Photo courtesy of Eddie Poe
Pete Manis had just made his way through airport security at Portland International Airport. Pulling a suitcase behind him, he approached his American Airlines gate and immediately saw a sea of green. Manis and the herd of green were prepared to board a nonstop flight to Phoenix, Arizona.
Nearly every passenger on the full American Airlines flight were heading to the Men’s College Basketball Final Four.
A 65-year old native of Oregon, it was just the third time Manis had set his sights on Phoenix. He had previously visited for work and once on vacation as a child. This time, Manis was traveling to the desert hoping to catch a glimpse of history.
The last time the men’s basketball team at the University of Oregon made a Final Four appearance, Franklin D. Roosevelt was President. Now, 78 years later and after defying the odds of many, the Ducks were just two wins away from taking home their first ever national championship.
After arriving safely in Phoenix, Manis was found the next day at University of Phoenix Stadium — the site of the 2017 Final Four. He was seated with his longtime friend, Sean Perkins. Along with thousands of other fans, the two friends from Oregon were taking in the Final Four open practices.
But, mainly, they were there to get a first look at the team in green.
Manis wore a blinding neon green Oregon T-shirt with a far less threatening Ducks baseball cap. His counterpart, Perkins, sported a gray T-shirt with the words “Why Not Us?” standing out in bold letters on the back. They took in the massive confines of University of Phoenix Stadium and waited patiently for their alma mater to take the court.
Both graduates of the University of Oregon, they first met in the fall of 1972 when they moved into an off-campus apartment together. Manis was in year two of a pursuit of a law degree while Perkins was entering into his junior year as an architecture major.
They instantly clicked, each of them referring to their undying love for sports.
“I was a huge Rick Barry fan during college and loved the San Francisco Warriors [now Golden State],” Manis said. “Sean really liked the Trail Blazers because they were brand new… that interest in basketball and even other sports bonded us fairly quickly.”
Much like many of the students at Oregon, Manis and Perkins were both born and raised in the state. Manis grew up in Bend, about 130 miles from the university in Eugene. Perkins grew up farther south in the coastal city of Coos Bay.
Upon graduation, Manis remained at Oregon to earn his law degree. He became a criminal defense attorney in his home state and has never resided elsewhere. He retired just over two years ago and now lives in Portland with his wife Sarah.
Over the years, Manis and Perkins stayed close friends as Perkins began his career in Oregon as an architect. The duo would make the trip on weekends to attend home Oregon football games, where Perkins wound up meeting his wife Karen.
“Pretty fitting wouldn’t you say?,” Perkins said with a laugh.
Even though Perkins would eventually move to California, where he’s lived for the past 25 years, the two never lost connection. They’ve taken a number of vacations together, still attend Oregon athletic events, and have now become one of the many voices cheering on their former school.
Just after 1 p.m. — two hours after they entered the Final Four grounds — the Ducks took the court to the sound of Oregon’s fight song “Mighty Oregon,” played by the university’s marching band. Manis and Perkins stood up out of their seats along with hundreds of other Oregon fans, and welcomed their team to Phoenix.
They snapped photos with their cameras and reminisced with other Oregon alumni sitting close by. They pointed out their favorite players and even joked about being at the Final Four without their wives.
“All four of us usually do stuff like this together,” Manis said. “Sarah told me all along that if Oregon got here, it was something Sean and I should do together. I guess she wanted us to make a memorable guys trip out of the experience.”
As Oregon’s 50-minute open practice came to a close, head coach Dana Altman and his players waved and expressed their thanks to the crowd. Manis placed the tips of two of his fingers under his tongue and let out a loud whistle. Perkins stood tall and took some final pictures.
Labeled as an underdog for much of the tournament, Oregon was much of the same prior to their Final Four matchup with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Manis and Perkins both laughed at that notion, pointing to the back of Perkins’ shirt for a clear message.
“They’ve already gotten this far,” Manis said. “We really believe it, why not us?”