“Play 13” has been the motto of Indiana football all year. It came from their head coach, Terry Hoeppner, who died of complication from a brain tumor this past summer. The idea behind “Play 13” revolves around winning enough games to qualify for a bowl game, thus playing one more game than their regular 12 game schedule. In his two seasons at Indiana, Hoeppner had reinvigorated the football program demanding championship quality football and bringing a brand of excitement that usually is found only in college students. His enthusiasm had been infectious and after his passing, his players have been charging toward keeping his goals alive.
Boilermaker Spirit Weekend at Purdue is saturated with activities culminating with the conference clash on Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium. The festivities were cut short this year thanks to the Badger defense that held Purdue to its lowest offensive output at home in thirteen years. The weather reached perfection and West Lafayette offers a classic Midwest venue that can please even the most sensitive of college football critics. The only missing link this weekend fell on the shoulders of the Purdue offense that couldn’t move a feather with an industrial fan much less a football.
Northwestern needs to review the rules of football. Lately, it seems as though they believe that the game lasts a mere thirty minutes. Take this past weekend’s tussle with Purdue at Ryan Field in Evanston: The Wildcats played an extremely competitive first half and then morphed into a submissive punching bag for half number two. When we reached the ticket gate and asked if any tickets were available for today’s game, the response from the ticket window was, “Of course, we have hundreds!” That was the first indication that Northwestern had better make room for another notch in the loss column. Perhaps I should have asked for half off the ticket price knowing that the Wildcats would only offer one half of entertainment …
Patience is an old friend of Purdue. Before Coach Joe Tiller came to West Lafayette, the Boilermakers soaked in many losing seasons. Ross-Ade Stadium was not the cauldron of excitement it is today, but those loyal fans in attendance showed their support and calmly waited for a notable season to arrive. Since Tiller trotted to town, Purdue has made a bowl game every season. The crowd has gained a restored sense of expectation and explosive cheers welcome the team’s entrance to the field as opposed to the meager guffaws of the past. However, this year, their bowl streak is in jeopardy and that old friend patience has not been welcomed back through the gates of the stadium. Many angry faces filed into Ross-Ade Stadium hoping to realign the train toward victory. Northwestern heads to the state of Indiana coming off a huge upset of Wisconsin. Being mid-October, this game showcased two teams meeting at a crossroads.
Purdue opened their highly anticipated season with a mind-bending loss to lowly Bowling Green. The Badgers absorbed a similar fate with an early season stumble against struggling UNLV. It would have been difficult to imagine College Gameday, ESPN’s premier pregame show, coming to Madison on month later to broadcast live before the Boilermakers and Badgers prepared to duel on the field. Sure enough, the show’s celebrated hosts, Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Kirk Herbstreit descended upon Wisconsin because of the astounding resurgence that propelled these two teams into the top fifteen.
Riding a small wave of momentum after their win in East Lansing, the Badgers tacked some confidence to their chest. Purdue wore a full piece suit of confidence coming into Camp Randall. Quarterback Drew Brees and crew finally seemed to have a winning combination and the Boilers controlled their fate for a trip to the Rose Bowl, but Brees has always come just shy of hurdling Wisconsin.
Heisman Trophy Showdown ’99 took place in West Lafayette, Indiana. From Wisconsin was Ron Dayne who needed only 321 yards to become the nation’s all time leading rusher surpassing the mark set by Ricky Williams who won the coveted prize last season. From Purdue came Drew Brees who electrifies audiences with a consistent arm and fantastic mobility. They meet at Ross-Ade Stadium in an integral matchup in the Big Ten.
With no Wisconsin games on the schedule, a trip to Purdue was scheduled to ameliorate the symptoms of withdrawal. On this Halloween day, parking was not terribly difficult to find, but my father insisted on using our grandmother’s handicapped parking permit to be closer to Ross-Ade Stadium. However, the handicap lot was quite a distance from the venue and we learned that disabled individuals received a golf cart ride up to the stadium. We all got a laugh as dad, featuring a Wisconsin hat, hopped aboard the S.S. Cripple and buzzed up the hill toward the game.
This aint your daddy’s Purdue. Boilermaker coach Joe Tiller infested the Big Ten with an open aerial attack that turned three yards and a cloud of dust into eighty yards and a streak of steam. Due to the success of his system, led by pilot Drew Brees, the rest of the conference has been forced to conform and break from the conservative mold manufactured by the likes of Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.
The Badgers were dragging a four game losing streak behind them as they entered this game with Purdue. The Boilermakers were dangerous, but suffering their own tribulations with a 2-5 record. Barry Alvarez was under heavy scrutiny with this season spilling over from last season.