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Best Years in Purdue Sports History #1: 1999-2000

The number one year in this countdown came out as a bit of a surprise to me. I honestly thought that the 2000-01 year from the last entry would be the #1 year because of the Rose Bowl appearance. When you combine the athletic program as a whole, the achievements for that year were also a little bit better than 1999-2000. This final year just barely edged the Rose Bowl season by four votes.

Football highlights:

Because of our surprising win over Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl hopes were very high going into the 1999 football season. Junior quarterback Drew Brees was a legitimate Heisman candidate and the impetus behind numerous Air Strike '99 posters. Consecutive nine win seasons had vastly improved recruiting, meaning that talent was now being added to an already successful scheme. There was caution, however. During coach Tiller's first two seasons Purdue did not have to play Michigan or Ohio State.

I was a sophomore living in Hillenbrand Hall that year. My season tickets were still high up in the corner of Ross-Ade Stadium, but I was excited for what looked to be a pretty good slate of home games. Purdue started the year with a road game at Central Florida. The Golden knights had lost Daunte Culpepper to the NFL before the season, and Purdue made life miserable for replacement Vic Penn. Even though Penn gave UCF an early 6-0 lead, Purdue scored 47 unanswered points before a meaningless late touchdown produced a final of 47-13. The Boilers intercepted Penn four times, one of those which Mike Rose took back for a 25 yard TD. Even Purdue's screwups turned out positive, as Travis Dorsch converted a blocked field goal into a touchdown pass to Chris Randolph.

Notre Dame came calling the next week and Purdue was able to get a second consecutive victory over the Irish in West Lafayette. Notre Dame had poor clock management the whole day, but still needed a simple handoff to Joey Goodspeed up the middle to win the game in the final seconds. Jarious Jackson screwed up the playcall and was sacked with less than 10 seconds to go in the final play here, giving Purdue a 28-23 win. Sitting in the student section I was stunned. Notre Dame's Goodspeed was unstoppable all day long and there is no way we would have stopped him otherwise on a handoff up the middle.

I'll save us the highlight where Drew Brees gave 65,000 people heart attacks at the same time diving for a two-port conversion against three Notre Dame defensive players. This is much better to look at.

A 58-16 stomping of Central Michigan followed, giving Purdue its first undefeated non-conference campaign since 1981 (it was a two game non-conference schedule then). It was Purdue's first 3-0 start since 1969 as well. The Boilers improved to 4-0 with a 31-23 win over Northwestern to start Big Ten play the following week. That gave Purdue a 10-game winning streak overall, which was the longest in the country at the time. We rose to as high as #10 in some polls, but it was short lived. As usual, we played like crap at Michigan in a 38-12 loss.

With the winning streak over we needed to go to Columbus for the second half of a brutal back-to-back. In that game we actually didn't play too poorly, though it was against the only Ohio State team that didn't go to a bowl game in the last 20 years. The story of the day was that we kept settling for field goal attempts instead of getting touchdowns. On the fourth try even that failed. Travis Dorsch's field goal attempt with less than a minute to go was blocked, giving Ohio State a 25-22 win.

It didn't look like things were going to get any easier when undefeated #5 Michigan State came to town for homecoming. Sparty was thinking national title after having beaten previously undefeated rival Michigan the week before. Drew Brees and Chris Daniels went apeshit. Brees threw for 509 yards and five touchdowns. Daniels had 301 yards and three of those touchdowns in the dominating 52-28 win. Brees technically had 7 touchdowns, but two of them were by Michigan State defensive players on interception returns where our offense did a horrible job of tackling. Daniels' 21 catch 301 yard set Big Ten records for receptions and yards in a game. Brees also added a rushing score on the day and David Nugent had a fumble return for a TD. It marked the second time less than 12 months we had beaten a top 5 opponent, but it was the last time such a thing has happened.

We finished an absolutely brutal October schedule by hosting #2 Penn State, making it the third time on four games we had played a top 5 team. We damn near pulled the upset too, but Dorsch missed two field goals and we were unable to score after getting a first down at the Penn State 12 in the final minute. Penn State held on to win 31-25, thanks mostly to a pair of defensive touchdowns.

Purdue righted the ship with a close 33-28 win at Minnesota a week later, but a showdown between Heisman candidates did not go well in the home finale. Ron Dayne, who went on to win that year's Heisman, ran for 222 yards and a touchdown as Wisconsin beat us 28-21. The loss put us at 6-4 on the year, and 3-4 within a very brutal Big Ten. An uncomfortably close Bucket game victory in Bloomington nearly didn't happen. Vinny Sutherland's 66-yard punt return in the fourth quarter gave Purdue a 30-24 victory over the Hoosiers and sent us to the Outback Bowl.

Much was made about the Outback Bowl being the first sporting event of the new millennium. It was Purdue's first ever New Year's Day Bowl game, as the 1967 Rose Bowl was actually played January 2nd. We couldn't have gotten off to a better start, either, as Brees led us to a 25-0 lead over Georgia in the first 20 minutes, but Dorsch's missed extra point after the second TD cost us dearly. Instead of kicking after the next two TD's we went for two and failed each time. Brees' 378 yard 4 TD day was wasted by Dorsch missing three field goals and the extra point. Georgia came back to tie it late and won 28-25 in overtime, making it the greatest come from behind bowl win ever at the time.

