ONLY 23 men have AFL medals from their triumph in the 2004 AFL premiership. But thousands more deserve trophies for their part in a campaign that began long before that defining season for the Port Adelaide Football Club.
At the end of 1987, Port Adelaide stepped up its already insatiable drive for premierships - with an extraordinary group of players who dominated SA league football with nine flags in 12 years. The critical move from the board room was to recall John Cahill for his second of three phenomenal coaching stints at Alberton - this one with six premierships, two vital for credibility towards the national stage.
In 1990, the opportunity to join an expanding VFL-AFL was too good to refuse - and only taken away by Supreme Court action started by Port Adelaide's SANFL rivals.
From 1992, the case to be the AFL's preferred "traditional" entry to the national competition resumed with Port Adelaide matching its unrivalled success on the field with an unbeatable submission in the SA football and AFL commission board rooms.
So while the 2004 AFL grand final marked the culmination of eight tough seasons in the "Big League", the task of proving Port Adelaide could be the best football club in the best football competition was almost two decades in the making.
Proving itself beyond SANFL confines goes back even further for the Port Adelaide Football Club. The 2004 AFL premiership aligned with the 90th anniversary of Port Adelaide being invincible in the SA Football League and Champions of Australia for the fourth time.
This weekend - after the celebrations of Port Adelaide's 150th birthday on Tuesday - the triumph against the imposing Brisbane rival from the 2004 AFL grand final was to have been lauded at Adelaide Oval.
This moment is taken away by the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. But the pride from Port Adelaide's breakthrough AFL premiership lives on.
Everyone has their special memory of the 2004 AFL premiership triumph - and what the victory against Brisbane at the MCG meant for the Port Adelaide Football Club and its people.
There are three personal accounts that merit special attention this weekend because they capture three key elements of the campaign that dates back to the 1980s -
GREG BOULTON, the administrator who in the 1980s saw the need for Port Adelaide to stop being a "feeder club" to VFL rivals; who endured the battle in 1990 and won the war in 1994.
DARRYL WAKELIN, the home-developed recruit from the club's Eyre Peninsula country zone who followed so many other talented Port Adelaide players to the VFL - and returned to Alberton to fulfil his greatest dream.
WARREN TREDREA, the true Port Adelaide prodigy who did not need to leave home to achieve ultimate success in the AFL.
Board member from 1988, club president from 1992-2008
On reflection, it is difficult to imagine any true Australian football competition purporting to be "national" without Port Adelaide.
"That is something we never took for granted," says Greg Boulton.
The 2004 AFL grand final marked a symbolic duel - Port Adelaide against the team formed in a merger between Brisbane and Fitzroy at the end of 1996 to release an AFL licence for SA's oldest league football club.
"In 1990 we decided to be part of the best competition in the land," Boulton said. "Not to be just part of the numbers, but to do what Port Adelaide stands for - win the premiership.
"And when you do that, there is just relief. And the unforgettable smiles of every Port Adelaide member who had lived the trials and tribulations of joining the AFL.
"For us 1990 remains special, regardless of all the fights we found ourselves in. We won the SANFL premiership when all the odds and forces of SA football were against us. We lost a battle off the field, but always knew the AFL was coming back for a second team - a traditional team with a strong supporter base, immense history and a reputation for success.
"By 1994 we had that licence - and in 2004 we had the premiership. I still see to this day the smiles this spread across the Port Adelaide family."
Off field, Boulton led an administration that repeatedly exceeded the projections placed in the club's submission papers filed with the SA Football Commission in September 1994 - just weeks before AFL boss Ross Oakley sat at Football Park to admire Port Adelaide (on and off the field) during the 1994 SANFL grand final triumph against Woodville-West Torrens.
"For us (in the administration)," Boulton said, "the prime objective always was to make sure we had the dollars to support the on-field team. This was more demanding when 80 per cent of the club's profits were going back to the SANFL.
"The hardest task for us was funding the football spend.
"We achieved that 2004 premiership without the biggest-spending football program. We did give the coaching staff 95 per cent of what they wanted, however.
"We were lucky to have Mark Williams as our coach. Not just because he was Port Adelaide born and bred, but because of his experience at other AFL clubs (Collingwood, Brisbane and Essendon). While we were bringing new people to staff our club, Mark stayed true to the Port Adelaide culture established by his father Fos 50 years earlier."
Port Adelaide SANFL player, 1993-1994 (24 games, 1994 premiership); Port Adelaide AFL player, 2001-2007 (146 games, 2004 premiership). At St Kilda, 1995-2000 (115 games); originally drafted to Adelaide, 1993.
When Darryl Wakelin was claimed in the 1993 pre-season draft (by Adelaide at pick No. 11), the only consolation was his remaining at Alberton to hone his craft as a Port Adelaide SANFL player.
The campaign for AFL entry was underway and critically capped with the 1994 SANFL premiership win against Woodville-West Torrens with Wakelin best-afield, as noted with the Jack Oatey Medal.
