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Purdue Basketball: Mackey Magic and the Boiler Curse

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Was Purdue vs. Ohio St. a sign of a curse? We were there.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

You can hear the frustration.

The mix of decades and generations gone by with Purdue basketball so close but never touching that great mystical immortality that comes with becoming what you’ve wanted to be for so long. It is all there, wrapped up into one chorus, screamed by and trampled into the concrete floors of this circular structure by the feet of those devote and those who are still not believing, but wanting to believe - because why else do this? Why else dress yourself in all this gold and black, why else spend all this green to come and immerse yourself in something if you aren’t going to believe it? And maybe you don’t believe it. Not really. Not like your God, but maybe you believe in it like Santa Claus. You know it’s not possible, but when your kids wake up on Christmas morning there will be gifts and you will have written very clearly from Santa on them and you will keep doing this long past when they’ve stopped believing because you know it’s important. That you need to pretend.

It is so loud.

The desperation ignites you. It burns your throat. Purdue is so close you can taste all the things you’ve coveted for so long for your school: the prominence, the national discussions, the mattering in this grand scheme. The #3 ranking next to Purdue’s name looks both foreign and perfect. So you cheer as they go up 14 points and you stomp and you think - this is it. You hear it in the fans around you, familiar faces and souls, all beautifully tied together in this moment, singing with the same pain from years and years of disappointment, but you note then, something different, something new. It starts as a background harmony, a slow crescendo that rises up into the rafters. You know its name but you’re afraid to speak it. It is hope and it is belief. In this team. In this moment.

It is so loud.

This means so much. I can’t explain it to you. Not if you’re not already there. If you’re not clinging to this desperation already. For so long Purdue has existed as one thing, dreaming of something more. This team is opening your eyes to a dream and finding that it’s reality.

And then a ball banks off glass and goes in and somewhere someone decided this was worth the same amount of points as one of Dakota’s earlier threes which goes in without even touching iron, and because of this, the score is not even and Purdue is down two points and all is spiraling. But another senior is there, finally, after not scoring for the entire first half. And there isn’t a cheer, but a collective sigh escaping from everyone’s lungs as the ball goes down and so does the officials hands.

And-1. Free throw good. Boilers up 1. Purdue just needs a stop.

There is magic in Mackey Arena. I don’t care what else you believe in. Purdue might not have a National Championship, but no where else has Mackey Arena. And Purdue was at home, with the chance to lock up a second B10 title, and they just needed one stop.

Everyone got to their feet. They would will their team if they had to.

They just needed one stop.

It was so loud.

They got it, the first stop, or at least a miss. The ball bounced around, hit two Purdue player’s hands, and then, despite the decibels and the desperation, the ball found a Buckeye. Dakich passed it out.

Purdue just needed one more stop.

When Tate drove, for a second the lay-up nearly looked like it was going in though he was also out of control. The ball went long off the backboard and bounced off the rim. Again, a Boiler touched it first and for a brief moment all the past injustices slipped away. Hummel’s ACL didn’t matter anymore. Glenn Robinson’s back injury could be forgiven. Little Rock. All of it, vanished with one miss. But. Again. It would end up in the hands of a Buckeye.

The table in front of me shook. We are not supposed to cheer in the media section. We are not supposed to care, sitting there with our black tables and credentials, our journalistic integrity and balance. But a fist hit the table when Bates-Diop put the second miss back in and the Boilers lost.

If you believe in magic, it makes sense you believe in curses. Are we cursed? Some will tell you, yes. Some will not be so romantic about it. Again, Purdue twitter goes crazy. They think this is just a new version of the same story we’ve been reading since we were children. The same story that my mother read to me that her grandfather read to her.

But I believe in these characters - these players and these coaches.

And if these season’s are stories, I know they don’t end in February.