The ultimate theme of the past 365 days in Purdue sports has been one of anticipation. In many areas, the Boilers exceeded expectations, but that only set the stage for what could be the best year in a very long time. 2010 now looks awesome. It seemed as if every one of the following 10 stories was a great story at the time, but it only meant that the following year's similar story would be even better. We were finally able to hang another Men's Basketball Big Ten championship in Mackey Arena, but in 2010 we could possibly hang three more. The football team didn't go to a bowl game, but we beat one Rose Bowl participant and easily could have beaten the other.
Ultimately, it has been a joy to write about Purdue sports for the last year. Things just keep getting better and better on all fronts. Some might make fun of me for giving some time to women's basketball and softball, but honestly I do get some joy out of seeing those programs represent the University so well. I truly do want to make this site about All things Boilermaker. That is why those sports are represented in the top 10 stories of the past year. Here is how the voting turned out:
#10 Off the Tracks moves to Hammer & Rails as SBNation's Purdue site - Call it shameless self-promotion or even filling out the list to get a full 10, but this was still a pretty big move. Personal benefit aside, this site gives Purdue a voice on the biggest sports blog site out there, plus an independent blogging voice that pops up on CBS Sports and Yahoo. It keeps getting better too, as it has led to a couple of press passes, increased readership, and some pretty good resume material. As always, I have you readers to thank for this.
#9 Women's Softball makes round of 32 for first time ever - It was only a step further than the previous season, but in the program's second NCAA Tournament appearance the Boilers made some noise. Purdue eliminated Tennessee-Martin and host Louisville before falling to perennial power Arizona in the regional round of the tournament. The ladies finished with a final record of 31-20 and had wins over five ranked teams. One of those wins, a 2-1 season opener against #4 UCLA, could be dubbed the best in school history. It was the first win ever for Purdue over a top 5 team.
#8 Women's basketball makes Elite 8 - The women's basketball program has gotten very good at making it this far in the tournament. Unfortunately, they haven't broken through to a Final Four since 2001. Purdue was seeded 6th in the Oklahoma City Region, but took out UNC-Charlotte, North Carolina, and Rutgers before falling 74-68 to top seeded Oklahoma. It was a virtual home game for the Sooners in the regional final, but Purdue hung tough until the end against a much bigger team. This game was good enough for an open thread even though I had an early flight the next day.
#7 Men's Basketball wins Paradise Jam - this was especially sweet because of the heaping amounts of crap some Tennessee fans were posting on the GBI forums leading up to the game. Purdue struggled a bit against South Dakota State, blew out St. Joseph's in the second half, and finally got an elite win over a top 10 team in the final against the Volunteers. Unfortunately, some people have already forgotten that. I am sure that even if we beat West Virginia on Friday, making us the only team in the country with two wins over top 10 teams, we still won't be #1 seed worthy. The final was an up and down game that will pay huge dividends as Purdue never truly faltered. They held tight in a close game and won it with defense at the end. It was the type of game we couldn't win last year.
#6 Purdue wins at the Big House for the first time since 1966
This ended up being the consensus pick in the "Pick your favorite in the comments". It also helped that J Money lobbied heavily for its inclusion. I didn't give us a chance in this game. I had seen too many good teams go up to Ann Arbor and die. I didn't think we could score 38 points in ten games up there, let alone one. We fought off a 14 point deficit in our personal house of horrors for a win that, in my mind, was even more surprising than the upset of Ohio State. At least we have a history of playing the Buckeyes close lately. Michigan usually stomps the crap out of us, especially in Ann Arbor, regardless of how good we are. This win capped off the perfect college football Saturday that included Navy winning at Notre Dame again.
#5 David Boudia - I shortened this one to his name simply because that is all he needs. It is rare that Purdue has a world-class athlete in one of its non-revenue sports. Boudia is that guy. He won a pair of national championships this year as a freshman in diving and continues to prepare for what will possibly be a gold medal performance in the 2012 Olympics in London. This was after he placed fifth in synchronized diving at the 2008 games before even setting foot on campus. In June he was named as Purdue's Male Athlete of the Year. He was also the NCAA's Diver of the Year. Expect more of him on this list before he leaves Purdue as possibly its most decorated athlete ever.
