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Honoring two of Portland's true legends

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: TIM JEWETT - Bill Schonely says going into the Hall of Fame broadcasters' wing ranks alongside the Blazers' 1977 NBA title as a career highlight.Today is a red-letter day for two of the biggest names in Oregon sports.

Bill Schonely, 83, is in Springfield, Mass., where he will be inducted into the broadcasters’ wing of the Naismith Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Curt Gowdy Award.

In Portland, Mouse Davis celebrates his 80th birthday with friends and family from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Cheerful Tortoise near the Portland State campus.

I can’t think of too many folks who have meant more to the Portland sports scene than my two favorite octogenarians.

Davis, the coach at Portland State in the early stages of a brilliant career that spanned nearly six decades, revolutionized offensive football with the run-and-shoot system and made it fun for his players all the while.

Schonely, the voice of the Trail Blazers for their first 28 years, is an icon beloved by the team’s fans, who consider him one of their own.

Davis is as irrepressible a personality as I know. If there is a guy who acts and looks younger this his age more than Mouse, I haven’t met him. Five years ago, when he turned 75, I spoke to many of the players and coaches with whom he has been associated.

“I can’t believe Mouse is that old,” Barry Sanders, the Hall of Fame running back who played his first two seasons in Detroit with Davis as his offensive coordinator, told me. “But he’s one of those guys who will probably never get old — or act that way.”

Now, even Mouse can’t believe he has hit the big Eight-Oh.

“What do you think about that, boy?” Davis says with his trademark cackle. “Can you believe I’m already 60? Hey, I’m one of the most studly 80-year-olds walking down the street.

“Can’t think it’s all that big a deal. It rings of a high number, but it’s just a number. Gotta keep on moving on, boy. You know the deal.”

by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - Run-and-shoot guru Mouse Davis, who has stepped away from coaching football, says age (he's 80) is just a number.Davis says he has trouble remembering how many years he coached — “57 or 58, I think.” Only one year since the mid-1950s has he not coached — in 2009. In 2010 and ‘11, he was a member of Greg McMackin’s staff at Hawaii. This year, Mouse is not coaching and can finally be considered retired, though he served as television analyst for Portland State’s opener against Carroll College on Saturday and will continue with some broadcasting work.

“You miss the kids and all,” he says. “I want to keep my hand in the game a little bit. That’s important. At least you can see it. You miss the fun and the camaraderie and, yeah, the competition, absolutely. There’s nothing better than kicking someone’s ass on the football field.”

A native of Independence who played at Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon), the 5-6 Davis coached in the Oregon high school ranks for 15 years — winning a state title at Hillsboro — before becoming O-coordinator at Portland State in 1974. The next year, he took over the head coaching job and lasted six years — proving to be the longest single tour of duty in his career beyond the high school level.

Davis coached Neil Lomax, who went on to be a Pro Bowl quarterback, and eschewed the tight end, putting four and five wideouts on the field, using motion and cranking up huge scores in his tenure with the Vikings.

Mouse did his thing at the major college and pro level, too, serving as offensive coordinator for the Houston Gamblers of the U.S. Football League in 1984 when a rookie quarterback named Jim Kelly emerged.

“I could sit here for an hour and tell you all the great things I learned from Mouse Davis and how much fun it was for me,” says Kelly, like Sanders a Hall of Famer. “I owe so much to that man. I wouldn’t have been the NFL quarterback I was if not for Mouse.”

Today’s NFL offenses borrow much philosophy from the run-and-shoot.

“I know how much it’s been stolen throughout the NFL level,” Davis says. “When we started, people told me you couldn’t do that. Now everyone’s doing it. That’s good stuff.”

Davis is making Lake Oswego his home with his wife of four years, MaryLou. “She’s getting kind of sick of it,” he jokes. Mouse works out “pretty religiously” and plays plenty of golf.

“I play just well enough to enjoy it,” says Davis, a 15-handicap. “Some days I play very well, and some days I feel like I should try something new. This summer, I played six scrambles, and my team won five of them. I always have some kid who hits the crap out of the ball and and I jump on his shoulders. It’s just like having a good quarterback.”

Mouse and his bride have had more time together this summer.

“We laugh about it,” she says. “We both did pretty well with him coaching. I’ve encouraged him to play lots of golf and stay involved with the various schools (football programs), and he does. He needs that.

“It’s good for both of us. Mouse is far too energetic to be a sit-around retired person. He is not capable of that. I do my best to keep his friends knowing what he’s doing and keep them calling him. It’s good for him. He cannot just retire.”

Neither can Schonely, who was given the boot by the Blazers in 1998 after 28 years of stellar service, much to the consternation of his legion of listeners. It created a firestorm of protests that, combined with the “Jail Blazer” years, led the franchise to an all-time low in popularity.

Once Steve Patterson replaced Bob Whitsitt as team president, Schonely was restored to good graces, serving as broadcaster emeritus and a goodwill ambassador in the community with the club.

I couldn’t be more fond of Schonely, with whom I wrote his autobiography, “Wherever You May Be.” I know I have plenty of company. If there is a name that is synonymous with the Blazer franchise, it’s the “Schonz.” Nobody is better in greeting the public than this guy, and he gets plenty of love back.

In recent years, Schonely’s antennae were turned to the Naismith Hall of Fame, which honors one broadcaster and one writer each year with the Gowdy Award. As a pair of his contemporaries — Al McCoy of Phoenix and Joe Tait of Cleveland — received the award, he wondered if he might someday be in line, too.

Finally, in March, he received the call he wasn’t sure he would ever get.

The Hall of Fame representative “told me my name had been on the committee’s list for some time,” Schonely says. “I guess my Ping-Pong ball came up.

“I had to sit down. I was flabbergasted. It took awhile to sink in.”

Schonely says his mind raced back to 1970, when the Blazers’ original general manager, Harry Glickman, called to offer him the team’s radio play-by-play job. The Schonz had been working play-by-play with hockey’s Seattle Totems.

“I owe so much to Harry for giving me the opportunity,” he says. “And I owe so much to the fans, who have been so great to me over the years.”

Schonely says he considers this alongside Portland’s 1977 NBA championship as the highlight of his career.

“It’s quite an honor, no doubt about that,” he says. “To be inducted into the hall with some of the great broadcasters of all time ... and my name is going to be on there? That is really something. I’m anxious and proud and honored.”

Schonely has company in Springfield this week. His wife, Dotty, is there, along with former Blazer President Larry Miller and Chuck Charnquist and Kris Koivisto of the team’s communications staff. Jack Ramsay can’t go — he is in Portland for a Maurice Lucas Foundation benefit dinner — but Bill Walton indicated to the Schonz he will be there.

“He called and said, ‘You ready?’ “ Schonely says. “I’m a little bit on the nervous side, honestly. I shouldn’t be.”

It’s been a difficult week for the Schonely family. His oldest son, Steve, died Saturday of liver cancer. He was 61.

“We knew it was coming,” Schonely says. “It’s still a shock.”

Springfield, though, will create a happy moment.

“I’m very grateful for the honor,” he says. “I can’t get over it.”

Davis will be celebrating, too, with plenty of folks at the Cheerful Tortoise, the hangout of many who follow Viking athletics.

“I know I’ll see a lot of people I’ve known for a lot of years,” he says. “That’s special. Tell everyone to come down and have some birthday cake with me.”

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Twitter: @kerryeggers