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Best Years in Purdue Sports History #2: 2000-01

A slow week this week has allowed me to get a jump on finishing this series. As a programming note, I'll continue with previews and stuff over the next three weeks, but I will be out of town July 11-19 with very limited internet access. I'll likely write some previews ahead of time and schedule them to post then, but otherwise I won't be around to comment or post anything that comes up suddenly. I had asked the Boiled Sports guys to come over and guest host for a week, but they too will be unavailable for most of that week. Therefore, feel free to use the FanShot and FanPost features if anything noteworthy comes up. If anyone wants to volunteer to guest host that week please e-mail me.

In the meantime, let's look at the choice that I seriously thought would be #1 on the list. Some confusion in the voting criteria may have made it #2. The 2000-01 school year was my junior year on campus. The basketball team was coming off of its closest approach to a Final Four under Gene Keady, while the football team had Drew Brees returning for his senior season.


Need I say more?

Football highlights:

I think it would be easier to countdown what wasn't a highlight for this season. Four of the games from this year alone made the Best Wins of the Tiller Era list I did last year. The four wins that didn't make the list were in blowout fashion, though the Northwestern game could be included since it came over our fellow Big Ten co-champion.

The season started off with a nice twist. At this point in coach Tiller's career we were known for our offense, while the defense was a major question mark going into the 2000 season. Many of the regular contributors on this defense were freshmen that went on to be stars on the 2003 team. They performed well from the beginning though by shutting out Central Michigan 48-0 in the season opener. It was Purdue's first shutout in 19 years dating back to a 35-0 win over Northwestern in 1981. Travis Dorsch tied the school record for career field goals in the game, and he would break it in the next game against Kent State. That game against the Golden Flashes was more of the same as Purdue won easily 45-10.

A trip to South bend followed, and it was yet another game that makes me angry still today. It was the second of three straight "luck of the Irish" wins Notre Dame got over us in South Bend from 1998-2002. All three of those losses were incredibly frustrating, but they did make the 2004 stomping we gave them that much sweeter. As fun as that 2004 win was, it makes me hate the 2000 game even more. Purdue played like absolute crap and got beat by a tight end playing quarterback for the only time in his career. He couldn't run the option worth a damn, but our mistakes handed them 17 points in a 23-21 loss. The thought of a Notre Dame tight end playing quarterback (poorly for that matter) and doing better than Drew Brees makes me want to punch something even now.

George Godsey led a clutch fourth quarter drive that set up Nick Setta's game-winning 38 yard field goal as time expired. In this game, Notre Dame had a 60 yard interception return for a touchdown and a blocked punt set up another TD. A 22 yard TD pass to Vinny Sutherland gave Purdue the lead with less than 4 minutes left, but the defense couldn't hold on. What made matters worse was the fact that this win set Notre Dame up for their first undeserved BCS bowl of the past 10 years, though it was delicious watching Oregon State beat the crap out of them in that season's Fiesta Bowl.

Demoralized, Purdue returned home to face Minnesota in the Big Ten opener. That day was a memorable one for Brees as he became the new Big Ten career leader in completions and attempts. He threw for 409 yards on 33 completions in 49 attempts to set the new record. He finished his career against Minnesota with especially high numbers. In three games against Minnesota Brees completed 92 of 127 passes for 1,214 yards and 10 touchdowns without an interception. He had a career best 522 yards and 6 TD's against the Gophers as a sophomore in 1998.

Purdue could not sustain that momentum a week later in losing 22-20 at Penn State. Travis Dorsch missed a 46 yard field goal with 2:36 left that sealed the win for Penn State, who was just 1-3 coming in to the game. Once again, special teams cost us as two botched punts led to two Penn State touchdowns. Purdue came home to face Michigan at 1-1 in the conference and needing a win to stay alive.

It's just a shame ABC didn't get the double-bird from Dorsch or Tim Stratton hanging from the goalposts

That win ranked as the #5 win on the Best Wins countdown. Dorsch redeemed himself for numerous failures (firing a double-bird salute toward the student section in the process) as Purdue upset Michigan 32-31 on his last second field goal. More details can be found on that link, but it started the most memorable October in Purdue football history. Purdue followed it with a convincing win over Northwestern (41-28) in Evanston and another memorable overtime win over Wisconsin in Madison to set up a battle for first place against Ohio State.

