August 28, 2006.
I am not sure how many of you were around way back then, but that was the day that I debuted the then creatively named “Boilermaker Football Blog”. It’s archives are now incorporated into this site, but I began writing only about football on an old Blogger page as basketball was in the middle of its post-Gene Keady nadir. After not doing much of anything following the 2006 football season I restarted during the 2007 football season branded as “Off the Tracks”, covering all Purdue sports. The Baby Boilers year of 2007-08 would be the first that I started writing about basketball, and more of you dear readers came on.
Eventually, enough of you guys came by that I was able to sell some text link ads. Then SB Nation approached me as they made a big expansion to get a site for every pro team and every major college school. After speaking with the now former managers of Black Heart Gold Pants, Black Shoe Diaries, The Daily Gopher, and Maize N’ Brew (all of whom I had met through the then “Big Ten blogging network”), I agreed to accept their offer.
On February 20, 2009 at 4:20pm, Hammer & Rails was born.
That feels like a lifetime ago. At the time I was 29, had only been married for three years, and I was in my 4th year of working a series of temp jobs. My wife had encouraged me to start this venture because I was tired of applying to writing jobs, but hearing nothing back because I lacked experience.
Now, 13 and a half years later, I am 43, I have a 9 year old son, and Hammer & Rails has grown beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of back in 2006. We once got 1.5 million page views in a single month. We have had several other months over 1 million page views. Even now we’re consistently in the top 5 for traffic on SB Nation, and I owe all of that to the rest of the staff here and you readers.
As the picture with this post shows, I have always been a part of the Purdue family. It was taken during the 2013 season and that is my dad, a 1975 Purdue grad, me, and my then infant son. My dad is 70 now and my son is nine. We all still gather on football Saturdays together in West Lafayette. That’s what it is like to be a Purdue fan. We don’t have a huge fan base. No one becomes a Purdue fan as part of a bandwagon. Purdue fans are connected by bonds closely connected to the university itself. Mackey Arena is the force multiplier it is because the 14,000+ fans there aren’t some sort of bandwagon. We’re there because we support each other. We’re there because we hope to reach the Promised Land of the Final Four one day, and on that day we know that as a collective group it will be an exquisite joy that will finally wash away all the pain.
In a way, I feel like this blog is an extension of that family. Many of you have been around here for a long time. On the back end I can see that there are more than 8,200 profiles listed as “members” of the site. Our Facebook pages has over 19,000 followers and Twitter has more than 23,000. As I said above, we once had 1.5 million page views in a single month. These are numbers I could have never even dreamed of back in August 2006.
It is because of those numbers that I have the opportunity ahead of me that is pulling me away from this site I created and loved.
As of tomorrow, I will officially be the new publisher at Purdue’s Rivals website. Gold and Black Illustrated is leaving after over 20 years, and as a result, Rivals contacted me at the beginning of the month to gauge my interest in taking over. This wasn’t even on my radar on October 1. Now on November 1 I will no longer be at something that has been such a gift over the last 13.5 years, plus I will officially be managing my own business as publisher. Officially, the site is called Boiler Upload, and there will be some familiar faces over there. Casey, Jace, and Kyle are coming over with me, and both Casey and Jace have been upgraded to full-time writers where covering Purdue is their main gig.
I am tremendously humbled to have this opportunity. That’s why first I have to thank Casey, Jace, and Kyle. If I didn’t already have a team in place to make this move it would be impossible. When the discussions with Rivals started to get serious earlier this month they were the first people I told, and behind the scenes during this transition they have been incredible in bringing this new site online. Shortly after midnight tonight it will go live, and because of them we will go live with a great new look and voice.
Of course, I have to be thankful for all the other contributors here, both past and present. Drew and Ledman will be staying on as the new guys in charge, and it means a lot to me that they love being here so much they will carry on with what I was able to start so long ago. It is hard to leave, but it would be harder still if the site was going to die. Some other names from the past also deserve a big thank you. Juan Crespo, Rachel Van Gessel, Myles Madey, Andy Zimmerman, Andrew Holmes, WBBFan, and more have all built this place to what it is. The fact we needed other contributors is a testament to you readers, because you liked this place enough to keep coming back.
I wouldn’t have this opportunity if not for you readers as well. I am just a fan that started to write about Purdue football on the internet over 16 years ago. When I started I didn’t know if anyone is going to read it. The very idea of having a media credential or making any money doing so was a fantasy. I would call it a dream come true, but when I started it wasn’t even a dream.
This site has been an incredible blessing. It has been cathartic. It has been frustrating at times. It has been an adventure. I have grown as the site has grown. Every time I walk into Mackey I still have to pause and smile because I get paid to do this.
As for what to expect at Boiler Upload, Casey and Jace are full time guys now, and they will be the driving voice there. Kyle is coming over part time to provide some X’s and O’s analysis as well as recruiting info. I will personally be taking a step back in terms of actual writing. I will still be doing some editorial pieces as well as previews and such, but my plan is to be more “publisher” than main writer. To be honest, it is time. I have done this a long time and burnout is real. Yes, some of the content will have to move behind a pay wall, but we have some great ideas that will make it more than worth it, and Rivals will have a new subscription offer soon too.
While I am grateful for this opportunity, it is very hard to leave Hammer & Rails behind. After doing this for long it is hard to believe that tomorrow I will no longer be writing here. I have been here longer than I have been a dad. Hell, I shared the news of my son’s birth the day he was born right here. I have written a lot of mundane stuff. I have written some really bad ideas (like Donnie Hale was Robbie Hummel 2.0 and Purdue should leave the Big Ten). I’ve also been able to write some incredible stuff, like:
Inches and Seconds - I feel like this is the best thing I ever wrote here, as it came in the aftermath of the biggest Purdue heartbreak we have suffered.
Catharsis - Even though another heartbreaking loss was in the offing less than a week later, this year’s win over Texas was incredibly cathartic.
Purdue 49, #2 Ohio State 20: Complete Domination - I wrote this after 2am on one of the greatest days ever for Purdue fans. I think a lot of you were still up at the time humming with joy.
Purdue 70, Northwestern 57: Boilers Win 24th Big Ten Championship - Purdue has come up just short a number of times under Matt Painter when it comes to winning the Big Ten, but this title felt extra special.
Compassion - It is a shameless plug, but I published my first book a few months ago and I would be honored if you read it.
My dream is still out there. One day, hopefully, I can write the words, “Purdue basketball is going to the Final Four” and they will be real. It is the one thing I always wanted to do at this site and never got to, and it really hurts that we were as close as you could get without actually going.
It has been a tremendous honor to write here. I have been humbled by those of you who have reached out to me on social media to thank me for this place. I still can’t believe so many people have hopped on board here and have cared about what I had to say about college sports. While I will no longer be the manager here, I will still lurk in the comments from time to time. It’s now Ledman and Drew’s show, and they have earned it.
Thank you so much for what you have made this place. From the bottom of my heart, it has been a great adventure and tremendous honor. Come on over and see us at Boiler Upload going forward.