Growing up, whenever there was a mention of infamous skyjacker D.B. Cooper, my dad would tell me a story about attending a SuperSonics game a few days after Cooper hopped out of a plane on Thanksgiving eve, 1971. During a lull in the game, the public address announcer said, "We have a late-breaking score. D.B. Cooper: $200,000, Northwest Orient Airlines: 0."
The crowd laughed and plenty of folks cheered, my dad tells me. And since the first time I heard this story, I've considered D.B. Cooper to be the Northwest's first true underdog.
If you haven't already heard, the FBI has what they're calling a "credible lead" that might finally lead to the true identity "D.B. Cooper," the man who parachuted out of a passenger jet somewhere outside of Portland and was never seen again. The suspect, a Pacific Northwest resident, has been dead for 10 years, they're saying, meaning that some guy might be about to discover that his grandpa was D.B. Cooper. Now, you'd think this would bring shame on a family and it probably would - that is, if this wasn't the Northwest, where D.B. Cooper is more of a hero than a criminal.
It's not like we in the Northwest applaud the act of hijacking. I'm 95 percent sure that most Northwesterners are categorically opposed to the hijacking of anything, and the other five percent mistakenly figured "hijacking" had something to do with improving the functionality of their bongs. But, as Northwesterners, we look at someone who jumped out of a moving airliner with $200,000 strapped to his body without hurting anyone and say, "Well, you have to hand it to him for pulling that off."
It was sometime around 1971 when the Northwest cemented its love affair with D.B. Cooper and the concept of the underdog, perhaps knowing their sports teams would forever be considered as such. It was also around this time that a floppy haired kid out of Coos Bay, Oregon, who appeared to have no place at the top of the sports world became one of the country's most fascinating athletes. Steve Prefontaine, although dominant, was still an underdog and proof that we do things differently out here in the Northwest. In short, we're weird. Evidence: that Kirkland Little League squad, Adam Morrison's mustache, Brian Bozzworth's shrunken head, the University of Oregon's obsession with futuristic clothing.
We're rugged people and we don't like the man pushing us around. When it comes to sports, the Northwest gets pushed around. A lot. At last year's BCS National Championship game, ESPN had to all but pull out a map to show Auburn's fans where Oregon was in relation to their respective trailer parks. We don't make many highlight reels and sometimes I'm pretty sure half of NBA players don't know where the hell they are when they land in Portland to play the Blazers.
As Northwesterners, we can't expect outsiders to understand why we insist on making our professional and collegiate teams wear atrociously colored uniforms or why we really, really like soccer or why we invented "the wave"... or why we have no problem cheering for the only successful airline bandit in our country's history. We're weird like that. And proud of it.