On October 17, 2009 I had just turned 30 and for the first time I had no desire to go to a Purdue game. The Boilers were 1-5 under first year head coach Danny Hope with far too many close losses. They had lost by 2 at Oregon, by 7 to Northern Illinois, by 6 to Northwestern (while committing six turnovers), and by 3 to Notre Dame. We were the worst type of bad football team. We were just good enough to get your hopes up in every game only to lose it late.
Ohio State was entering with a No. 7 national ranking and Jim Tressell was in full Tressell mode. The Buckeyes had lost by three to USC earlier in the season, but Ohio State was among the nation’s elite and they had won 16 consecutive Big Ten road games. I remember driving up to West Lafayette with no desire to go because I felt there was no way we were winning this game. I was going because I had the tickets.
Purdue 26, #7 Ohio State 18
In the grand scheme of things 10 years later this was a blip. It did not go on to announce that Danny Hope was the right successor to Joe Tiller and begin a rise of Purdue football. As we all learned, quite painfully, we had some severe depths to probe yet. Still, for one day, Purdue absolutely shocked everyone. It was Purdue’s first win over a ranked team in 6 years and its most recent over a top 10 team until Ohio State returned to Ross-Ade nine years later.
Purdue’s defense is what got this done. Ryan Kerrigan was an absolute menace in getting after Terrell Pryor all day. Kerrigan finished with three sacks, 9 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. A young Kawann Short was also pivotal on the defensive line, as were Gerald Gooden and Mike Neal. Neal, Short, and Kerrigan would all go on to spend time in the NFL, with Short and Kerrigan both getting large free agent contracts.
Offensively, Purdue was slow to start. It managed just three first half Carson Wiggs field goals, but the 55-yarder from Wiggs to end the first half put Purdue in front for good at 9-7. Joey Elliott then threw a pair of touchdown passes to Aaron Valentin in the third quarter and Purdue led 23-7. The Boilers still had to survive a late Ohio State TD to DeVier Posey, but the Purdue defense limited the Buckeyes to 12 first downs and forced five turnovers. The Buckeyes also committed 9 penalties for 65 yards while Purdue had a single five yard penalty.
It was a near perfect game for a Purdue team that was terribly frustrating to watch. That Purdue team didn’t even make a bowl game, but was arguably a handful of plays from 10 wins because of the narrow losses to Oregon, Northern Illinois, Notre Dame, Northwestern, and Michigan State. Ohio State would finish 11-2, win the Big Ten, and win the Rose Bowl over Oregon.
Ultimately, this game still has a fun place in Purdue history though. It is the origin of the phrase “Purdue Harbor” because it came out of nowhere. Two years later a slightly better team beat a significantly worse Ohio State team and that started the history of The Traveling The, but its real origins where in this 2009 game because that win 10 years ago was such a strange outlier.
What I also like about it is the bizarre hex Purdue has over Ohio State in West Lafayette since the beginning of the 2000 season. The Buckeyes have been one of the 10 best teams in America over the last 20 seasons and a strong argument can be made for top 5 because of their remarkable consistency (think Oklahoma, Alabama, etc.). They have multiple national championships, have dominated the Big Ten with 9 conference titles, and much of the conference has failed to beat them even once in that time. Even their alleged rivals in Michigan have gone just 3-16 against them since the start of the 2000 season.
In that time, however, Purdue is 5-3 against the Buckeyes in West Lafayette, and is a single play from 6-2 in 2002. In fact, among B1G teams, since 2000 only Penn State has just as many wins against Ohio State as Purdue does (though some of their wins have come in Columbus).
There is no rhyme or reason to it, either. Danny Hope was 22-27 as a head coach, but was 2-0 at home against Ohio State and 2-2 overall with an overtime loss in Columbus. We can be thankful Darrell Hazell only played them once, and he lost 56-0 in a game where Purdue failed to even cross the Buckeye 35 yard line. Purdue has denied Ohio State at least one chance at a national championship in 2018, came damn close in 2002, and in 2009 the Buckeyes would not have passed undefeated Texas or Alabama for a title shot since they had the loss to USC, but at the time it was the final blow to their hopes.
It is fun to talk to most sane Ohio State fans and hear the respect they have for Purdue because of their team’s struggles in West Lafayette. Again, since 2000 here are the amount of games the Buckeyes have lost in each Big Ten venue:
Indiana’s Memorial Stadium: 0
Illinois’ Memorial Stadium: 0
Rutgers’ High Point Solutions Stadium: 0
Maryland’s Byrd Field: 0
Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium/Metrodome: 0
Michigan State’s Spartan Stadium: 0
Northwestern’s Ryan Field: 1
Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium: 1
Michigan’s Michigan Stadium: 2
Wisconsin’s Camp Randall Stadium: 2
Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium: 2
Penn State’s Beaver Stadium: 3
Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium: 5
When you consider that college football road wins are really hard to come by AND a team plays half their conference games on the road this is an insane streak of dominance for the Buckeyes. They have 16 road losses in the last 19 seasons and counting, yet FIVE have come at Purdue. Purdue is not on Ohio State’s level and very likely never will be. We have only even sniffed a national title as recently as the 60s and it took arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of football to get us to an 8-3 three-way tie for our only conference title of the last half century. They are a storied program worthy of their accolades, but they STILL are scared to death to come to West Lafayette.
This is why we love Purdue Harbor.