When people ask where home is, we reply with the town we live in or where we grew up. We all have people and places outside of our everyday houses that feel like “home” to us. The very definition of home is “a familiar or usual setting; a congenial and safe environment”. There are certainly many things that can make us feel that way, but I know that I speak for all of Purdue fans when I say the one common home that we all have is Mackey Arena. And, in the stagnant off-season between the major sports, what can be better than writing a little bit about our shared home?
Purdue basketball outgrew the 7,500-10,000 seating capacity in the aging Lambert Fieldhouse and was in need for a new home. On July 20th, 1965 ground was broke for a new circular basketball arena at Purdue. Mackey Arena opened in 1967 to replace Lambert Fieldhouse and was called “Purdue Arena” at the time.
Circular arenas were popular in the 1960s but only very few had been built to the size and scale of Mackey Arena. Mackey, with its domed aluminum roof and intimate seating, helps make it one of the loudest college basketball arenas in the nation (not taking anything away from you, Paint Crew!). In 1972 the arena’s name was changed to Mackey Arena after long-time athletic director Guy “Red” Mackey.
Although it may not look the part, Mackey Arena can hold over 14,000 screaming fans, and in the tightened environment that is offers, it can be a nightmare for visiting teams. Ask any Big Ten opponent who makes the annual trip to West Lafayette, and they will tell you just how loud Mackey Arena can get.
The anticipation of Purdue’s brand-new arena was at insane levels as not only was Purdue basketball going to have a brand-new home, they were also going to debut their most prized recruit, Rick Mount. Against none other than UCLA, led by former Purdue All-American John Wooden. Mount suffered a stress fracture in his foot in the preseason and played with a steal plate in his shoe the entire game. He did not disappoint, hitting his first three shots and finishing with 28 points. Purdue fell 73-71 losing on a UCLA game-winning shot at the buzzer. It seems we were doomed with heart breaking buzzer beaters from the start.
That first game in Mackey was just the first and so many great games that this young arena would play host to. One of the most memorable games to ever take place in Mackey:
Feb 28th 1970 – Purdue vs. Iowa
Even though Purdue lost this game, it is probably the wildest game in Mackey Arena history. A technical foul was called on Purdue’s crowd for a paper airplane that was thrown from the stands. Many still believe is originated from the small Iowa fan section. However, the home crowd had been warned by the announcer to not throw debris on the court in the first half. It got so bad that later in the game assistant coach Joe Sexson grabbed the mic and asked the crowd to stop.
The Big Ten single-game individual scoring record of 61 points was established by Rick Mount. Yet Mount only scored one basket in the final six minutes of each half. With the loss, Purdue saw their 30-game home winning streak end. This was the longest home winning streak in Mackey Arena history.
Purdue led 101-92 with four minutes left in the game but was outscored 17-5 down the stretch. Four Boilermakers fouled out of the game. Had there been a three-point line back then, it is estimated that Mount would have finished with 74 points.
I could go on and on making a huge list of the greatest games in Mackey Arena, but you’d get tired of reading this article, so drop your favorite games below in the comments and maybe we’ll do a top-10 greatest games from that list in the future. And if you were attendance share a favorite memory of the game and I’ll include it.
We all should appreciate Mackey Arena as one of the few arenas in college basketball with loads of character that offers a HUGE home court advantage. Mackey Arena is exactly the environment you want if you are a Purdue fan, and the environment you absolutely hate if you are a fan of any other team in the Big Ten.
Whether it’s walking to Mackey through campus be it on a sunny day or an overcast cold day, enjoying the beautiful campus and reminiscing on my time as a student at Purdue. Showing up 90 minutes before the game, with students wrapped around blocks ready to sprint in. Or the anticipation and buzz in the air walking in with 14,000+ of your friends in gold and black before a big game. The “Whose house? Our house!” chant, the pregame hype videos and the player introductions with the lights off. The knowing that no matter the outcome of the game you are about to watch 40 minutes of your Boilermakers playing their hearts out.
The excitement in doing your part to make it a living hell place to play for any opponent. The feeling of “maybe this is it, maybe this is the year we finally bust through”. Sharing those moments with your best friends and family and knowing that you are right where you are supposed to be, you are right at home.