The first Showdown of 2017 is in the books. At the Adelaide Oval on last Saturday, deep into the final quarter, small forward Riley Knight put the icing on the cake of Showdown 42 with a goal in the 29th minute, ending in a Crows win 100-83. This, unbelievably, squares the ledger with Port Adelaide at 21 Showdown wins a-piece.
The round three match also marked the 20-year anniversary since the inaugural Showdown - Port Adelaide's first AFL season - which the Power claimed bragging rights over by a paltry 11-points. In two decades, the Showdowns have produced epic encounter after epic encounter and no matter how terribly out of form one team is or battered with injuries, somehow, there is always a genuine contest: 15 of the 42 Showdowns were decided by 12-points or less; only nine games were blow outs with a margin of 50-points or more. So that leaves 18 Showdowns decided anywhere between three to six goals. And those contests were fierce and full of up-tempo heat. For the neutral observer there's a lot to consider from 42 Showdowns.
The Showdowns have evolved from a niche South Australian sporting antagonism to an all-engrossing obsession by two clubs, something that plays out like a bruising, pressure-filled, Grand Final, but twice a year, and every season. The gravity of their contests didn't happen overnight. It's taken many years of repeated nail-biters and bone-crunching hits – some legal, some not – to get to where it is today.
I'll always remember Byron Pickett and how he influenced Showdowns by inflicting crunching hip and shoulders on unsuspecting victims. But Andrew McLeod showed us all the beauty of the Showdown with his elegant and iconic runs along the wing that usually ended up as telling goals. The Showdowns always seemed too intense for a home and away match but that's why neutral supporters watch them. The earnestness is unprecedented for a regular season game and maybe, the Essendon-Hawthorn rivalry or Collingwood-Carlton match up comes close, but those teams are entangled in history; the Crows and the Power have a different kind of struggle that doesn't compare to those Victorian clubs. And to know the diversity, is to know the Showdown.
A supercharged rivalry between the Crows and Power was always going to happen in a two-club town such as Adelaide. The Crows were born to be this all-inclusive team from South Australia, a representation of all SANFL clubs, a reflection of spirit and cultural fabric that South Australian's embodied. But when Port Adelaide entered the AFL in 1997, who were considered the Collingwood of the SANFL and historically successful, it fractured the once collective South Australian football army which forced a hand in division.
Last Saturday night in perfect conditions you could hear Power fans erupt when Patrick Ryder clobbered the opening bounce. The noise was deafening. It took less than two minutes before Crows defender Luke Brown was sent off for the blood rule from a reckless and overzealous tackle from Power midfielder and captain Travis Boak. Play was predictably scrappy full of scrum-like contests and ball handling was choppy. There was that familiar finals feel about the game's tempo: boos on high hits that were not called, the cry for ball and unusually early Bronx cheers for no real reason at all. Rory Sloane, the eventual Showdown medal winner for his 31 disposals (24 contested possessions), admitted it was the hottest first quarter he's played in, in a Showdown. And he was right. It felt as if the umpire's whistle seemed to vanish as the game slipped into this do-whatever-you-feel-like reality. These manifestations could have been any Showdown ever over the past 20 seasons.
To anyone else the Showdowns roll into one epicentre of biffs and bumps not easily dissected as individual works of art. It would be like saying that The Fast and Furious catalogue is one long film. But to South Australians, each of them has their own memory, turning points, heroes, villains, underdogs and champions. For example the 20o2 Showdown is best remembered as the Ramsgate Showdown, named after the fracas between the two teams at the pub where Mark Ricciuto flipped Josh Carr over the bonnet of a car after some words stemming from an afternoon of drinking post match.
There's the final Football Park Showdown in '13 claimed by the Power by 4-points and the first Adelaide Oval Showdown in '14 won again by the Power by 55-points; both teams were eager to etch their name in history. And there's the Ultimate Showdown in 2005 the two clubs met for the first time in final, won by the Crows by 83-points. Winning each Showdown is like a badge of honour especially ones like the Phil Walsh Memorial Showdown in '15, where the win meant the victor would be placed alongside the legendary coach who suffered a tragic and unexpected death. If not for the enormity of these matches, it's the moments fans remember: Dean Brogan's crude hit on Jericho, McLeod's check on Kornes, Byron Pickett on Rhett Biglands. The Crows had goal kicking champions in Modra and The Birdman; the Power had influential talls in Tredrea and Laid.These are things that South Australians will recall that separate each Showdown from the next one.
Of course there's an ugly side to the Showdowns. Last year a Power fan threw a banana at Eddie Betts and this year another fan wrote racially charged comments online about Crows players. Not to mention the post-match melee on The Hill at Adelaide Oval. The fans feel the wins and losses more than the players it seems. And perhaps sayings like Crows supporters drink Chardonnay while the Power fans drink West End Beer adds fuel to that flame. Maybe it's that Adelaide are white collar and Port Adelaide are blue collar. There are fan theories on who started the haymaker fest in the inaugural '97 Showdown between Rod Jameson and Scott Cummings and questions have been asked as to why would Crows champion Mark Bickley elbow Darryl Wakelin in the head that resulted in a five-game suspension in the Ramsgate Classic. Both fan bases, in good or bad, have made themselves part of Showdown folklore.
The Crows move on and remain undefeated and have the AFL's best record at 3-0. The Power, who have returned to their 2014 form, fell to 2-1. In the obligatory post match presser, Power coach Ken Hinkley didn't appear phased about the loss initially, and seemed to take it on the chin, admitting his counterparts were a "bit cleaner when they needed to be, a bit tougher when they needed to be." And in the same breath when poked about whether losing to the Crows was upsetting, Hinkley responded with true Showdown snark: "I couldn't care less about losing to the Crows. I care about how we play football. And we lost a game of football and that's what I care about."
Port Adelaide will have to figure out how to stop Adelaide's forwards in Showdown 43 later in the year. And that's the beauty of the Showdowns. There's always another one just around the corner, the next year and the year after that. Who knows what Showdown 43 will hold but you can bet that it will be played at breakneck speed and that the Power will be hunting the Crows for bragging rights and a 22-21 Showdown lead.