Looking back at the 1999 season shows it was a frustrating one. Four of the five losses came by 19 total points, mostly because we shot ourselves in the foot with either turnovers or missed field goals. The Outback Bowl was especially tough, as the defense gave up a 94 yard touchdown drive to tie the game with 1:19 left. Still, it did set the stage for the memorable Rose Bowl season a year later. Many of the stars of that defense such as Nugent, Adrian Beasley, and Rose didn't get to taste the promised land though. They graduated after the season and had to give way to a much younger defense. They were part of Tiller's most opportunistic defense that often got into the end zone themselves and caused numerous turnovers. I would argue that they were a very large reason Purdue had such early success under Tiller, and if this year's defense can play as well as they did we're in store for another surprising year.

Basketball highlights:

As for basketball, I can sum things up with this frustrating personal story. As part of the student season ticket package we received a coupon book that had vouchers to purchase tickets to games that were not part of the season ticket package. These are often the home games that occur over Christmas break. At the back there were vouchers labeled post-season games A, B, and C. Thinking these were reserved for any NIT home games (of which there could be three) I pitched the book as soon as it became obvious we were heading to the NCAA Tournament.

Once we made our surprising run to the Elite 8 I called up the ticket office asking about Final Four tickets since it was down the road in Indianapolis that year. Imagine my reaction when I heard, "as a student, you just need to bring in your postseason game C voucher and you can purchase Final Four tickets." It might be a good thing that we lost to Wisconsin in that Elite 8, otherwise I would have had to break something because of my stupidity at throwing away the voucher.

Gene Keady's 1999-2000 Boilermaker team was a lot like many of his previous ones. When they had a high seed they stumbled early in the tournament. With a lower seed, however, they often exceeded expectations. Case in point was made a year earlier when we made the sweet 16 as a 10 seed. Purdue began with a trip to Maui and made a surprising appearance in the championship game of the Maui Invitational. The Boilers defeated Chaminade and eventual national runner-up #6 Florida before losing 90-75 to North Carolina for the second straight year in a preseason tournament. Since the Final Four that year ended up being Michigan State, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin it meant that Purdue was the only team in the country that played all four teams. We even notched wins over three of them.

Purdue then came home and opened the home schedule with its first ever ACC-Big Ten Challenge game. North Carolina State beat the Boilers 61-59 for a second straight defeat against an ACC team. We then reeled off four straight wins over lesser teams before getting spanked 72-52 by Ball State in the Boilermaker Blockbuster at Conseco Fieldhouse. The Boilers finished the non-conference season by winning three of their next four, the only loss coming against UCLA in Los Angeles. That put us at 9-4 going into the conference season.

The conference season did not start well with a double overtime loss at Michigan. We righted things by getting a hard-fought road win at Illinois to start a four game winning streak. Purdue beat the Illini, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Indiana before dropping consecutive games at Wisconsin and Ohio State. Purdue then really made some headway with an eight game winning streak, the highlight of which was a 70-67 win over a loaded Michigan State team that went on to win the national title. The streak had Purdue in contention for the Big Ten title, but those hopes faded in the final regular season game in Bloomington. Indiana beat Purdue 79-65 to knock us out of first place and hand the title to Michigan State.

At 21-8, 12-4 in the Big Ten we had a solid NCAA resume, but we ruined a chance at a better seed by losing the first game of the Big Ten Tournament to Wisconsin. That victory helped put the Badgers into the tournament themselves as an 8 seed. Once in the NCAA's as the #6 seed in the west we squeezed out a 63-61 win over Dayton in round one. Round 2 saw an upset as we beat a Kelvin Sampson-led Oklahoma team 66-62. In the sweet 16 we faced Gonzaga, who had upset #2 seed St. John's. It was Purdue's turn to play Cinderella spoiler, as we knocked off the tournament tested Bulldogs 75-66 to get within a game of the Final Four.

This drew the media's attention to us. Our senior-laden team of Jaraan Cornell, Mike Robinson, Brian Cardinal, Greg McQuay, and Chad Kerkhof was a tribute to the old school days before stars bailed on their teams to go to the NBA. Keady also had an unexpected chance to finally get to a Final Four. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be. Wisconsin beat us for a third time that year 64-60 to move on to Indianapolis.

Keady did receive a national coach of the year for his performance in what was his last serious chance at getting to the Final Four. Brian Cardinal also won himself a couple of lucrative NBA contracts based on his Citizen Pain persona. Purdue hasn't made it as far in the NCAA Tournament since. It is doubly frustrating because we very well could have won the whole thing once we got there. We beat Michigan State in our only meeting that season and another win in the semi-finals would have meant a rematch with Florida, whom we beat convincingly in Maui.

Other Highlights:

Women's basketball - It was bound to be a down year after winning the national title, but the women's basketball team still did very well. Katie Douglas and company wont heir third consecutive Big Ten Tournament title, but were upset in the second round of the NCAA Tournament in Mackey Arena by Oklahoma. The ladies with a 23-8 record and were a #4 seed in the NCAA's

Women's Golf - The women's golf program, perhaps Purdue's most successful overall program over the last decade, won its first Big Ten championship in the spring of 2000.

Baseball - In another year where the baseball team may have deserved an NCAA Tournament berth, Purdue came up just short. Purdue finished 35-23, but the Big Ten was ultra-competitive that season. Illinois, Penn State, and Minnesota gave the conference three NCAA berths, which is rare for Big Ten baseball. Purdue finished 17-11 in Big Ten play, winning three of four games against conference winner Minnesota during the regular season. They also swept conference runner-up Illinois in four games at Illinois. Once in the Big Ten tournament, Purdue lost a 12 inning affair to Illinois, beat Minnesota, then lost 9-8 against Ohio State. In non-conference play Purdue had wins over ranked teams Alabama, Notre Dame, and East Carolina, while also beating NCAA teams Evansville and Butler. All told, Purdue went 15-8 against teams that played in that years's NCAA Tournament, but they still did not receive a bid.