That Ohio State game is the best football game I have ever attended, narrowly beating out the Colts-Patriots AFC championship game in Indianapolis a few years ago. The fourth quarter alone is more than enough to make me watch the tape I have (a generous gift from Boilerdowd) until it wears out. Short of Purdue winning a National Championship in football or basketball with me in attendance (or my beloved Kokomo Wildkats winning a boys basketball state title) I doubt I will ever have a game top it. The game itself can be summed up with the following play:

I still don't remember anything after he actually caught the pass. It was easily the happiest moment in Ross-Ade Stadium history. I doubt any Purdue fan objects to yet another viewing of it.

We now controlled our destiny for Pasadena with a week off. In that week, a critical game happened as Northwestern upset Michigan in another fantastic game in Big Ten history. That proved to be a critical result, as we simply crapped the bed at Michigan State in an ugly 31-10 loss. Fortunately, Iowa also upset Northwestern on that day, meaning we got a second chance and controlled our own destiny going into the Bucket game. Given that chance, there was NO FREAKING WAY we were going to let Indiana prevent us from going to the Rose Bowl. Montrell Lowe's 208 yard, 4 touchdown day booked us that trip with a 41-13 win over the Hoosiers.

The Rose Bowl, even though we lost, is still one of the most memorable trips I have ever taken. At the time I deliriously though it would be the first of many trips under Tiller. We would only come close one more time, that being in 2003. We had waited a lifetime to play in Pasadena, and even if we don't go again until 2035 I am glad I got to go once just to see at least 50,000 Purdue fans also make the trip. Hearing "I Am an American" in Pasadena was almost as tear jerking as it was the very next time I heard it in a virtually silent Ross-Ade Stadium on September 22, 2001.

As for season honors, Drew Brees brought home a ton of them. He won the Maxwell Award as the nation's most outstanding player, was on numerous All-America teams, made the Cover of Sega's College Football 2K1, and is the only Purdue athlete (and second Purdue alumni, joining Neil Armstrong) to reach prestigious Level 8: Multiple Dead Male Hookers of the infamous Dead Hooker in the Trunk Scale. For someone else to reach this level that person will have to be a Purdue grad and first person to set foot on Mars or lead Purdue to a football national title. The stakes are set. I am sure if Drew ever reads this it will be the highest honor of his career. That, or he will think I am completely insane and he will possibly have a restraining order filed against me.

Basketball highlights:

After such an incredible football season, the men's basketball season was very anti-climactic. Midseason injuries to Rodney Smith and John Allison derailed what had been a promising year, but any team that relied on John Allison and his pitiful rebounding ability for a big man didn't have a lot of promise. At least he wasn't Matt ten Dam.

Purdue started the year with a shocking loss at home to Central Michigan on a last second layup. They then upset #1 ranked Arizona in the Wooden Tradition at Conseco Fieldhouse. Virginia delivered a 92-79 loss in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge before Purdue reeled off seven straight non-conference wins over easy opponents. A December 30th 87-82 loss to UCLA in Mackey Arena gave Purdue a solid 8-3 record going into conference play.

Purdue beat Michigan, Northwestern, and Wisconsin to start conference play 3-0, but consecutive losses to Iowa and Minnesota ended the hot start. Purdue broke the streak with another win over Northwestern, but then lost 66-55 to Indiana in Bloomington. The Boilers were able to rebound once again in a home win over Minnesota, but that is when things quickly went south. Purdue then dropped six straight games, losing Allison and Smith (the two leading scorers) to injury in that stretch. A late season win over Michigan and Big Ten Tournament win over Minnesota salvaged a 15-14 regular season finish, but it broke a string of 8 straight NCAA Tournament appearances. It also meant we would dance only once over the next seven seasons.

Purdue did receive an NIT invite and that lead to home wins over Illinois State and Auburn, but a double overtime loss at Mackey Arena to Alabama prevented Purdue from going to New York. Both Allison and Smith were able to return for the NIT.

Other highlights:

Women's basketball - The women's basketball team, behind current Indiana Fever star Katie Douglas, Camille Cooper, and Kelly Komara, turned in a fantastic season during the 2000-01 year. All they did was win the Big Ten and come within a basket of winning their second National Championship in three years.

