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Best Years in Purdue Sports History #5: 1998-99

Just a few housekeeping notes before getting into today's article.

  1. The game time for the Oregon game time has been announced. It is a 7:15pm kickoff local time, so 10:15pm back in Indiana. The game will be televised by Fox Sports Newt, and they usually do a pretty good job of showing the late west coast games in Indiana even when a local team is not involved. I'd say with 95% certainty people back in Indiana will be able to watch it.
  2. I am starting a new temp job tomorrow, making the rest of this week's publishing schedule a little hectic. I also have a potential interview coming up for a job that I am very much interested in. This place is part of my unofficial audition for that job, so thank you to everyone who has helped me get this far.
  3. CFN's Northwestern preview went up today. Not much in there relates to Purdue, as in a rare turn of events we're expected to be an easy win for the Wildcats. After the awful game we played against them last year (easily our worst of the season except the second half against Notre Dame) you can't expect much else. For us, it is homecoming and at Ross-Ade. If we're going to get to a bowl, this is a must-win. I am aiming for Toledo, Northern Illinois, Indiana, Illinois, Northwestern, and Minnesota as must-win games, with Oregon, Michigan State, and Notre Dame as our best upset possibilities.
  4. CFN also has previews for Wisconsin and Indiana now posted as well. With Indiana, they are saying the Hoosiers should expect a bowl because of their experience. Really? You mean experience getting run over by everyone in the Big Ten last year? I think they may have stumbled into Kellen Lewis' stash when they made that prediction. CFN is about the only source I have found that has Indiana ahead of us in the Big Ten in 2009, and very few have us higher than 10th.
  5. The Quad is continuing its countdown of all 120 Division 1-A teams and has Purdue as #94. Well, nowhere to go but up. According to them, the only team on our schedule we are ranked ahead of Indiana. Of course the coolest thing is that I and the BoiledSports guys were mentioned in the NEW YORK FREAKIN' TIMES, BABY!!!!!




The Best Years in Purdue Sports History #5: 1998-99

I find this next entry in our countdown to be a very personal one. It is the first one of three that will be featured as a year when I was a student at Purdue. 1998-99 in particular was my freshman year. It is memorable because it had just Purdue's second team NCAA National Championship in school history, as well as a sweet 16 appearance for men's basketball, a huge bowl win in football, and the national debut of perhaps the greatest quarterback in Big Ten history.

Football highlights:

The 1998 football season had a strange beginning. For the first time in more than a decade, there was hope in the program. After 1997's surprising 9-3 finish with an Alamo Bowl win, people were actually predicting that Purdue was going to be relevant nationally. There was so much promise in the program, in fact, that a last minute game was added to the schedule.

This was in the days before the 12-game schedule was the norm. There were still 3-4 "preseason bowl games" as they were called, and they were used as an extra game on the schedule to showcase some of the better teams in the country. As a result of our 1997 season, Purdue was invited to play USC in Los Angeles to open the 1998 season in the Pigskin Classic.

ABC televised the insanely early 9:35am west coast kickoff, which was a more normal 11:35am back in West Lafayette. This would be the first of 37 consecutive starts for Drew Brees as a Boilermaker. What I remember about the game is that Coach Joe Tiller took the team on a tour of the Rose Bowl while they were out in Southern California. Seeing Purdue play in a Rose Bowl was still a dream at the time, but Tiller planned the tour as motivation. As it turned out, Drew's 37th and final start would be in the Rose Bowl against Washington.

This game featured two quarterbacks that are now making a lot of money playing on Sunday's. Carson Palmer came off the bench for the first time in what would be a Heisman-winning career and helped lead the Trojans to a 27-17 win. Purdue actually led 17-10 at the half and had really only given up a 98-yard kickoff return for a score by Chad Morton. A late Brees interception and game-sealing touchdown run by Morton sealed the win for USC, but Brees made quite an impression on Purdue fans in his first extensive action.

Purdue then came home for a pair of home games against Rice and Central Florida. The game with the Owls was surprisingly close. Michael Hawthorne broke up a two-point conversion pass with less than four minutes remaining that would have tied the game for the Owls. Instead, it gave Purdue a 21-19 win. The next week was another quarterback showdown as Daunte Culpepper and Central Florida came to town. Purdue was much more dominant in this one. Hawthorne and Billy Gustin combined (via lateral) on a 104 yard interception return for a score and fellow KHS alum Dondre Johnson had a touchdown on 75 yards rushing in a 35-7 win.

One of the best returns in Ross-Ade history

Purdue then went to Notre Dame and lost the first of three straight games they should have won in South Bend. Two late Brees interceptions, the first setting up a game-winning field goal and the second sealing the win, gave Notre Dame a lucky 31-30 win. Just thinking about this game makes me angry, so let's move on.

The following week against Minnesota was our first real taste of what exactly Drew Brees could do. I remember Minnesota head coach Glen Mason making a comment during the 2000 season that he was glad he didn't have to face Drew Brees anymore after being torched for three straight games. Brees' 1998 effort against the Golden Gophers may have been the best of his career. He threw for a school record 522 yards (since topped by Curtis Painter's 546 yard Motor City Bowl performance). He also tossed 6 touchdown passes and the offense as a whole racked up a then school record 692 yards.

