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Purdue Spring Game: Collecting the Pieces of Fandom Again (pt. 1)

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Spring is all about starting over, and the spring game is all about seeing where you're at. A fan attempts to reunite with his former love.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

I tell my girlfriend that we should walk from our downtown apartment to campus on Saturday to watch the Purdue spring football game. Make a day of it.

There's a long pause. She's lived in Indiana for all of a month, is not a football fan, and the part of Jersey she's from, if you walk over an hour you'll end up in New York City. This hardly seemed to measure up to an exciting day in the sun for her.

"I'm going to write about it."

"Oh. Okay."

9:00 am, Saturday morning, there's a familiar but hateful sound erupting from somewhere near my head - the alarm. She barely stirs as I turn it off, feeling a little sluggish and completely hungover, I stare at the wall and try to collect the inertia and energy I need to get up, shower, make breakfast, and then trek the whatever miles it takes to Ross-Ade.

11:00 am, rolling over, I check my phone for the weather. It's approaching 80 already, for the first time this year, and I'm running out of excuses. Even my head has relented from throbbing to a dull, harmless pulse. If we got up right now, we'd be able to catch the bus to the pedestrian bridge, cross it, and make it there in time. Grab a coffee at Java Roaster, or a bagel at that star place.

Pulling into the co-rec parking lot, 12:43, we see signs for a fashion show happening inside. My girlfriend has a degree in fashion and I can see her eyes wonder towards those walking in done up in dresses and vague, open-toed heels, and I know she'd rather I take her there.

I suggest getting some breakfast before we go in, try out the city market. The game won't start on time, I'm sure, and we sit out front of Mackey with our plastic boxes and utensils, our salad and pasta, and we watch the relatively small crowd of people migrate around Mackey and towards the brick composed stadium. We're talking, about whatever, anything really but football.

Along the way, I had asked, "Do you know what the Spring game is?" She'd answered no. I told her that it was a Purdue versus Purdue scrimmage all while making the joke in my head: this is the only time Purdue will likely win, when we're playing ourselves.

I'd never sat at the fifty yard line before, certainly not twenty rows up. It's like walking into history, like a real-life museum, to be in a place designed for so many but filled with so few. Rows of metal, slabs of concrete, constructed with the idea of human beings coming together, in one place, to make one sound, for one cause, in two colors, but somewhere along the way - the burning of Tiller's legacy, the years of Hope ending all hope - people like me lost that spark inside of them, that gentle fire that kept them coming back even when we knew that there was only hurt and disappointment here. That there was only moral victories and actual losses to be had.

The truth is I hadn't seen a Purdue football game in three years. Call me fair weather, call me a lot of things: disillusioned by the Brees years, a basketball fan, scared by concussions, constantly angered at the NCAA for its illogical, immoral practices, busy, too hung over after late Fridays working the bar, tired of losing against all our rivals, already looking forward to the next basketball season, living in an actual college football town last year, there's a touch of truth to all of it.

I started writing during the end of the basketball season. I live basketball. I breathe it in. I play it. I watch it. I read about it, but basketball is only around half the year. Writing about it is easy, it's fun. I didn't need to reinvest, but when I looked out over the field, I recognized a few faces but no numbers. I know the football players that play at the co-rec, not as football players.

I pull out my phone. Google the Purdue roster. I look up the number 11. Ah, I think, that's the future.

I try not to think, history repeats itself. I know where this is going.

That's the beauty of college sports. It's cyclical, and as much as things remain the same, they are always changing. I can become a fan again.

(Check back for part 2 Friday where I will cover parts of the actual game and digress further.)