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Purdue ICONS #21: Mark Herrmann

alas, he didn't win the Heisman
alas, he didn't win the Heisman

Only one quarterback in the Cradle of Quarterbacks has led Purdue to three bowl victories. Both Drew Brees and Kyle Orton, despite seven bowl appearances between them, have just one bowl victory each. Bob Griese and Curtis Painter each have just one bowl victory. Len Dawson, Mike Phipps, and Gary Danielson never even played in a bowl game for the Old Gold and black.

Mark Herrmann presided over one of the most successful eras of Purdue football. Under coach Jim Young he had Purdue on the brink of Pasadena for three straight seasons and even led us to our only 10-win season in school history. He may not have taken us to a Big Ten title, but few eras were as successful as his run from 1978-80 where he led us to a 28-7-1 record and three consecutive bowl victories. Most of his records have since been broken by others, but Mark Herrmann was one of the first college quarterbacks to put up huge passing numbers. With 139 votes, Mark Herrmann is the #21 Purdue ICON.


Herrmann is a local standout, growing up in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel. The Greyhounds are probably the most successful high school athletics programs in state history with almost every sport owning at least one state championship. Some, like girls swimming, are dominant year after year. Their football program is one such program. I should know. My high school had its best team of the last 25 years in 1996 with brother Dondre and Brandon Johnson (who both played at Purdue), Herman Fowler (a linebacker at IU), and Aaron Alexander (a wide receiver at Bowling Green). We entered the sectional undefeated, ranked 4th in the state before winning games at Noblesville and North Central to reach the sectional championship. Playing Carmel at home, we went up 7-0 on the opening drive.

We lost 46-7, and this wasn't even a great Carmel team.

Herrmann is one of the first to start that tradition for the Greyhounds. As a junior in 1975 Carmel reached the state finals where they lost 14-13 to Valparaiso with Herrmann as quarterback. The following season Carmel went 9-1, but failed to qualify for the state tournament because of an archaic point system that penalized them for their 14-7 loss to North Central in the regular season. That winter Herrmann played on the basketball team that took home the state championship, making him a household name around the state. He threw for 4,327 yards in three years as the Carmel starter.

Herrmann committed to playing at Purdue mostly because his top receiver, Bart Burrell, was also going to be a Boilermaker. The duo wowed coach Jim Young at the North-South All-Star game before their senior season. It was a wise move, as Burrell went on to break several record of his own in West Lafayette. Both he and Herrmann still own several Carmel High records.

Time at Purdue:

Herrmann was not the starter from Day 1 at Purdue. Senior quarterback Joe Metallic started the 1977 opener at Michigan State. Herrmann took over for him in the first half, I assume so Metallic could go on to help found the greatest rock band of all time with James Hetfield and Lars Ullrich before a falling out when Hetfield and Ullrich stole his name for their band and slightly modified it to avoid copyright laws. Once Herrman took over he would be the starter for 45 of the next 46 Purdue football games.

His first season was rough. Purdue went 5-6 but had close losses to Michigan State, Illinois, and eventual National Champion Notre Dame. Herrmann threw for 2,453 yards and 18 touchdowns, but had a record 27 interceptions. Purdue also lost all three of its trophy games, including a 21-10 defeat to Indiana in the Bucket game.

Things began to come together the next season as Purdue went 9-2-1 behind a much improved sophomore version of Herrmann. He threw for fewer yards (1,904), but drastically cut down on his interceptions to 12 with 14 touchdowns. Purdue opened with wins over Michigan State and Ohio, but lost 10-6 at Notre Dame. A win over Wake Forest set up a 5-0 start to Big Ten play with wins over Ohio State, Illinois, Iowa, and Northwestern. On November 11, 1978 Purdue went to Wisconsin and tied the Badgers 24-24. The following week they lost the Big Ten title with a 24-6 loss at Michigan. We recovered the Bucket 20-7 at home in the season finale, but the loss to the Wolverines was devastating as Michigan would finish 7-1 and go to Pasadena, while Purdue's 6-1-1 finish wasn't good enough to even share the title.

