— By Matthew Lindley
As I write this, we are a week removed from Jack Jewsbury’s announcement of his retirement. Our team’s first MLS captain — and at many times, our leader — is hanging up his boots, and with him goes an integral part of our first six seasons of MLS.
It’s always taken many different types of characters to fill the cast of a team in the eyes of its supporters: the Superstar, the Leader, the Bastard (but he’s our bastard!) and, sometimes most importantly, the Folk Hero. The Folk Hero is the gamer, the grinder, the trustworthy hand that you can rest assured will always stand when called on to get the job done. The Folk Hero is stoic, letting his actions make the majority of the noise while not demanding, but earning, the respect of fan and player alike with his play, his dedication, and his equal understanding of the importance of club and community. There will never be a more full embodiment of the Folk Hero than Jack Jewsbury.
It didn’t take him long … three days in fact: March 4, 2011 in Tukwila, Washington. After defeating the hated Sounders 2–0 on the opening night of the “Cascadia Summit,” the visitors’ section was going absolutely crazy as our victorious side left the pitch. A figure could be seen stopping and persuading a few of his teammates to cross the field and address the traveling support. He’d only been with the team for 72 hours at that point, but as he quickly shook the hands of the gathered TA, he solidified his place as Captain Jack.
The measure of the Folk Hero is having your resolve be impervious in the face of adversity. Many remember that fateful night in late May 2012 — possibly the worst in our team’s history — for the post-match incident between Jack and Pong. But what some forget was our captain, an enormous headwrap covering a late match laceration, finishing the match and showing the passion expected of anyone who dons the green and gold. He blasted through that adversity even further a few months later in Vancouver when, at the end of a season with more disappointments than victories, he sent a long-distance dagger through the hearts of the home crowd and brought the Cascadia Cup back to Portland.
As beloved to some as Will Johnson was, something never felt quite right about Jack’s demotion to “Locker Room Captain” before the 2013 season. Yes, WJ was our pest: he was that little bugger that got under the other team’s skin. But Jack no longer wearing the armband took a long time to come to terms with. That said, even though appearances were few and far between over the course of those next two seasons, anytime he was called on, he gave 100 percent without question.
Through the magic of last year’s Cup run, to the ups and downs of this season so far, the circumstances that have led to Jack having a more important role on the pitch have afforded us all a final two seasons that any athlete would dream of. From the last second life-saver against San Jose last season, to the brilliant finish of Nagbe’s ankle breaking against KC this season. From his strong presence in the defensive midfield, to his pinpoint corner-kick service, we have the pleasure of watching a beloved player call time while he is still at least in the vicinity of the top of his game.
Sometimes the worst part about loving professional sports is the inevitability of things. Your team will eventually lose; your favorite player will eventually retire. But if a player does things right, they can be truly immortal in the minds and hearts of the supporters they played in front of. They can become something larger than just a player: They can become legend. They can become a staple. They can become what Jack will always be — a Folk Hero.