By the way, Brees didn't even play in the fourth quarter, while Painter's record had a frantic 4th quarter comeback. It was a thing of beauty to watch as Purdue won 56-21

A rough road trip followed where Purdue lost both games to Wisconsin (31-24) and Penn State (31-13) to fall to 3-4 on the year. In the Wisconsin game Brees set an NCAA record by throwing 83 times and tied the NCAA mark for completions with 55. Unfortunately, he also threw four interceptions in the loss. Purdue's season appeared to be going down in flames, but the Boilers rallied to win the final five regular season games against Illinois (42-9), Iowa (36-14), Northwestern (56-21), Michigan State (25-24 in another dramatic 2-TD deficit comeback), and Indiana (52-7). Our reward was another trip to San Antonio and the Alamo Bowl to face #4 Kansas State. The Wildcats were heavily favored and angry at getting snubbed by the BCS, but we all fondly remember how that turned out.

Men's Basketball highlights:

The 1998-99 basketball season was a weird one. As a lowly freshman, it was my first year to have season tickets. I sat near the top of Mackey Arena all year with some guys on my floor at Cary Quad and watched the Boilers have a very up and down campaign. The previous year we had appeared in the Big Ten Tournament final and went to the sweet 16, but Brad Miller was gone. We were a team with plenty of junior talent in Jaraan Cornell and Brian Cardinal, but they struggled against national competition. Purdue won the first games of the year, including two in preseason NIT, against lesser teams.

Ironically, one of the teams Purdue beat in the preseason NIT that year was Gonzaga. Purdue beat the Zags 83-68 in the second round in Mackey Arena. I didn't think much of it until months later when the Zags made their first surprising NCAA Tournament run to the Elite 8. Purdue then lost to North Carolina in New York, but earned a third place finish with a one point win over St. John's. The win over St. John's was the first in an 8 game winning streak. Providence earned an 87-82 win over Purdue to finish the non-conference season and break the streak. Purdue carried a 12-2 record into the Big Ten schedule.

The slipper fits, but we made sure early that it didn't find its way to New York

For lack of a better term, the Big Ten season sucked. Purdue couldn't string together more than two consecutive victories and lost four of their last five games in conference play. That gave Purdue a final record of 19-11, and only 7-9 in conference play. An opening round loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament appeared to send Purdue to the NIT, but the committee gave the Boilers a very surprising #10 seed in the East Region.

Honestly, we didn't deserve it. At 19-12 we were considered the "last team in" and guys like Billy Packer were howling that we didn't deserve the bid. To Purdue's credit, we did earn our place. The Boilers squeezed out a 58-54 win over Texas on a late jumper from Cameron Stephens. That win kept our current streak of NCAA first round wins going, but Purdue was not done. The Boilers shocked #2 seed Miami (FL) in the second round 73-63 to go to the sweet 16 for the second year in a row. The Canes were one of the best teams in the Big East that season with a 23-6 record, but it wasn't enough to stop 20 points from Cardinal and 14 points from Greg McQuay.

Purdue's run ended the next week when Temple stomped the Boilers 77-55, but it still set the stage for a near Final Four appearance in 2000. Like many of Gene Keady's teams, this is one that over performed when it had a lower seed, but struggled when it was the higher seed.

Other highlights:

Women's basketball - You cannot talk about the 1998-99 school year without mentioning the women's basketball team. The season started with a 78-68 win over three-time defending national champion Tennessee and ended with Purdue winning just its second NCAA National Championship in school history. The Tennessee win was completely unexpected. Even though it was played at Mackey Arena, the Volunteers came in with a 46 game winning streak and were heavily favored to win their fourth straight title. Purdue actually led comfortably throughout and left a message that they would be the favorites for the title.

Purdue actually lost just once all season long, dropping a 73-72 decision at Stanford in the third game of the season. Purdue finished the year on a 32 game winning streak and a 34-1 final record.

The NCAA championship game win over Duke had plenty of intrigue coming in. Duke's Michelle VanGorp and Nicole Erickson played with Purdue All-Americans Stephanie White and Ukari Figgs as freshmen, but transferred from Purdue after Lin Dunn was fired in 1996. White and Figgs were among three players that stayed after the scandal-ridden departure of Dunn, and it paid off for them. White actually sprained her ankle with 4:01 remaining in the game and was forced to sit. Purdue held a 47-42 lead at the time, but closed the game on a 15-3 run.

I remember watching this game with some friends who lived over in Shreve. Once it was we started to hear a bunch of noise outside. Slowly, student filed out of the dorms and walked towards the engineering fountain. On the steps of Hovde Hall an impromptu celebration was going on, and it eventually spilled over into a bonfire right in the middle of Stadium Avenue in front of Cary Quad. The bonfire went well into the night before police dispersed everything via teargas around 2:30am.

Not to incriminate myself, but I was part of a small group of students that broke into the football stadium in a strange attempt to tear down the goalposts. I quickly left, however, when I realize it would be very easy for the cops to catch us in the stadium.

Women's Track and Field (Outdoor) - 1999 was the last team Big Ten championship for the women's track team. Purdue scored 143 points as the host of the event, besting Wisconsin in second place with 122. The Boilers actually did not have an individual champion, but place consistently in the top 5 of several events to take home the title.