Purdue did receive its second ever bowl invite though, and they trounced Georgia Tech 41-21 in a virtual home game against the Yellow Jackets in the Peach Bowl. Herrmann was named the MVP of the bowl game, an honor he would repeat the next two years.

The 1979  was full of anticipation as Purdue was expected to contend for the Big Ten crown and possibly the National title. Herrmann threw for 2,377 yards and 16 touchdowns, but his interceptions reappeared with 19. Still, Purdue went 10-2 for its best record in school history. A 41-20 season opening win at Wisconsin was big, but Purdue dropped a 31-21 game at UCLA in week 2. Herrmann was finally able to beat Notre Dame 28-22 in week three, and the last non-conference game was a 13-7 win over Oregon in week four. An unexpected gaffe in week 5 cost us the Big Ten title, as we lost 31-14 at Minnesota to a Golden Gopher team that went 4-6-1.

Purdue was undefeated the rest of the way, but a 7-1 finish in the Big Ten record was not good enough to win the Big Ten again. Ohio State went undefeated overall before crapping themselves in the Rose Bowl against USC. We did not play the Buckeyes, so who knows what would have happened, as a regular season victory over OSU would have given us the tiebreaker and sent us to Pasadena. Instead, we played Tennessee in the Bluebonnet Bowl and won 27-22.

Herrmann returned for his senior season and tried to get Purdue over the hump for a Big Ten title. He would set the all-time NCAA passing record with 9,946 career yards (since broken), and he was the first Division I quarterback to hit the 8,000 and 9,000 yard marks. His senior year numbers were huge: 3,212 yards, 23 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. He was named the Big Ten MVP, was a unanimous All-American (we wouldn't have another until Ryan Kerrigan), and finished 4th for the Heisman. Most of the school records he set were also big Ten records.

An injured thumb prevented him from starting the season opener at Notre Dame, a 31-10 loss at Notre Dame, but a 12-6 win at Wisconsin followed the next week. UCLA tagged us again, this time 23-14 in Ross-Ade Stadium, but we reeled off six more wins to go to Michigan at 7-2 overall and 6-0 in the Big Ten. The Wolverines had an identical record, so it was a game for the Rose Bowl. If you think we won you haven't been paying attention to this blog. Michigan won 26-0, denying us the Big Ten title yet again. We beat Indiana 24-23 and Missouri 28-25 in the Liberty Bowl to finish 9-3.

Herrmann's 20-3-1 Big Ten mark in his final three years is probably the best for a starting quarterback that never won a Big Ten title. His numbers were good enough to earn him induction into the College Football Hall of Fame last year, the eighth player so honored from Purdue.

Pro Career

With the numbers he put up in college many expected Herrmann to have a solid Pro career. He was selected in the fourth round by the Denver Broncos in the 1981 draft, but only played in two games in two years before he was traded to the Colts as part of the deal that brought John Elway to Denver. He didn't play much as the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indy, but was later a solid backup for Dan Fouts in San Diego. He then played for the Rams for a bit before ending up back in Indianapolis to finish his career.

It's unfortunate, but the Colts really screwed him over multiple times. First, he wasn't given much of a chance after the Elway trade and the Colts weren't exactly a power when they first moved to Indianapolis. Second, he was named the starter for the opener of the 1992 season and even won the game (the first time they ever won their season opener as the Indianapolis Colts). His thank you was not only to get benched in favor of Jeff Freaking George (who received fewer votes as an ICON than Seth Morales), but he was cut from the team. Later on they even fired him as a broadcaster. He threw for just over 4,000 yards in his NFL career with 16 touchdowns, but 36 interceptions.

Currently, he works as a local sports broadcaster here in Indianapolis, but I really wouldn't blame him if he wanted nothing to do with the Colts. His time at Purdue was transcendent, however, as Purdue came incredibly close to breaking the long-time hold Michigan and Ohio State had on the Big Ten crown. After Purdue shared the 1967 crown with Indiana and Minnesota either the Buckeyes are Wolverines won the conference until 1983 (with Michigan State and Iowa grabbing a share in 1978 and 1981, respectively). With a break here and there he could have won three straight Big Ten titles and maybe even a Heisman. Being #21 on our list isn't bad either.