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Portlanders John and Alex McPhee join forces as teammates with local Australian Rules Football club
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, John McPhee (left) and his son, Alex, battle for the ball during a recent workout at Willamette Park.

A little father-son play takes on new meaning for John and Alex McPhee of Portland, who have squared off in some serious Australian Rules Football action.


They were on opposite sides two years ago, when the Portland Power footy club split up for intrasquad games. Father John, now 52, played defense for the Mongrels. Son Alex, 15, played forward for the Greens after being allowed to join the Power club at his young age.

'It was always fun, because I was always embarrassing John,' the younger McPhee says, calling his father/teammate by name. 'Guys made fun of him. I beat him most of the time.'

Old John smiles, not denying it.

'But he's saying that with such a straight face!' he says.

It must have been surreal, the first time father met son in the air battling for the ball, legs and arms tangled, the grunting and sweat. There aren't many physical sports in which the elder and his offspring get to play on the same field against each other.

The taller John (6-4) says Alex (6-1) wouldn't beat him in the air much, but Alex's younger legs and energy usually got the best of older legs and guile for anything on the ground.

In Aussie Rules, forwards score by kicking the ball through uprights (six points) or handballing it (one point), and Alex beat his father with his share of kicks and handballs.

'When he gets around me, I get very frustrated,' says John, who is director of delivery for Nike in North America. 'I'm the last line of defense, and he'll score on me. He has scored on me.'

The two have since switched to the same scrimmaging team, and they will play with their Power teammates against teams from Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia in the Portland Footy Invitational, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, at Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St., Gresham.

No pads, no helmets

The Portland Power is a well-organized and enthusiastic club with nearly 50 members, an outlet for adults who want to do something different. The key word is 'adults,' because Alex McPhee is the only teenager on the team. The kid has sustained only one injury, a minor concussion last year against Seattle, playing against the older fellas.

Alex, a Lincoln High sophomore-to-be, also plays football, basketball and baseball. He plans to compete to be Lincoln's varsity punter and kicker, while also hoping to get a chance at receiver next season.

John McPhee and his son used to do the 'kick to kick' thing in the park all the time, until Alex started to play competitively in the Aussie sport. Alex joined the Power two years ago, and last year he played on the U.S. junior national team in an event.

'All the guys I've played (Aussie) football with, nobody plays with their sons,' John McPhee says. 'They would give their right arm to play with their sons.'

Born in Melbourne, John started playing footy at age 10 and continued through his 20s while living and working in the Outback, at the lead-silver-zinc mine 3,000 feet underground at Mount Isa in Queensland. John says he was 'good,' and played two levels below the pros of the Australian Football League. He played footy on Saturdays and rugby on Sundays for the seven years he worked in the mine, until coming to the conclusion that he wanted something else from his life other than mining.

In 1987, John emigrated to the United States to attend Stanford. Degree and wife with him, he moved to Portland in 1992.

Only four years ago did John realize that Portland had an active Australian Rules Football club. Even nearing 50, he had the itch to play and got back in the game despite the roughness of the game. He had a strained medial collateral ligament last year, and has had finger and elbow injuries recently.

'No pads, no helmets, no worries' is the Portland Power's slogan, and John is all about the physical, one-on-one and tackling aspects of the game.

'My job is to stop goal scorers, like Alex,' he says. 'It's a good game for me. It's a good test of who you are. … It's just you and me, and you can't hide behind a helmet.'

Alex McPhee now wants to venture Down Under to play Aussie Rules some day.

'I like the action. In American football, I don't like how it starts and stops,' Alex says.

He tried to recruit some Lincoln friends to play, but 'most of them think it's weird playing with older guys. … And you've got to be open minded, because it's a different game.'

The two played 'kick to kick' recently at Willamette Park, site of many of the Power's games. On other fields that can handle the 170-meter long footy field, teams can use 18 player per side; on smaller fields, it's 9-on-9. But, when it's 1-on-1 'kick to kick,' the ribbing doesn't stop.

Alex kicks to John, and Pops drops it.

'Sorry,' Alex says. 'Didn't mean to hit you in the hands.'

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