Unlike 1999, the ladies didn't enter the NCAA Tournament as one of the favorites. Purdue came in as a #3 seed at 26-6 and had lost the Big Ten Tournament championship to Iowa. An opening round over UC Santa Barbara was easy in Mackey, but Purdue was tested in a 3-point win over LSU in round 2. In the sweet 16, Purdue survived another close game, beating Texas Tech 74-72. They also got a huge break when Xavier upset top seed Tennessee in the other regional semifinal. Unfortunately, freshman point guard Erika Valek tore a ligament in her knee during the game and was lost for the rest of the tournament.

Purdue took care of Xavier in the regional final 88-78 to reach its third Final Four in program history. Once there, they faced tournament Cinderella Southwest Missouri State. The Bears featured the NCAA's career scoring leader in Jackie Stiles and had become the story of the nation during the tournament. Purdue held her to 22 points in an 81-64 victory to earn a rematch with Notre Dame.

Most people thought the other semifinal between number 1 seeds UConn and Notre Dame was the real national championship game. The two heavyweights had dueled twice in the regular season and most people assumed The Irish's 90-75 win in the Final Four would give them the title. Notre Dame had even defeated Purdue 72-61 during the regular season. The Boilers surprised everyone by building a 12 point first half lead and controlling most of the game though.

Purdue led 66-64 with about a minute to play but was unable to stop the nation's best player in Ruth Riley. Riley tied it with a basket in the lane with 1:01 remaining then got a rebound after a Purdue miss at the other end. Riley was then fouled in the final seconds and hit both free throws to give Notre Dame a 68-66 lead. Douglas missed an 18-fotter at the buzzer for Purdue, giving the title to Notre Dame.

Douglas would finish as a first-team All-American for Purdue, while several freshmen such as Shereka Wright and Valek would go on to have stellar careers.

Baseball - I have spoken about how Purdue has a poor history in baseball numerous times, but the 2001 season was probably the best the Boilers have had in the last 20 years. Purdue began the year by upsetting the #1 team in the nation, Rice, 5-2 in the season opener. They then lost to #16 Central Florida, but pulled off another upset of #24 Wake Forest to win the prestigious Coca-Cola Classic in Houston during the season's opening weekend. As a result, Purdue actually made an appearance in the bottom of many national top 25 baseball polls for a week.

Unfortunately, the hot streak didn't last. Purdue lost 11 of its next 13 games, including all six games on a spring break trip to play some of California's top baseball schools. Once in Big Ten play Purdue got hot again. Purdue went 19-7 in Big Ten play and finished 32-22 overall. It also had some rare national recognition from its early season wins, so a good showing in the Big Ten Tournament would likely mean an NCAA Tournament berth.

What ultimately hurt the Boilers was snow. One game of a four game series at Michigan State was snowed out early in the Big Ten season. Purdue won the other three games, but since that fourth game wasn't played the Boilers lost the Big Ten regular season title to Ohio State by just a half game. Had Purdue played that game and won, it would have ended a 92 year Big Ten baseball title drought that has now reached 100 seasons. They also would have hosted the Big Ten Tournament instead of the Ohio State. Rain also cancelled a fourth regular season game with Minnesota in West Lafayette.

Unfortunately, Purdue couldn't manage the one win it likely needed to secure an NCAA Tournament at large berth once they got to Big Ten tournament play. Purdue dropped games to Illinois and Michigan to finish 0-2. Their 32-24 record was overlooked by the committee and Purdue had to stay home.

Pitcher Chadd Blasko was named the top pro prospect from the Big Ten and was a 1st round compensatory selection by the Chicago Cubs in that summer's draft. Dave Gassner, another starting pitcher on that team, went on to have a better pro career. He was drafted by Toronto and later made the major leagues for two games with the Minnesota Twins. He is Purdue's most recent Major Leaguer and managed to win his major league debut on April 16, 2005.

Women's Indoor Track and Field - The women's indoor track and field team won its only Big Ten team championship to date in 2001. Krissy Liphardt was an individual Big Ten champ by winning the 400 meter dash. To me, these last three achievements added to football should have made this the best overall year combined in Purdue sports history.

Swimming and Diving - This really isn't for anything the program did, but 2001 was the year that the Boilermaker Aquatic Center opened, moving our programs from the dank Lambert Fieldhouse pool into one of hte nicest collegiate aquatics centers in the country. It is so nice, in fact, that Purdue hosted the 2003 women's NCAA championships.