But with Port Adelaide still months from winning the SA Football Commission endorsement to enter the AFL, Wakelin had his cards moved from West Lakes to St Kilda to join his twin brother Shane who had made his AFL debut with the Saints that year.
"I was very envious and jealous of the Port Adelaide players who were there at the start of the AFL story," Wakelin said. "I understood how it was a massive achievement for those LeFevre Peninsula boys like Stephen Carter and Darryl Poole to be part of Port Adelaide in the AFL.
"I would have loved to have stayed, but it probably was a good thing to get away and return as a more mature player with all the experiences I gained at St Kilda."
Wakelin, in his own way, had lived Port Adelaide's long trek to the AFL from the first bid in 1990.
"It was my first time at a Port Adelaide grand final," recalled Wakelin, who was part of junior talent group assembled from the club's Eyre Peninsula recruiting zone under the charge of premiership ruckman Chris Natt.
"I still think about it now - being there as a future-talent player in 1990 when the club was under so much pressure; as an SANFL player in 1994 when another AFL licence was on the line; and as an AFL player in 2004 when we had to win a premiership. It is an incredible story.
"I still remember my first thought when the final siren sounded at the MCG in the (2004) grand final ... it was all about what the club had been through for a long, long time. The people who had made it happen ... Brian Cunningham, David Hutton, Bob Clayton, Mark Williams from off the field.
"And the guys on the field, from the SANFL in the late 1980s ... Tim Ginever, Darren Smith, David Hutton, Greg Phillips, Rohan Smith, George Fiacchi, Roger Delaney, Mark Tylor, Scott Hodges, Paul Northeast ...
"By 2004, that AFL premiership was a tribute to all these guys who made up a great football club by their commitment to the cause; they gave everything on and off the field. They delivered - nine premierships in 12 years; they set up the success to get the club to the AFL. They made every new player, like me, want to earn respect from them. They inspired you to be better. They drove you to do everything you could to be able to cross that line that marked the league changerooms at Alberton.
"So that 2004 premiership marked relief that we had finally honoured what those people had given to our football club. We deserved that flag in 2004 - we beat an outstanding side from Brisbane coached by a legend (Leigh Matthews).
"We'd also put the perfect book end to what had been started at Port Adelaide in 1988."
Port Adelaide SANFL player, 1996-2007 (26 games, 1996 premiership); Port Adelaide AFL player, 1997-2007 (264 games, 2004 AFL premiership).
Port Adelaide played 97 home-and-away games and finals from the start of the 21st century in 2001 to the 2004 grand final - it was a marathon filled with repetitive moments of "hitting the wall".
September 25, 2004 marked the successful end of one of Port Adelaide's toughest roads to a premiership - this one of national acclaim.
"And we took 45 minutes for our lap of honour (at the MCG)," says Tredrea. "But it felt like just 30 seconds.
"It all happened so quick ... but there was so much hard work to it all."
Tredrea is the ultimate image of what the Port Adelaide Football Club envisioned in the late 1980s after tiring of the well-paved road from Alberton to the VFL claiming, to name a few, Craig Bradley, Mark Williams, Martin Leslie, Greg Phillips, Greg Anderson, Stephen Williams ... And it was to keep taking with Nathan Buckley and Gavin Wanganeen in the early 1990s as the VFL became the AFL.
The club wanted home-grown talent, developed through the ranks from juniors to seniors, to fulfill their dream of playing on the national stage from Alberton - as Port Adelaide AFL players.
Tredrea was the pin-up boy. Son of a former Port Adelaide player (Gary Tredrea, 65 games from 1973-1979), Tredrea had advanced through the under-age sides, the reserves and league side to be a premiership player on the eve of the club's AFL entry in 1997.
"Wouldn't it be amazing if we could carve up Australia into zones and bring back that sentimental attachment to a football club?" says Tredrea of a century-old theme lost to the AFL draft system.
"For me, that decision to hold off nominating for the draft (until Port Adelaide had its entry to the AFL confirmed for 1997 after being held back for 1996) meant I could always be at my home club ... and that definitely proved worthwhile. So did that passage from the under-19s to the reserves to the league side ... it makes for a good grounding."
Grand final day 2004 marked Tredrea's 155th AFL game.
"And that day, quite simply, Port Adelaide announced 'We belong' in the AFL," Tredrea said. "It's not that we had outgrown the SANFL ...
"Here was the chance to prove ourselves in the big pond.
"The 2004 premiership vindicated we did deserve to be in the AFL; we did deserve to be among the big boys. We were now the best of the big boys."
Port Adelaide had four extraordinary on-field campaigns from 2001-2004. The first three were dogged by September form not reflecting the dominance shown from March-August, particularly in first-up finals ... leading to the "chokers" tag.
"In 2004 we bunkered down," Tredrea recalled. "On the first day of pre-season training Mark Williams played Emimen song 'Lose Yourself' ... with that lyric, 'You only get one shot'. If this was our one chance, our one opportunity then this was the year to win it.
"We knew we had to deliver ...