#4 Maria Hernandez wins NCAA Golf Championship - Another non-revenue sport cracks the top 5, and with good reason. Maria Hernandez finished the year as Purdue's female Athlete of the Year after winning the individual NCAA golf title. Her title was the first in school history. She also won the Honda Sports Award, the PING National Player of the Year, and Big Ten Player of the Year honors. She has already nearly qualified for the LPGA, as she has been given top priority in Q-school.
Chris Kramer looks pretty wide awake, Clark.
#3 Men's basketball reaches Sweet 16 - For the first time in nine years Purdue's men's basketball team reached the second weekend of the tournament. The Boilers had a tough road, knocking off a very good Northern Iowa team in a tricky 5/12 game before facing #4 seed Washington. It was a virtual home game for the Huskies, being played in Portland. Clark Judge said it was time to say good night. Digger Phelps said Washington would walk. I basically said Clark and Digger could blow us. I think that very short post says everything that needs to be said about that.
#2 Men's basketball wins Big Ten Tournament - I certainly did not see this one after flopping on Senior night against Northwestern and getting beaten pretty badly at Michigan State. We even had a tough road with Penn State, Illinois, and Ohio State to go through. We went a combined 2-4 against them in the regular season, so we weren't favored against that lineup. What followed was the best three days of basketball Purdue has played in a long time. Purdue came in having won just four BTT games in the event's history. Two of those came in the first Big Ten tourney in 1998. When the week was done, we were walking out of Conseco with a new trophy and a wealth of confidence for the future. If this journey ends with a national title the next two years, March 13-15, 2009 will be three major steps along that journey.
#1 Football upsets #7 Ohio State - I predicted before the season began that we would finally end our long losing streak to ranked teams. Though we played Oregon, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, and Northwestern as teams that were ranked at one point during the year, the only team that was ranked at game time was the Ohio State Buckeyes.
That's four-time defending Big Ten champ Ohio State.
That's "haven't lost a game since 2004 to a non-BCS-caliber team" Ohio State
That's #7 Ohio State
That's a record-tying 16-game Big Ten road winning streak Ohio State.
That is 2009 Big Ten champion Ohio State.
I am normally a pretty positive guy. I thought we could keep this one close mostly because our awful 2008 team somehow kept it close in Columbus. The sting of five straight losses, each more agonizing than the last, had killed my positivity for me though. The last thing I expected that morning when I walked into Ross-Ade Stadium was an upset win where Purdue dominated a much better team. I just wanted to keep it close, but for the first time in many years I questioned if I really wanted to get up and drive to West Lafayette. I knew we were going to lose. I had also found out that morning that my long-awaited full-time job was falling through after just three days.
Then this happened.
It is honestly hard to describe unless you were there that day and have been at Ross-Ade Stadium for nearly every game over the past 20 years. The closest feeling I have had to this one was the stunning upset of Notre Dame in 1997. In both cases, I walked into the stadium with a Purdue victory as my last expectation. In both cases, I walked out with that giddy, "did that just happen?" look on my face. Just a week before, in an ugly loss at Minnesota, I declared the season over. Days later I declared the Curse of the Fumble finally broken and I was ready to book tickets to Pasadena.
This win was a reward to every Purdue fan that gets into these games a little too much. Ross-Ade Stadium hadn't seen such a moment since the famous Brees-to-Morales play. Back then we thought those moments would be regular. After nine years, however, it made October 17, 2009 that much sweeter. We had gone from Brees-to-Morales, to the Fumble, to the 2005, 2008, and early 2009 seasons with so few positives. I couldn't believe that this win was there, just for us.
We earned it too. Ohio State did its part by having Terrelle Pryor play one of the worst games I have ever seen a quarterback play, but part of that was because they had no answer for our defensive line. After two games I am convinced the Pryor is Ryan Kerrigan's bitch. Pryor cannot even go to the bathroom without Kerrigan's permission.
Time will tell if this win has lasting effects. What it did do was give Purdue football fans hope again. It gave us a chance to see that the program is finally turning around and that we can dream of Pasadena again without hoping Drew Brees has another year of eligibility. It will take time. We didn't go to Pasadena right after that stunning Notre Dame win in 1997. But if this Ohio State win is the first step toward our next Rose Bowl appearance I am glad to have it as the top moment of 2009.