*This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.*
For most Purdue fans my age, this is likely an easy one. Since Purdue has very rarely made a national impact over the past 40 years, their one conference championship and Rose Bowl appearance in that time is an easy choice. It's hard to believe it has already been 10 years since that season. The athletic department will even honor that team this year on Homecoming when we will wear throwback uniforms against Minnesota. My only hope is that we also play like those Brees teams did against Minnesota. Brees threw for approximately 1,296,087 yards and 478 touchdowns (at least that's Glen Mason's estimate) in three games against the Golden Gophers.
I am going to cheat though. Why? Because it is my blog and I feel like it. That's why. I have three favorite teams from my time as a Purdue fan. They represent a six year span where Purdue played on New Year's Day three times and was ranked in the top 25 more often than not.
The 1997 Purdue Boilermakers (9-3, 6-2 Big Ten)
Bowl: won Alamo Bowl over Oklahoma State 33-20
This is the team that started it all. Like the last team on this list, only an unexpected upset by a MAC team prevented them from having only the second 10 win season in school history. That upset occurred in the very first game of the year. An excellent Toledo Rockets team hosted Purdue and stomped them pretty good 36-22 in the Glass Bowl. It was Joe Tiller's debut as coach, and some freshman named Drew Brees got some garbage time minutes to start a Hall of Fame career.
That's when the miracle happened. As mentioned yesterday, Purdue's monumental upset of Notre Dame sealed my change from "fan" to "future alumni". It also changed the culture of the entire program. It was our first victory over the Fighting Irish in 12 years, but it was also more than that. Purdue had upset ranked teams in the past. California in 1992 and Michigan in 1996 come to mind. Those were more aberrations than anything.
What made the Notre Dame game so program changing was what happened after it. Purdue reeled off six straight victories, giving them their most wins in 12 years just seven games into the season. Expectations suddenly went from "It would be nice to win four games" to "What's this Rose Bowl thing, again?" Billy Dicken, Edwin Watson, Brian Alford, Rosevelt Colvin, and Adrian Beasley were some of the stars of that team. I love these guys because they were holdovers from the Colletto years that bought into what coach Tiller was teaching.
Dicken was the right guy at the right time. When people mention us as "The Cradle of Quarterbacks" the names Brees, Griese, Dawson, Phipps, Herrman, and Orton come to mind. Dicken rarely gets mentioned, but he should. His regular season total of 3,136 yards earned him a First Team All-Big Ten nod and was the fourth best season in school history at the time. He ran the new Basketball on Grass offense to perfection and stunned every Big Ten defense except Iowa and Penn State. Purdue was not only winning, it was doing so in a rout. We stomped Illinois 48-3, Wisconsin 45-20, and ran up an amazing 59-43 score at Minnesota. The best was probably the last game.
Purdue took a 14-0 lead on Indiana in the final game of the year, but the Hoosiers got a touchdown back early in the second quarter to make it 14-7. We then proceeded to absolutely demolish the Hoosiers 56-7 in Bloomington, the first of many Tiller blowouts over Indiana. That is when the Old Oaken Bucket took up near permanent residence in West Lafayette. Purdue would have won this game if the offense had done nothing all day, as the defense even scored twice. The final straw was little used running back Tarrah Graham breaking a 49 yard touchdown run in the final minutes.
This was a fun team because it made fans believe that football could be good again. For once the season didn't end with the Bucket Game. The Alamo Bowl in San Antonio was practically a Purdue party as we topped the season with a convincing win over Oklahoma State. This season also set the stage for the next team.
The 2000 Purdue Boilermakers (8-4, 6-2 Big Ten)
Bowl: lost Rose Bowl to Washington 34-24
I don't care that it took a three way tie in one of the weakest ever years for the Big Ten for us to finally get to Pasadena, the fact we got there makes this memorable. Purdue was very close to being 10-1 going into the game as well. A late field goal at Notre Dame and a missed field goal at Penn State provided two early losses. Then October happened.
