The recent debate (on Twitter and elsewhere) about whether or not Purdue fans can pull off the Black and Gold color scheme plan for the Notre Dame game on October 1 has made me think, once again, about what it means to be a Purdue fan. Yes, many schools, teams, etc., think they are unique, but here’s why I actually think Purdue fans are.
There's a reason it's hard to imagine Purdue fans color-coding the entire stadium and wearing the shirts they're told to wear. It's because the typical Purdue fan seems to be a 60 year old wearing an old sweatshirt ("Purdue Mom!" "Purdue Dad!") who graduated from Purdue in the '70s. Or he might be an old man in an argyle sweater, or a 1980s style baseball cap with the flat brim and the hat high.
It's never been TRENDY to be a Purdue fan. People don't leap on board because it's an easy team to root for. Not a lot of people back Purdue and claim to have been a fan "forever." Even fewer say, "Oh, uh, I grew up in Indiana so I'm a big Purdue fan," the way people do who grew up in Texas, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia, etc. The people who are Purdue fans are the people who actually went to Purdue. The people who know what it's like to be there and experience how great a place it is.
The sycophants living 50 miles from Columbus who have their truck painted “scarlet” (OOOOH, scarlet! It makes me feel so naughty when I wear scarlet!) and a picture of Jim Tressel over their mantle and who never went to college, let alone OSU, will never comprehend it. (Of course, they won’t comprehend the alphabet, either, but that’s neither here nor there.) Cheering for a school like it’s a pro team because you, uh, lived near it, is so far from the same as being a fan who LIVED IT that it’s hardly worth explaining.
Purdue fans are people who spend years on campus. They ate at the campus grills. They had beers at Harry’s. They went to Breakfast Club. They ran through the fountain. They remember the Good Earth Market. They know that the windiest place in the Midwest is under the Math building in February. They’ve been to, or have friends who’ve been to, mass at St. Tom’s. They’ve lost their voice in Mackey. They’ve walked what feels like ten miles – uphill – to get to a football game. They’ve gotten sunburned and frost-bitten at Ross-Ade in the same season. They have driven around blocks for 45 minutes waiting for a parking spot to open up. They’ve enjoyed the “Drew Brees” or the “Duane Purvis” at Triple XXX. They know Triple XXX is spelled just that way, even though that’s kind of redundant. They’ve almost been run over in the Chauncey parking lot. They’ve mumbled to themselves about the irony of some of the engineering decisions on the campus of a school known for engineering. They know what “on the hill, but on the level” means. They’re aware of Purdue’s proud astronaut history. They’ve rubbed Abe’s nose for luck in the Union. They beam with pride whenever they hear a mention of Sully Sullenberger. They’ve attended or participated in the Nude Olympics. They know who Rube Goldberg is. They know the history of the tables with names and details carved into them in the Knight Spot Grill under Cary. They have, or know people who have, their names on an engraved plate nailed to a door in one of the dorms – and they know why those plates are there. They remember when the top floors of Cary weren’t considered a fire hazard. They know nobody at Purdue gets their number retired. They know it’s just called the “Co-Rec.” They’ve played pickup games at the Co-Rec instead of studying. They know where the “hello walk” is. They remember someone riding a unicycle to class when they went to Purdue. They know the significance of The Fumble. They know what “lofts” refer to in the dorms. They know how to assemble a loft. They know the mascot is the Special, not Pete. They never, ever forget the athletes who clearly LOVED representing Purdue. They’ve studied in the “stacks” and heard the legendary sex rumors. They got hit in the head with a plastic cup after a score while sitting in the student section. They went to a party at halftime. They’ve been awakened by the AAMB thundering past their dorm. They’ve been on a run out to Lafayette and been stuck at a train crossing for what feels like the whole night. They’ve been awakened on the first Saturday of a month to the test blast of the tornado siren and for a second freaked that they needed to take cover. They remember that the area between Owen and Cary – now a massive mess hall – used to be a field referred to by many as the “DMZ.” They called Hillenbrandt “the Hilton” when it was new and scoffed at how soft the people were who lived there. They remember the dry “nightclub” at Purdue West. They remember “Kazoos.” They remember Alfano’s stuffed breadsticks. They’ve walked to the levee to play basketball under the lights. And that’s just a few things that make Boilermakers….Boilermakers.
But do you know what being a Purdue fan pretty much never requires you to do? Apologize. Or make justifications for a hero coach who cheated and covered up rule-breaking. I’d like to sit here and be all high and mighty and say that if a Purdue coach broke the rules and was fired and embarrassed the program and the University that I would blast them and never support them again…but I can’t do that. And do you know why? Because Purdue coaches don't do that. I'm not in a position where my alma mater wins all the time and does so at all costs. And that's fine with me. And, I suspect, fine with all of us.
So if you’re a hater, you can go on bashing Purdue or calling us boring or mocking whatever it is about us that strikes your fancy. Because we know why it’s a source of great pride to be a Boilermaker and, frankly, we’re glad you don’t.