Friday night, under the brand new permanent lights of Ross-Ade Stadium, Purdue dispatched an Ohio team that undoubtedly would have beaten the Boilermakers any of the last 4 years.
This win on the heels of a “great loss” (if there is such a thing) to 16th ranked Louisville and the defending Heisman Trophy winner should give the Boilermaker fans something to get excited about. Purdue dominated the Ohio Bobcats in basically all facets of the game, an Ohio team that, sure is a MAC school, but a team that’s expected to win their division and possibly their conference. A team that many had predicted to beat Purdue. A team that will, in all likelihood, be going to a bowl game. But there’s more to it than that.
There was a different feeling Friday night. There was a buzz. There were over 45,000 in attendance; something Ross-Ade hasn’t seen in years. There were over 12,000 students, excited and clamoring. There was a buzz about campus with parties on the streets and an all around fun and amped-up atmosphere. People were excited. But there’s more to it than that.
This is a day and age where branding is everything. Social media gives individuals, companies, and teams a virtually unlimited platform to advertise and hype their “brands.” Today the flashier and louder that brand is the better. In the dawn of this social media branding, what has Purdue Football and, to a large extent, the entire university been? Bland? Vanilla? Lackluster? Whatever term you wanted to use to describe Purdue, exciting, flashy, fun… those were none of them. But Friday night was different. The Boilermakers stormed onto the field in bright, shiny, gold chrome plated helmets that sparkled under the brand new lights of Ross-Ade. The national anthem was accompanied by planes flying over the stadium with red, white, and blue smoke pouring from behind and dropping parachuters flying Purdue and American flags, landing on the field.
Then there was the game itself. Watching warmups, these players, most of whom played under an uninspired coaching mess the last few seasons, were amped up. I think “swagger” is what the kids call it these days… whatever it is, these football players have it. This is a team that should not, by historical accounts, have any reason to believe that they could beat anyone. Because they haven’t. But this team looked confident that they could take on anyone. And they played like it. Coach Brohm and his staff have swagger too. With Purdue up by 10 and just over 5 minutes left in the first half many coaches would have played conservative… not Jeff Brohm. He called a reverse flea flicker that had the whole Ohio defense scrambling to the point that no one was within 25 yards of Cole Herdman when he caught the pass from David Blough. The play resulted in a 62-yard touchdown.
Within the next 5 minutes, the Boilermakers scored a field goal, forced a fumble, and threw a 31-yard touchdown pass prior to halftime. Hows that for “Exciting, Flashy, and Fun?” Boilermaker fans haven’t seen play like this since the days of Drew Brees, Joe Tiller, and “Basketball on Grass.” The students probably don’t even know what “Basketball on Grass” means. But there’s even more to it than that.
Purdue football is back. But Purdue, as an entity, in totality, seems to be becoming something different. A good different. A newer, brighter, flashier, more fun different. I was talking to University President, Mitch Daniels, on the sidelines before the game. He was excited. Excited about the direction Purdue is headed but still upset about the loss to 16th ranked Louisville. Mitch doesn’t like to lose and it appears that he’s all in on making the Purdue brand a winning brand. Backing the state of the art, $65 million football performance complex was the beginning. Next, he hired new athletic director Mike Bobinski who doesn’t settle for the status quo and seems to be doing everything right. There are permanent lights in Ross-Ade.
There’s the new football coaching staff “dripping with swag” as LB Ja’Waun Bentley put it. There’s the brand new Jumbotron hanging in the rafters of Mackey Arena that’s bigger than a Mack truck along with brand new ribbon boards. New high rise apartment buildings are going up all over campus and more to come with the completion of the $120 Million State Street project.