It has been three full days since Saturday night’s unbelievable game. I have watched the highlights at least 247 times and would gladly settle in for viewing No. 248. I have read every article praising Purdue and laughed at nearly every meme making fun of Ohio State. Our Boilermakers are the talk of college football for once. Not only did we impress even neutral observers by blowing out the Buckeyes, we’re receiving praise from the vast multitudes that don’t like Ohio State.
That’s an added element to what makes victories like this so much fun if you’re on the side of the underdog. If you’re Ohio State, beating Purdue is nothing. It is expected. It doesn’t turn heads unless it is 1968 or something. If you lose to Purdue in any fashion it is an upset. It is an embarrassment because the Buckeyes have so many advantages over us. To lose by four touchdowns to the unranked Boilers when you’re No. 2? Even the Ohio State fans that were on guard like those at Land-Grant Holyland never expected THAT.
It has to be strange for them. This is a program that legitimately had fans upset 2015 because they were “only” 12-1 with a single 3-point loss. At the same time, they rarely get the amount of joy out of a single win that we did fromt his one. It pleases me to no end that Ohio State has multiple national championship this century, but they have fans that want absolutely nothing to do with a trip to West Lafayette because Ross-Ade Stadium is officially a house of horrors for them.
This goes beyond this mere moment in time, however. We needed Saturday night. I am just coming to grips with how much we needed it. I have been writing this blog for 12 years and have been a Purdue fan over 30 years. I have to say that most of the time, it is rough. Being a Purdue fan brings a lot of disappointment. We don’t have a huge national following. We don’t have much of a national history in any program. We’re often decent to pretty good in sports, but very, very rarely dominant.
If anything, there are far too many moments of heartbreak just as one of our programs is about to breakthrough. The Fumble. Hummel’s Knee. Haas’ Elbow. We have two-word phrases for nearly every sport with the 1999 women’s basketball team and the 2010 women’s golf team being the only ones that made the final step to immortality.
Then there was football since said Fumble. It was a steady decline from contender, to mediocre, to forgettable, to flat out abysmal. Two years ago at this time we were booing Darrell Hazell off the field at a half empty homecoming after yet another blowout. Beating the No. 2 team in America by four touchdowns in a nationally televised, sold out night game? Unless you were playing NCAA ’14 that was absolutely laughable to even consider.
Just how bad was it? Hazell wasn’t even fired a week and we were elated to actually have a halftime lead at Nebraska. We didn’t even win the game, or any other game the rest of that year. We didn’t have a coach. There was nothing of note recruiting wise. Still, we were actually competitive with a lame duck staff and that was actually something we were proud of.
It’s safe to say that we needed Saturday night. We needed to feel absolutely elated as fans again. We had been through so much, seen so much, and had been so disappointed for so long we forgot what a night like Saturday night could be like. Even I was guilty. With 11 minutes left we were up 3 touchdowns, but the Purdue fan in me knew we could find a way to blow it. Instead, it was Purdue that delivered the knockout punches. We responded to both Ohio State touchdowns with scores of our own to put the game away.
I was watching the replay of Saturday’s game and in the crawl at one point it said we were something like 3-30 against ranked teams in our last 33 games. I have no delusions of Purdue winning national championships in football, but that showed just how irrelevant we have been. We were rarely a threat against top 25 teams, and I know one of those three was an Illinois team that hasn’t appeared in the rankings since.
Saturday night was cathartic. It was a release of pent up emotions we didn’t know we had. Purdue fans were in it from the beginning. We never let a sizeable contingent of Ohio State fans even come close to taking the momentum from us. We were ready to explode from the first play from scrimmage to Rondale Moore down to the final pick-6 from Markus Bailey. The shots of the crowd on the field gave me chills because after a while you could tell it was just fans that didn’t want to leave. They wanted to soak in the moment and not have the night end. When you add that to Tyler’s story… well, you have a program changing night.
So what now?
The last time we had a moment anywhere close to this was the 2009 victory over the Buckeyes. They were ranked 7th then and Purdue entered at 1-5 in the first year under Danny Hope. At that point it had been five years since the Fumble and it was hoped we had a program changing win. Ultimately, we failed to capitalize on that moment. That game ended up being a random upset that college football graces us with from time to time. It was an aberration for a Purdue program that slid further and further away from the height of the Tiller era.
Where we are now is at another program changing moment. It is similar, too. That Hope team entered at 1-5 and had a MAC loss to Northern Illinois in a season full of close losses. This year’s team lost three games by 8 points with one being to Eastern Michigan. Jeff Brohm has already delivered an unexpected bowl game, and now he is poised to deliver more. He has an excellent recruiting class lined up and he is planting the seeds for one to follow it. He is handsomely compensated for his work and the athletic department has made necessary facilities upgrades that are paying dividends. Last year we clawed to 7-6 and a bowl win. Now, even with the EMU loss, we are poised for more.
This team, right now, can win the Big Ten West.
I can’t believe I wrote that. The season isn’t even a failure if we come up short there. Still, we just passed the hardest test we were expecting to face all year. Now we have a tough game against Michigan State, but the Spartans are beat up. We then get a top 20 Iowa team, but at home after we won there last season. After that we have Minnesota (winless in Big Ten play), Wisconsin (up and down a bit) and Indiana (Indiana). Suddenly winning four of those games isn’t crazy, and it might even be enough to win the division.
Regardless of what happens, this absolutely needs to be a turning point moment. Years ago I wrote about basketball knocking off Wisconsin at home when the Baby Boilers were freshmen. That prompted the only court rush in Mackey Arena history, but it was not the mountaintop. It was merely an announcement that we were back at the mountain and ready to climb after being away for so long. The mountaintop (at least in the terms of Kilamanjaro or something) was a pair of Big Ten titles and four Sweet 16s in the following 10 years. The Everest of a Final Four is still out there, but we’re still a long way from the depths of the final Keady years.
The metaphor holds true for football. Look, under Brohm we’re just 11-9 in 20 games. Yes, five of those nine losses are by 11 total points, but it is not a great record. We’re also not that far from 5-39 against FBS competition over four years. We’re merely back at the mountain and ready to climb again.
And sure, there are a number of things that can hold us up. We could lose the next two. Someone could come in and make Jeff Brohm a Godfather offer and try to steal him away. Any number of things could derail this momentum. There is little question hat it is back in our favor after the 0-3 start, however. I also think that if Brohm stays, some truly special things can be accomplished. We need him at least one more year to lockdown the 2019 recruiting class and get another one going for 2020. Even then, he would leave the program substantially better than when he found it.
Saturday night was special. It was the best night in Ross-Ade Stadium in an incredibly long time.
What if it was merely the beginning, though?