Thoughts on Purdue-UVA and the Whole Purdue Fan Experience

Thoughts on Purdue-UVA and the Whole Purdue Fan Experience

(Photo Credit: Matt Kryger, Indy Star)

They had it.

It was in their grasp.

That’s the sentiment I kept saying basically to anyone and everyone. People I was there in person with. People who texted me their condolences. Nearby pigeons. It’s all I could muster up.

There have been people murmuring that this is further proof that Purdue can never get there. That things lined up for them, that Purdue had Carsen Edwards, that UVA was beatable, etc. But I would argue this is proof that Purdue can get there. As Aneesh said to me on our solemn ride back to Cincinnati on Sunday morning, Matt Painter just coached a team to the Final Four but unfortunately isn’t getting to go. I get what he meant.

This run showed that Purdue and Purdue fans should have faith in Matt Painter. They didn’t lose this game to Virginia – they were beaten. And sure, they were beaten because every single thing that had to go right for UVA in the final five seconds did go their way. But that’s got more to do with that snakebit life Purdue fans live. I mean, of course it went Virginia’s way.

But consider that Purdue had the 69-67 lead before Ryan Cline was fouled and put at the line because Carsen Edwards was so unconscious that he banked in a three pointer in the final minute. If UVA lost because of a banked in trey, well, they’d have a right to be like the guy next to me, who kept throwing his hands in the air in disbelief when Carsen would drain yet another 30-foot three pointer with a hand in his face.

Also consider what Matt Painter – an amazingly composed Matt Painter – pointed out after the game.  Sure, Purdue was seconds from the Final Four but they were also seconds from being knocked out in the Sweet 16 against Tennessee. It takes a lot of breaks to make the Final Four, almost regardless of how good you are.

This Purdue team left no doubt against ODU and Villanova, then outplayed Tennessee for 35 of 45 minutes of game action. And then led the entire first half against UVA. This wasn’t flukey. Purdue played a great tournament. Matt Painter outcoached Jay Wright and then Rick Barnes and at worst was evenly-matched with Tony Bennett. That’s something to be proud of. For real.

Purdue led every team they played in this tournament by double digits. In a way, that’s proof that it could happen and will happen. As we left the arena, Boilerdowd said to us that he now believes Matt Painter will be back here in the Elite Eight shortly and he now believes that Coach will break through. High praise.

I also want to say something about the whole experience and how it actually feels to me – silly as this may sound – that we are kind of living through a bit of a golden era for Purdue sports. From Jeff Brohm bringing back excitement to Purdue football and experiences like the Ohio State win, the Foster Farms Bowl and the whole Rondale Moore Experience… Purdue basketball competing for – and winning – Big Ten titles whether they’re stacked or rebuilding. Of Purdue getting players like Carsen Edwards. And of course, Purdue basketball bringing us all together to further dance in Louisville sports fans’ faces. It’s exciting to be a Purdue alum right now.

And sure, this excitement makes watching the games, tweeting, texting and celebrating all the more enjoyable. But for those who make the journey to these settings, it’s hard to put into words what it’s like. To see entire bars – virtually entire cities – swathed in motion P’s and black and old gold apparel. To hear the Yum Center genuinely, ear-splittingly loud…and then walking out into the concourse and literally running into Purdue sports figures, both current and past. Guys like Ray Davis, Brady Brohm (oh and Coach Brohm, too), Rob Hummel, Coach Keady, members of the Painter family...and more than I could name. It was a surreal feeling.

Having your friends who aren’t Purdue people (and this is especially pertinent to those of us further away from the Purdue footprint) texting, emailing, calling…checking in with your spouse to see “how you’re doing.” That’s what it was like for me and my family. People tend to know that this stuff matters to Purdue people. Sometimes I find myself saying I wish it didn’t matter. And that was especially the case when I couldn’t sleep at 3 AM Sunday morning. But I also know that it’s understandable why this stuff matters. This isn’t the Indianapolis Colts or the New York Rangers – teams people are obsessed with and care about…but which no matter how big they are to you, few of us can truly claim a connection to them.

At Purdue, it’s part of us. It’s in our bones. We have lived it, some more than others, for years. We’ve been through the infrequent highs and the many gut-punches. And we’ve walked out of arenas and stadiums and shaken hands with strangers and given them that look: the half-smile, with the eyes full of understanding…saying nothing but also saying everything. We get it. And we know that you get it.

That’s also why I felt like I had to be there on Saturday. When it became apparent this was really happening vs Tennessee, I knew I needed to travel to Louisville. All of us at BS – and many of you, I’m sure – find ourselves incapable of watching any Purdue game (let alone critical ones) in the company of others…especially people who don’t “get it.” Watching in public is almost always out of the question. And yet…being in Louisville felt right. Because there were thousands of other people who were just like us. They couldn’t stand to watch, either, but also couldn’t turn away.

As we got into the final five minutes, I was having trouble continuing to stand up and watch. I began sitting still in my seat – when people stood in front of me, I peered through them or looked at the jumbotron or just listened….and Carsen kept splashing. When it looked like it was in Purdue’s grasp in the final 15 seconds, I began to feel overcome. I know B-dowd and I – seated in different sections – had very similar reactions. We both couldn’t stand up. We both had racing hearts…were feeling overcome. Not with sadness or happiness…..but just overcome. Trouble breathing….trouble believing. I know we weren’t unique in this.

I think I had Aneesh a little worried, as he kind of kept holding onto me to perhaps make sure I wasn’t going to collapse under the stress of this emotional release. I do remember incoherently yelling something about “twenty-five years,” as that’s my Purdue lifespan. Longer than some, much shorter than others.

In the end, the gut-wrenching loss is going to be hard to process for a while. And we know it will actually never stop hurting….’94 and 2000 never stopped. But this was so much fun and brought so many of us together….that it’s also something I would absolutely never trade.

I’d like to close by thanking you all for being part of this for us. Not just for reading our site or listening to our podcasts…but being part of the ride. Being part of what made the experience there so amazing. For coming up to us in the concourse or on the street and giving us kind feedback about our stuff. For the hugs. We’re no different from you guys – we’re just Purdue lifers who happen to spill our feelings and emotions out into the public sphere. So thank you for indulging us and being part of our group therapy. Ever grateful, ever true.

Choo choo, muthas.

Basketball Beat #73: Purdue Loses an Elite Eight Heartbreaker

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