Whatever is the college football fan to do when the team is out of town? Well, if you're untethered by such troublesome things as pets, a house, a spouse, and children, the answer is, frankly, follow your team because what else do you really have going on anyway? The cider mill? Oh man, that's actually a solid plan. Well, where were you a week ago when I had a free weekend I needed to fill, Captain McGoodideas?
Herein follows my account of a voyage to Purdue Harbor.
When traveling in the past, I have often felt a keen appreciation for how well-developed the interstate highway system in the Midwest is. With a handful of exceptions such as straying too near major cities around rush hour or ever trying to travel in northern Illinois, a traveler can generally get from A to B with a minimum of inconvenience. Chicago, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Indianapolis, even Columbus if you are of a particularly masochistic mood can all lay before you if you but aim your tires at the correct numbered blue shield.
Not so West Lafayette.
To be sure, there probably isn't a great deal of traffic there from directions that are not Chicago or Indianapolis, and had I approached from either of those places, I-65 would have been happy to take me. But because I came from the northeast, my options were to take the long detour south to Indy and then back up, or to venture through the central Indiana hinterlands. Having chosen the latter, I perceived part of the reason why people joke that Purdue doesn't exist: if you try to drive there in the dark, you will wonder whether you have been swallowed by a singularity. I have driven considerably longer drives than five hours before. None of them felt quite that eternal.
This is the part of the story where I wish I had taken more pictures. I had heard of the institution of Breakfast Club before, but assumed it would be a half-assed sort of effort, a paltry excuse to hit up the bar early. On the contrary, it was one of the cooler things I've seen in a college town.
The concept is simple: the bars open at 7 am and the students dress in costumes, whether it's Halloween or not. But the execution would make Kirk Ferentz dirty his laundry. I saw a dozen Waldos, half the cast of Toy Story, guys dressed as Andy Reid, Jim Harbaugh, and Rex Ryan, Ninja Turtles-
Sidebar for a moment. I spoke to a Leonardo who was looking for Rafael so they could leave Where Else? because Michelangelo had already been kicked out. Of Donatello, I heard nothing. But the female Leonardo was enchanted by my beard which I'm pretty sure pissed Rafael off, though to his credit he did correctly identify General Sherman on my OTE swag. Moral of that story is these kids were doing it right. And for the most part, the costumes were very well-done. Tip of the hat for that. And for getting kicked out of a bar at 10 am. Way to embrace Michelangelo's spirit, unidentified Purdue student.
This was a bit of a surprise; Purdue's campus is gorgeous. Perhaps it's some combination of it being in the middle of nowhere and housing primarily budding engineers, but I expected a triumph of modern architecture, which is to say cubes of concrete plopped in a sea of pavement. Au contraire; the venerable campus is actually fairly similar to Michigan State's, though even the older parts show a bit more deliberate planning than MSU does (I make these comparisons because I know you all love hearing about MSU and also because it's my primary frame of reference; feel free to use your imagination and transpose the campus of your choosing for contrast). The northern part of campus has enough of an increase in elevation to make for decent views. One side note, though: about the sculpture near the middle of campus that looks like it was taken out of Halo. Stop that. We know you're trying to summon aliens and that's not cool, man. You guys are taking this space thing way too seriously.
The fans and crowd were a congenial bunch, and the friend I made this trip with and I were totally unbothered despite being decked out in green. After extended wandering, we met up with the Hammer & Rails tailgate, as well as OTE stalwart babaoreally. Salutations, beer, and chili were exchanged, Indiana was mockingly discussed, TMill confirmed what I had suspected vis-à-vis Purdue maybe starting a hockey team (yeah, nope). Once again, I was reminded that concentrating tailgating in a centralized area makes for a much-enriched experience, and I once again gnashed my teeth over the MSU administration's enduring refusal to revive tailgating in East Lansing. But that's a rant for another day.
It's hard to express just how forcefully this Purdue team seems to have shaken off the malaise that led them to a historically bad season last year. They clearly aren't world-beaters yet, but the attitude they show is worlds improved over last year's roll-over-and-die rabble. Twice, MSU built three-score leads, and yet Purdue refused to quit fighting. Until Darien Harris snatched a pick-six in the waning minutes, this game was very much in doubt despite considerable statistical advantages for MSU in most relevant categories.
Call it another 4th quarter swoon from the Spartans if you want, but don't count on the Boilers for an easy win if they're still on the schedule. And given that Appleby, Anthrop, Knauf, and most of the defense are still underclassmen, this team has a lot of room to grow yet. They can't really stop the run yet and they were slow to counter MSU's halftime adjustments, but they came in with a quality gameplan and executed it to good effect. Give Hazell a little more time to build a roster with more B1G-quality players, and this program will be competitive again before you know it.
And no, I don't want to talk about Dantonio's fake punt call. Hopefully that page has been torn from the playbook and fed straight to the incinerator.
I intend to get to all the B1G stadia, and several in other conferences, at one point or another. I have yet to regret the trip after going to any (though MSU has also won every road game I've gone to). Should you get the opportunity, don't think twice.