"We also had grown up. We were not as strong (by talent) as in previous years, particularly after we lost (captain and ruckman) Matthew Primus and (midfielder) Josh Francou to injury. But we achieved the greatest success .... "
(the little stuff that matters most)
PORT ADELAIDE v BRISBANE
Played 37 times. Port Adelaide won 18, drawn two, lost 17.
Overall score: Port Adelaide 3541 points, Brisbane 3512.
By venues (Port Adelaide win-loss) - Football Park, 7-6; Adelaide Oval, 4-1; Gabba, 6-2-10; MCG, 1-0.
By states (Port Adelaide win-loss) - South Australia, 11-7; Queensland, 6-2-10; Victoria, 1-0.
SIX OF THE BEST
1) 2004 AFL GRAND FINAL
Port Adelaide 17.11 (113) d Brisbane 10.13 (73) at the MCG
After four years of going head-to-head, the intense Port Adelaide rivalry that started the 21st century in the 2001 Ansett Cup grand final reached its appropriate great face-off in the 2004 AFL grand final at the restricted MCG (being redeveloped for the 2006 Commonwealth Games). Brisbane were the "three-peat" champions, seeking VFL-AFL history as the first team to win four consecutive flags since Collingwood from 1927-1930.
Port Adelaide needed a trophy in September after being minor premiers for three consecutive years and a measuring stick in home-and-away football with a 16-6 win-loss record in 2001, 18-4 in 2002 and 2003 and 17-5 in 2004.
For the first time, no Victorian-based team was in the grand final.
Port Adelaide had cast aside its "chokers" tag; stood up against a finals-hardened team - in particular full back Darryl Wakelin who was battered by Brisbane power forward Alastair Lynch; and coach Mark Williams entered the MCG before the final siren tugging at his tie to mock the choking barbs.
Port Adelaide midfielder Byron Pickett was hailed best-afield with the Norm Smith Medal.
2) 2002 MINOR PLAY-OFF
Port Adelaide 13.12 (90) d Brisbane 13.6 (84) at Football Park
Port Adelaide won three consecutive McClelland Trophies as AFL minor premier, starting with the 2002 title in an epic play-off with Brisbane at Football Park on a sun-drenched Saturday afternoon in Round 22.
The classic battle within the contest was with Chad Cornes at centre half-back for Port Adelaide against superstar Brisbane key forward Jonathan Brown. Cornes had 26 disposals; Brown, 15. Cornes took seven marks; Brown, five. Cornes won 18 contested disposals; Brown kicked just 1.1.
Port Adelaide midfielder Roger James cleaned up against the lauded "Fab Four" Brisbane on-ball brigade with 31 disposals.
3) 2003 IN LIONS DEN
Port Adelaide 15.14 (104) d Brisbane 15.13 (103) at the Gabba
Round 17, 2003 - and Port Adelaide needed to make a statement at the Gabba, particularly if there was the prospect of these two teams meeting in Brisbane during the finals in September.
Port Adelaide midfielder Josh Carr proved he was more than a tagger as he put his shadow on Brisbane captain Michael Voss. Carr out-pointed Voss on the statistics sheets, 23 disposals to 16 - and on the scoreboard, 4.1 to 2.0.
In 126 minutes of tough football, the biggest margin was 12 points - twice, each time in Port Adelaide's favour in the second and third terms.
Roger James had two telling "misses" in the last three minutes - first to tie the match and then to win it.
4) THE DRAWS
Port Adelaide 13.15 (93) drew with Brisbane 13.15 (93) in 1997 at Gabba
Port Adelaide 18.15 (123) drew with Brisbane 18.15 (123) in 1998 at Gabba
It is a "would you believe it?" note in the record books. After their first here AFL premiership duels, Port Adelaide and Brisbane had just two points between them - from their first encounter in 1997 at Football Park won by Port Adelaide.
The next two games - both at the Gabba - ended in perfect draws.
5) 2001 CUP FINAL
Port Adelaide 17.9 (111) d Brisbane 3.8 (26) at Football Park
Certainly was history in the making - the first VFL-AFL night or pre-season grand final with two non-Victorian teams. Port Adelaide was its second Cup final, having lost to Hawthorn at Waverley Park in 1999. It was a whitewash. Adam Kingsley was awarded the Michael Tuck Medal as best-afield.
A fortnight later, the teams were rematched in the AFL premiership-season opener at Football Park for a match decided by one goal, in Port Adelaide's favour built on a 10-goal third term.
6) 2018 OVAL SCRAMBLE
Port Adelaide 14.13 (97) d Brisbane 14.8 (92) at Adelaide Oval
Jared Polec had left Brisbane in a homecoming trade to Port Adelaide at the end of the 2013 season. Five years later, his timely mark on the goal-line in the dying stages of the last term at Adelaide Oval blunted a desperate run at victory from his former Lions team-mates.
Port Adelaide led 92-74 at the start of the last term - and could not get a goal in this quarter while Brisbane could not miss. Polec's match-saving mark stopped Allen Christensen from scoring the winning goal in the last minute.