October is normally when Purdue seasons go to die, but amazingly Purdue reeled off four straight wins over teams that spent part or all of the 2000 season in the top 25. There was the amazing comeback against Michigan and the domination of Northwestern in Evanston (which gave us the tiebreakers over both teams). At Wisconsin Purdue escaped in overtime with a blocked field goal that was returned by Ashante Woodyard for a touchdown. Then there was Brees to Morales.
I don't think I have ever seen a bigger play in a football game anywhere. If a Purdue fans says this is not their favorite moment they are lying. Unless Purdue miraculously wins a National Title I don't think there will ever be a better football moment. Everything else seemed like an anti-climax. We crapped the bed at Michigan State, but got bailed out by Northwestern beating Michigan, then losing to Iowa. We had our "No way in hell" win over Indiana to clinch the Rose Bowl and set off the third straight field-rushing celebration.
Mostly, this is my favorite team because of Drew Brees. I admit, I have a gigantic man crush on the guy. I might even have to be restrained when I go to his book signing later this week. The man created himself as a legend in those three years as the starter, then continues to be an excellent human being off the field with his charity work and contributions to Purdue. I don't think there has been a Purdue athlete more revered and respected other than John Wooden. He puts on a good face for Purdue not just because he is a great athlete, but because he is an excellent human being that does a lot for others with his fame and fortune. It is impossible not to like the guy.
Okay, I'll end the Drew Brees love-fest for a moment. Mrs. T-Mill is getting jealous.
The 2003 Purdue Boilermakers (9-4, 6-2 Big Ten)
Bowl: lost Capital One Bowl to Georgia 34-27 OT
I have always felt that this was Joe Tiller's best team. The Rose Bowl year was great, but Purdue very nearly earned an at large BCS berth against one of the toughest schedules it has ever faced. Going into the year the media agreed we were good, but they viewed trips to Madison, Ann Arbor, and Columbus would be too much. I stated that we would get one, lose one, and the other would be a toss-up. I was right.
Once again, the season started badly as we wore gold uniforms in a 27-26 loss to an excellent Bowling Green team. Josh Harris played a hell of a game as the Falcons made every play they needed to. Harris shredded our best defense in years for 357 yards and three touchdowns, often making perfect throws on the run to convert third and fourth down opportunities. The game-winner came on 4th and 14 when Harris barely got a pass off before getting hit. Charles Sharon managed to go up and get it among four Purdue defenders for a 32 yard touchdown catch. It was the kind of play you tip your hat toward.
Bowling Green would spend a good portion of that season in the top 25 and finish 11-3. Purdue would go on to beat three ranked teams (Wake Forest, Wisconsin, and Iowa) in one season for the first time ever. We also had wins over Arizona, Notre Dame, Penn State, and a decent Northwestern team. The only other setbacks were a 31-3 loss at Michigan and a pair of agonizing overtime losses.
I attended the penultimate game of that regular season at Ohio State. With both teams sitting at 5-1 in the conference the winner would have the inside track to an at large BCS berth. A Purdue win and an Ohio State win over Michigan the following week would have sent Purdue back to Pasadena. Instead, Purdue dropped a heartbreaker 13-10 in overtime on Ben Jones' missed field goal.
The bowl game saw Kyle Orton, dislocated thumb and all, erase a 10 point deficit with two minutes remaining to force overtime. Unfortunately, Purdue could not match Georgia's touchdown in the extra session.
I loved this team because it was Tiller's most complete team. Stu Schweigert, Shaun Phillips, Landon Johnson, Gilbert Gardner, Jacques Reeves, Niko Koutouvides, and Craig Terrill were all drafted from that defense. Nick Hardwick and Kelly Butler also went to the draft on offense. It was one of the few times where it felt like Purdue was on equal talent with some of the top teams in the country. We didn't get it done because of one outstanding player, but because we were truly an excellent team.