in those stands? He let literally thousands of us join him, even if only in voice, or vicarious visions, in this crazy wish turned reality. But we got to be there because Atticus has a big, big heart.
And because he beat cancer. Like a boss.