We all knew the odds going in. Purdue was a heavy underdog. Depending on when and where you looked Purdue was being given 15-17 points. That’s a lot. But, Purdue fans had been here before. We’d seen this same scenario play out under head coach Jeff Brohm. Purdue was 3-0 against top 3 opponents under the Purdue head coach. We’ve seen them pull off a monumental upset of Ohio State, we’ve seen them upset Iowa, we’ve seen them do the same to Michigan State. So why couldn’t they do the same to Michigan in a neutral site game where every pundit picked their opponent? I started to believe that it was possible, that Purdue could find that magic once more and that at the start of January I would be on a plane to California to watch the Rose Bowl with my beloved Boilermakers in the game. I believed it, but I didn’t expect it. Instead, I’m now sitting in the Indy airport heading back to Baltimore with no flight to California in my near future and that’s okay.
Sports are a funny thing; we use so much mental and emotional energy on something that, ultimately, doesn’t matter. Wether Purdue wins or loses doesn’t change who I am. It doesn’t change the type of person I want to be or the type of dad I am to my 2.5 year old son. It won’t change how people look at me when I wear my Purdue gear. The perception they have of me won’t become better or worse. And yet, AND YET, we care. And we care deeply.
I spent the majority of time pre-game yesterday with my cousin and my cousin’s husband tailgating. I was the only Purdue fan amongst them and I still had a great time. There was no judgment, no threats of violence, no bubbled up anger. Just some drinks, some cheeseburgers, and some cornhole (I was 2-1 just to be clear, see even now I want you to know I’m good at this stuff.). Why are we like this? Why do we put so much pressure and focus on the lives of 18-22 year olds to make US happy? Perhaps that’s a question for your therapist and is a step above what we do here at Hammer and Rails. But without sports it’s very likely I wouldn’t have spent that afternoon with my cousin whom I haven’t seen in years. I love my family but there never seems to be enough time in the day or PTO in the bank to use to go see them. But because Purdue made the Big Ten Championship game we got together for the first time in years and talked about life, our kids, our families, and of course football.
What a powerful force sports is that it can do these things. What other aspect of life can bring people together like that? I can’t think of anything in life that comes close. So as I sat in the press box last night next to my fellow writer Jed, who I would never have met without this site, and former writers Jace Jellison and Travis Miller I couldn’t help but think that without sports these connections would never have been made. I would not have been sitting in that press box discussing football with three really good guys. In fact, there’s a high likelihood I never would have met any of them. As a result my life wouldn’t be as rich.
Sure, Purdue got outplayed on the football field last night. In order to defeat a team like Michigan Purdue had to play a near perfect game. They didn’t do anything close to that. They settled for field goals when touchdowns were necessary, they turned the ball over twice and botched two exchanges, and gave up big plays in big moments and all of this gave Michigan the openings they needed to put Purdue away. None of that takes away from the fact that despite its ups and downs Purdue has just completed one of the most magical seasons in recent memory. Purdue is the Big Ten West Champion. That’s the first time Purdue can say that and given the (likely) demise of divisions in the near future it may be the only time we get to say that. Unfortunately, like every Big Ten West champion before them, they fell to the Big Ten East Champion.
We don’t yet know where Purdue is going for their bowl game but when I look back on this season I’m going to remember heading to the Big Ten Championship game. I’m going to remember hanging out with my cousin. I’m going to remember my time in the press box covering Purdue with a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line, and most importantly I’m going to remember the joy and happiness all of that brought me. And I’ll remember going to the Purdue vs. Maryland game with my best friend from high school and college who, much like my cousin, I hadn’t seen in years. I’ll remember the Payne Durham catch and the joy it brought as us as jumped up and hugged each other with joy. It’s that I’ll remember not the boneheaded penalties against Syracuse that cost us a game or the mental lapses that allowed Penn State to win the game.
When next season rolls around just like all of you I’ll return full of hope and optimism about my beloved Boilermakers with 12 games in front of me. 12 opportunities for joy, for heartbreak, for frustration, for anger, and for reconnecting with friends and family. But most of all, I look forward to 12 opportunities to make new memories. The football is nice, but ultimately, it’s the memories and the joy they bring that remain with you through time. Let’s enjoy the football, but celebrate the joy.
Ever grateful, ever true.