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Best Years in Purdue Sports History #9: 1997-98

I promise this will be better.

The first installment in this new series did not go off as well as I planned. No less than three computers were giving me issues with loading .pdf files and that led to me having little research into the other teams. The ninth year on our countdown will be much better because:

#1 I fixed the problem ( until I went to finish the article. I blame Purdue's site)

#2 I personally witnessed most of that happened.

The second year in our countdown only received two votes by you fans in the poll, but it is a lot like 1978-79 in that it was a major table-setting year for what was to come. Coming in at #9 in our countdown of the best years in Purdue Sports history is 1997-98.


Football highlights - This was one of the most memorable football seasons for me. Because of the 1997 football season I decided to attend Purdue, as I was a senior at Kokomo High School that fall. The diehards remembered Joe Tiller as an assistant in the 80's, but after 12 years of virtually nothing happening football-wise the expectations were low. They went even low when the Boilers lost 36-22 at Toledo to start the season. #11 Notre Dame was the home opener.

Of Joe tiller's 86 wins as Purdue's coach, win #1 may have been the sweetest.

What happened was easily one of the happiest moments in Ross-Ade Stadium history. Unlike Colletto, Tiller was actually able to build on a big win. Purdue won six straight after the Toledo loss for its best season since 1984. Most Purdue fans didn't know how to act. My dad was one of them, as evidenced from the Wisconsin game. It was, in reality, a miraculous season for Purdue football. It came completely out of nowhere as we completed one of the greatest turnarounds in collegiate football history. We went from 3-8 to 9-3, a mark that still stands as one of the best single season turnaround in college football history. A 6-2 conference finish was good enough for second place.

There were plenty of memorable games that season. Four of the games ended up on the Best Wins of the Tiller Era countdown, so I have already written pretty extensively about them. The craziest that game that season was easily the Michigan State game. Everyone remembers it, but Purdue trailed 21-10 with two minutes to go before returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown, recovering the onside kick, scoring another touchdown, and surviving a missed field goal in the final five seconds to get an improbable win. That win was made all the better because the infallible Nick Saban was responsible for the choke job, and he would do so again the next season.

The final two wins of the season were sweet. Purdue curbstomped Indiana 56-7 in Bloomington to take the Bucket back after a one year absence. Even the lightly used Tarrah Graham got in on the scoring with a long TD run. I am pretty sure everyone for Purdue got to play in that game, including managers, a couple cheerleaders, The Silver Twins (who had a nice pass and catch combination), and the UPS guy who delivered the game ball. The Boilers didn't give up the Bucket until 2001 and Indiana still has not won in West Lafayette since 1996. We then were awarded with our first bowl bid in 13 years and just sixth in school history. Purdue finished the season by beating Oklahoma State 33-20 in the Alamo Bowl.

With the sudden turnaround Purdue won numerous individual awards. Joe Tiller won a national coach of the year award, while players such as Billy Dicken, Rosevelt Colvin, and Brian Alford littered the all Big Ten teams. Purdue also finished ranked 15th in both polls.

Men's basketball highlights - The 1997-98 season was the last time the men's basketball program received a top four seed to the NCAA Tournament. Purdue spent most of the season ranked in the top 10 behind futures NBA players Brian Cardinal and Brad Miller. Unfortunately, as Gene Keady's teams often did, it did not play up to its seed in the dance. The Boilers lost 67-59 to third seeded Stanford in the Midwest Regional Semifinal. Stanford went on to the Final Four that year, meaning Keady missed another golden opportunity when #1 seed Kansas was upset by Rhode Island. Purdue had even beaten the Rams in the previous NCAA Tournament.

The season started with a runner-up finish to North Carolina in the Great Alaska Shootout. Purdue lost a heartbreaker 73-69 to the Tar Heels in a matchup of two top 6 teams nationally. Purdue had another top 10 matchup in the next game, losing to eventual national champ Kentucky 89-75 in Chicago. It would be Purdue's final non-conference loss of the season. The best win of the non-conference season came in the final Boilermaker Blockbuster at Market Square Arena. #8 Purdue beat #10 Xavier 86-84 as Purdue finally beat a top 10 team.

In Big Ten play Purdue was unable to catch Michigan State for the conference crown. The Spartans won in West Lafayette, but Purdue upset Michigan State 99-96 in overtime on the final day of the regular season to make Michigan State share the conference title with Illinois. Purdue finished in third place, losing to Indiana in Bloomington and having late losses at Iowa and Penn State late in the season end their title hopes. Still, Purdue went into the inaugural Big Ten Tournament with a #9 ranking. Purdue beat Indiana and Illinois before losing to Michigan in the championship game. It was Purdue's farthest advancement in this tournament until this past season.

Things appeared to be going well as the Boilers rolled into the Sweet 16 with convincing wins over Delaware and Detroit. Stanford changed the tempo up and beat the boilers in a particularly brutal sweet 16 game. Mark Madsen made life miserable for Cardinal and Miller, notching 15 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. Purdue shot just 31% from the field and gave up a 17-2 run to Stanford to finish the first half.

Still, it was a very good year for Purdue. Cardinal and Miller have both gone on to make a crapload of money in the NBA from various teams. The sophomore nucleus of this team also went to two more Sweet 16's and nearly took Gene Keady to his first Final Four in 2000.

Other Accomplishments:

Women's basketball - In a year that would set the stage for the 1999 National Championship, the women's team won the Big Ten Tournament and made it all the way to the elite eight before losing to Louisiana Tech. They would avenge the loss to the Techsters in the following season's Final Four. The tournament trail included wins over Washington, Colorado State, and Notre Dame. The biggest thing that came out of this season was that Ukari Figgs and Stephanie White talked Carolyn Peck into staying for the following season. That trio would lead Purdue to its first national Championship in any sport since 1961.

The rest of the programs had pretty awful seasons, but the 1997-98 season stands out because the three marquee programs really achieved above and beyond nationally. Baseball failed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament. Volleyball was lucky to win a big Ten game. Wrestling finished 9th in the Big Ten and softball finished a game below .500. many of these programs would go on to have much better seasons in 1998-99, but this was a table-setting year even for them.