This week SB Nation is celebrating “underdog week”, which seems appropriate for us Purdue fans.
Purdue is pretty much the perpetual underdog for the following reasons:
· It sponsors the fewest sports (18 if you count indoor and outdoor track the same) of the 14 members of the Big Ten Conference.
· It’s total revenues across all sports are less than half of the big dogs in the conference like Ohio State and Michigan.
· It’s average Learfield Sports Director’s Cup over 13 years is 12th in the league.
· Our three NCAA team championships (and none in a men’s sport since the 1960s), is the fewest in the league except for Rutgers.
· Our 73 recognized team sports championships is finally even with the University of Chicago, which has not participated in the Big Ten since 1945.
· Those 73 championships are only more than the noobs of Maryland (22), Nebraska (14), Notre Dame (hockey only, 2), Johns Hopkins (lacrosse only, 2) and Rutgers (0). Even Penn State has now passed us with 79 team conference championships despite about a century less history in the league.
When Purdue kicks the living crap out of Ohio State on national television it is remembered because it is an event that is not supposed to happen. We’re not supposed to be 29 points better than the No. 2 team in the country, especially in a year when Eastern friggin’ Michigan came to Purdue and won. In just about every sport except women’s golf and men’s basketball (Big Ten only) we’re the underdog to win it all.
This is also what makes all those times we have come agonizingly close to the brass ring so painful. The most recent example is the Virginia game, of course, but we have numerous memories across several sports:
· Jaclyn Hart getting injured up 1-0 against Texas in the Elite Eight in volleyball.
· Hosting a baseball regional in freakin’ Gary and falling apart in the second inning with two outs against Kent State.
· The 2001 women’s national title game.
· The Fumble
· Kansas State 1988
· The relay team at the NCAA Championships a year ago.
I am sure I am missing a few there, but ours is a program that, as I have heard said before, “always manages to find the banana peel”.
That’s what makes those rare moments of complete triumph so great. Reaching the Rose Bowl with Drew Brees, even though we lost, was the high mark of the last half century for Purdue football. The whole trip is remembered fondly by everyone. We still hold desperately on to Brees because he is one of the very few exhibits of a Purdue player being the absolute best at what he/she does. Winning the Big Ten in 2019 was one of the most surprising and satisfying titles in school history. The 1999 women’s national title remains the only one of any Big Ten school in women’s basketball, and the names Katie Douglas, Ukari Figgs, and Stephanie White are legends as a result.
As the perpetual underdog we cherish these moments because they are so rare. So often we’re the team that history happens against. Thus is our lot in life.