A little over a year ago, the Purdue Boilermaker Football program was in the midst of some soul-searching.Purdue had just finished another disaster of a season and Darrell Hazell, of hat brim bending fame, was getting paid monies to go away. The Boiler faithful and less-than-faithful had grown tired of the same old excuses why Purdue couldn’t be a moderately decent football program and were staying away in record numbers. Enter Mike Bobinski. Purdue’s new athletic director knew he needed to make a good hire to revitalize the fanbase and looking back on it, he didn’t fail.
When Jeff Brohm hired on, I was cautiously optimistic. We were told four long years ago that Hazell was a great hire and the right guy for the job and, well, that turned out to be a tire fire inside an oil refinery next to a nuclear arms facility. That said, there was something about Brohm that was different. You could tell during his first press conference that he wasn’t a media guy. Then the video from his XFL days surfaced and Purdue had a simple but effective slogan, “Let’s Play Football.”
To be honest, I didn’t watch the Spring Game. I had little to no interest and figured I’d catch some highlights. I remember having the discussion with my buddies, whom I normally purchase season tickets with, about whether or not we were even going to bother this year given that Brohm would have to retool a large chunk of the team. When it came down to it, I ultimately decided to be a TV fan, knowing that my work-travel schedule would have me away for a good portion of the season anyways. I regret this decision.
I did know one thing. I would be in Lucas Oil Stadium when Purdue would take on Louisville. I met up with friends to pregame and by the time I got to my seats, things seemed different (could’ve been the beer, who knows?). The crowd was relatively small, especially from the Purdue side as we were probably outnumbered 2-to-1 to the Louisville fans. I half expected to be headed home by the middle of the third quarter, given that the Boilers were double-digit dogs. Instead, these guys fought, they scrapped, and they were leading at the half.
Things were changing. I had forgotten what it was like to have fun cheering for my team during the game. That went away. I had forgotten what it was like to have some buzz around the program. That changed. After drubbing Ohio under the new lights in Ross-Ade and walking into Meth-zoo and stealing their candy, I was downright giddy. Michigan came calling while I was in Germany for work, but I still found a way to watch. In years past, I wouldn’t have even bothered. Purdue football was coming back into existence and the fans were coming back as well. Despite being slowly choked out in the second half, Purdue was still scrapping, still fighting.
Two weeks later, I got my other chance to watch the Boilers in person. With Boilerboy in tow, thanks to some free tickets through the Boilermaker Kids Club, Purdue took on Minnesota. Watching a game with a four-year old is a bit of a challenge. You not only are trying to concentrate on the game, but you also have to keep a watchful eye on a child with an attention span of about 15 seconds. Despite that, Purdue kept us entertained. If not for a line of thunderstorms, I would’ve witnessed an entire home game for the first time in almost five years. As it was, we managed to outrun the storms and make it home just as the game was resuming. I fist pumped as Ja’Whaun Bentley took a pick to the house and seal the victory for the Boilers.
The story for the rest of the season was a bit surreal. The loss to Wisconsin in horrible conditions was expected, but not nearly as bad as past beatdowns. There were a couple of head-scratchers, including a loss to Rutgers where no one wanted to catch the ball and a heart-wrenching loss to Nebraska that probably saved Riley from losing his job for a few weeks. However, it was clear that Brohm had these Boilers ready to fight. They were ready to play football. They finally started looking like a team. If you had told me a year ago that Purdue would be heading into the Bucket Game at 5-6 and looking at bowl eligibility, I would have laughed in your face. When the time came though, Purdue got the job done. Nick Holt’s retooled defense stepped up. Brohm threw in enough trick plays to make you either say, “What did I just watch?” or “What the hell was that?”
The rest is history. Purdue brought home The Purdue Cannon and The Old Oaken Bucket. They also went out west and managed to tame RichRod’s Arizona Wildcats and earn a bowl victory. As for me, when I think about Purdue football, I can’t stop smiling. Why? Because it’s fun. Purdue Football is fun to watch again. Let that sink in.