Until you hit Jax Sports Bar. Outside, scattered men in red-and-blue football jerseys pace on cell phones and light cigarettes. Inside, over 80 rowdy Buffalo Bills fans cram together in front of a big-screen TV. Less than 15 seconds into the game, the Bills score a touchdown against the New England Patriots.
Downtown is quiet no more. The Portland United Bills Supporters erupt into the "Shout!" song. One man hoists a Bills helmet-shaped umbrella, and PUBS' co-founder, 68-year-old Tom Miller, hops up, waving a Bills flag more zealously than a caffeinated teenager auditioning for color guard.
To the uninitiated, this is sheer insanity. But to anyone who's ever been in Buffalo during football season and seen the glut of wings, jerseys, beer and super-fandom, this is what we call "Sunday."
"When I joined 24-Hour Fitness, the guy who signed me up was a huge Bills fan. That seems to happen all the time—there are a lot of people from Western New York here," says Sonya Murrett, who moved here from Buffalo with her husband, Mac, two and a half years ago.
This January, Mac's sister, Betsy, made the same move. "It's great here, isn't it?" she chimes.Silly as it sounds, last month's Census bureau stats show that the Buffalo-to-Portland trend reflects the nation's entire demographic shift. Buffalo, once the eighth-largest city in the nation, has seen its population drop 22,400 since 2000 alone and is now half its peak size. Last month, it hosted a city-wide reunion to refurbish its image. New York state? It's 49th in overall population growth.
Where the hell is everyone in the Northeast and Midwest going? South and West, my friend. In 2004, Oregon—the eighth fastest-growing state in the nation—adopted over 147,000 residents from other states. So not just Buffalonians are making haste to Portland: Just look at all the people here from Montana! Chicago! Elsewhere!
As far as maintaining a connection to their hometown, those from B-Lo have a few advantages. For one, there's the centralizing hold the Bills have over the city—what else does one do during a Buffalo winter but get drunk and watch football? And the Bills themselves have maintained their long-distance stranglehold by starting the Bills Backers International fan club (which currently boasts 396 satellite groups) in 1986.
"If the team ever moved, I'd be done. It's home. It's the one connection to where I was born and raised," says co-founder Murray, who agreed with the parallel of Bills fans to Red Sox fans for their fervor-despite-longtime-sucking.
And like any culture worth a damn, it has its own native cuisine. Since PUBS took over Sundays, Jax has also been importing a Rochester, N.Y.-based brew, Genesee Cream Ale. Buffalo Wild Wings, a Minneapolis-based chain—started by transplanted Buffalo natives—recently opened a branch in Tanasbourne, with up to nine more outlets coming to the Portland area. Despite mixed reviews of BWW ("They're just capitalizing on the name," scowls Murray), PUBS members cited the wings of both NoPo's Fire on the Mountain and Jax as native-approved wing eateries.
But Andy Beecher, a Hamburg, N.Y., native and a Portlander since 1983, remains relatively unimpressed. "I don't eat too many wings here. I save that for when I go home."
WHO NEEDS A HOME TEAM?
Since Portland has no big-time professional sports—can you call the Blazers "professional" with a straight face?—fans are split between the teams of other cities. This time of year, football is the focus. Whether diehard transplants, fair-weather frontrunners or natives who have settled on an out-of-town squad, Portland's NFL fans need places with booze and big screens where they can paint their faces and yell unintelligibly—without any heckling or haggling over channels. Here's quick roundup of bars that have pledged allegiance to particular NFL teams.
Chicago Bears Cactus Jack's, 4342 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, 977-2161.
Philadelphia Eagles JB O'Brien's Pub (home to the "Eagle's Nest" fan club), 11555 SW Durham Road, Tigard, 624-6891.
Pittsburgh Steelers A&L Sports Pub, 5933 NE Glisan St., 234-7607.
Oakland Raiders Dingo's Restaurant, 4612 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 233-3996.
Minnesota Vikings Claudia's Tavern, 3006 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-1744.
Cheer on the Buffalo Bills with PUBS at Jax Bar & Restaurant, 826 SW 2nd Ave., 228-9128. 10 am. Every Sunday through Dec. 31. For more information, visit pdxbb.com.