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The Legend of Shawn McCarthy: An Origin Story

Happy Fathers Day Big Tone!

I’ve got a confession to make: I spend an inordinate amount of time writing about Purdue sports, and I’ve only been on the Purdue campus twice. In fact, I haven’t been close to West Lafayette since I was 9-years-old, and yet here I am, 35-years-old and writing about Purdue football recruiting.

You see, Tony Schneider is one hell of a brainwasher. Born and raised in Huntingburg, Indiana, the youngest of 6 siblings, and the only Boilermaker in the entire lot. Dad worked on me early and often, taking me to see my first college football game on September 10, 1988 to watch the mighty Boilermakers take on the Washington Huskies in the season opener at Ross Ade stadium.

I only have a few key memories remaining from that day, the rest eroded by the passing of time, but they are some of my best. I remember it was a dreary September day with a low, gray sky. I remember eating the absolute best hot dog in my entire life. I remember some guy sitting behind us yelling, “You’re throwing it behind him McCarthy!”, and I remember thinking that going to that game was the coolest thing I had ever done and that I had probably peaked at 8-years-old. I had no idea that Purdue wasn’t a good football team, and only vaguely understood that they lost the game, all I really cared about was getting to go to the game and hang out with my dad.

The brainwashing continued, as I was drawn further and further into the Purdue web. I remember sitting in front of the T.V. and getting incredibly excited every time the pregame commercial that showed the kid shooting baskets against the barn, followed by the dad walking in and saying something to the effect of “come on in son, the Boilermakers are on.”

My first and only trip to Mackey arena occurred on February 18, 1989 when my dad took me to see Purdue beat the brakes off of Michigan State 87 - 63. I don’t remember much about the game, but I do remember the Purdue players sticking around after the game and signing autographs. I had my program signed by every Boilermaker I could find (that program is currently framed) and in the ultimate 8-year-old dream, Steve Scheffler gave me a low (for him) high (for me) five. That was it, with that fateful slapping of skin, I was hooked for life, for better or worse, Purdue had me. Tony Schneider’s plan had come to fruition.

I received my first real taste of Purdue fandom in the 1990 NCAA tournament. I was 9-years-old and had a better grasp of basketball. I watched the game with my dad in our living room in Noblesville. It was a gut wrenching back and forth affair that ended in true Purdue fashion, with Panama Myers goal tending (it was goal tending, I will fist fight anyone who disagrees, just name the time and location) a Tony Jones layup attempt to end my two favorite Boilermakers, Jones’ and Shefflers’, college careers. I remember dad yelling the the T.V. while I attempted to back up his rage with whatever interjections I could muster, it was a real bonding experience.

Soon after, we moved from Noblesville, Indiana to Aiken, South Carolina. Let me tell you, it was tough being a Purdue fan in South Carolina before the internet and 17 different ESPNs. I mostly followed Purdue sports by reading the box scores in the news paper and occasionally catching a rarely televised game, but I kept up over the years because it was one topic that dad and I could talk about for hours.

You see, Tony Schneider and I are vastly different people. He has a lust for vacuuming and maintains an immaculate sock drawer. I bathe occasionally and don’t usually wear socks. My dad is a classic “Type A” Civil Engineer (he’s so “Type A” that he no longer engineers much, and instead, leads a horde of other “Type A” engineers) and I’m somewhere around a “Type D” English major.

Looking back, I was a giant pain in the ass (and probably still am) to live with, especially for a someone who values cleanliness and order, as I thrive on disarray and disorder. Throw in two younger sisters and long hours at work, and our house was often....tense, and grew more so as I got older, and generally, more of a pain in the ass. Dad and I butted heads more than we got along, but that didn’t stop him from working 10 to 12 hour days during the week and then driving me all over South Carolina to play soccer on the weekends. It was on those long drives, in an impossibly small 1989 Mercury Tracer Hatchback, that we would talk about sports and I would catch him on any of the Purdue news I had picked up (it was easier as I got older because ESPN was more established and Purdue was good enough to get on T.V. more often) from that week. We would listen to whatever college football game was on the radio, and the tension of the week would fade away as we talked about sports. I think those long hours in the car may be some of my best memories of my dad and I in high school.

I went off to college at Clemson, and after coming to the conclusion that we got along much better when we didn’t have to occupy the same space, and he didn’t have to drag me out of bed and deal with teachers calling every other week to report my 97% test average and 20% homework average, we became friends.

Now we live half a country away, with my wife and I living in College Station, Texas and my parents still in Aiken, South Carolina. My dad and I don’t get to see each other as often as we would like, maybe five or six times a year if we’re lucky, but I still get to keep him up with Purdue, now as a writer for Hammer and Rails. When we do get to see each other, we have plenty of Purdue stuff to talk about. In a way, I spend my time writing for Hammer and Rails as much for my dad as I do for myself.

So, today, on Fathers Day, I hope this article finds my dad chilling at the lake, drinking a Gin and Tonic, after a tough week of living with the sick toddler (double ear infection) I shipped him and my mom a week ago. Thanks for all the long car rides and long discussions on just what exactly is wrong with Purdue football, and how the hell to go about fixing it, sorry if I keep getting your hopes up, it’s sort of my schtick. Love you Dad, and Happy Fathers Day.