What's a boilermaker?: This guy.
I'll be honest, I had no idea what a boilermaker was until I came to college, realized I had no idea, and looked it up on Purdue's web page describing the origins of the name. It stems from Purdue's relationship with the working class during its early years. The school focused on engineering and research, and in 1891, "acquired a working railroad engine to mount in a newly established locomotive laboratory." With this background, a local newspaper referred to the football team as "Burly Boiler Makers." The name ended up sticking, and the rest is history. What's interesting to me are the other names that didn't make the cut, such as "grangers, pumpkin-shuckers, railsplitters, cornfield sailors, blacksmiths, foundry hands." I'm partial to pumpkin-shuckers, only because then they could use this guy as their mascot (who isn't much creepier than Purdue Pete as you'll see below).
Fact that eases the pain of recent defeat:
They are not the only inaugural Big Ten member (i.e. joined in 1896) who hasn't had a Heisman winner or claimed a National Title: Hi Indiana and Northwestern!
Coach born before WWI worth knowing: Jack Mollenkopf
Mollenkopf, arguably the best coach in Purdue football history, started as an assistant coach for the Purdue Boilermakers from 1947-1955. He earned a promotion the following year and led the Boilermakers from 1956-69 (14 seasons), failing to post a .500 or better overall record only once: in his first season as head coach. Aside from '56, he coached only one more losing record in Big Ten Conference play, in 1960. Furthermore, he steered Purdue to three of its five season-ending top-ten finishes: #6 Coaches/#7 AP in '66, #9 in both in '67, and #11 Coaches/#10 AP in '68. Even more, a Purdue football player finished in the top there of Heisman trophy balloting from 1966-69 under Mollenkopf (quarterback Bob Griese in '66, running back Leroy Keyes in '67 and '68, and quarterback Mike Phipps in '69). You can see why the Mollenkopf Athletic Center - an indoor training facility for the football team that houses Purdue's Football "Hall of Glory" - was named after him.
Rivalry time: Old Oaken Bucket Game vs. Indiana Hoosiers
I'm a fan of this game, because it's one of those rivalries that's been around forever (since 1891) and rarely misses a beat (aside from war years, the two teams have failed to play each other only once, in 1903). The trophy's name is charming and archaic, and the trophy itself has this insanely long string of P's and I's representing the winners that I have to imagine gets in the way at times. And even though
the devil incarnate Jim Delaney continues to try and screw over every tradition related to Big Ten football, the Old Oaken Bucket game will continue even though Purdue and Indiana are in different divisions starting this year.
Coach that came and went in a flash of glory (and is also a Michigan Man): Jim Young
Before coaching Purdue from 1977-81, Young was Bo's first defensive coordinator at Michigan from 1969-1972, a stretch of time that watched the Michigan Wolverines defense surrender less than 9 points per game (8.59 per game to be exact). In the 1970 Rose Bowl, after Michigan shocked the world by defeating #1 ranked Ohio 24-12 at the Big House, Young filled in for Bo after he suffered a heart attack before the game. Following a brief stint as Arizona's head coach, he took over a Boilermakers squad that hadn't seen consistent success since Mollenkopf. Unfortunately, Young bookended his tenure at Purdue with mediocre 5-6 campaigns, but the three years in between are what stand out: three straight seasons with a .750 or better winning percentage as well as three straight bowl victories, the only time that feat has been accomplished in Purdue football history. Due to this success, he was the first Boilermaker head coach to win the Big Ten Coach of the Year award, in 1978.
Mascot of your nightmares: Purdue Pete
Most mascots from yesteryear tend to be a little creepy, but I have a feeling Purdue Pete and his menacing boilermaker hammer sneak into the night terrors West Lafayette, Indiana children from time to time. Seriously though. Purdue Pete is watching you.
Coach that my generation knows about: Joe Tiller
If not for Tiller, Mollenkopf would reign as the winningest coach in Purdue history. However, Tiller amassed 87 wins (to Mollenkopf's 84) at the helm of the Old Gold and Black from 1997-08. After Young's brief tenure, the Boilermakers posted on one winning season in 15 years until Tiller led them to a 9-3 finish and a tie for second in the Big Ten in his first season. Aside from Young, he's the only Purdue coach with multiple postseason victories (4-6 in bowl games). Even though his final season wasn't one worth remembering, Tiller did go out with a bang, crushing the Hoosiers 62-10 in their annual rivalry game to regain the Old Oaken Bucket.
Nickname: "Cradle Of Quarterbacks"
Let me steal a line from Purdue's web page dedicated to this nickname:
"Many schools boast of tradition. But none can match Purdue's tradition of turning out top-flight quarterbacks...Fifteen former Purdue signal-callers have gone on to play in the National Football League, accumulating more starts and throwing for more yards than those from any other school."
The three names that stand out are Len Dawson, Bob Griese, and Drew Brees, two of which are already in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and one that's sure to go once he's done playing. Dawson was the first major success at quarterback for Purdue, and Hammer & Rails wrote a nice summary of his career a few years ago, so take a look at that if you're interested in more about Dawson. As they point out, Dawson became "the first player in Big Ten history to lead the Big Ten in total offense and passing for three straight seasons. He finished with 3,325 career passing yards and 29 touchdowns, both school records at the time...[all during the era when] the forward pass was still in its infancy...Dawson also made sure he never lost the [Old Oaken] Bucket."
Most Michigan fans probably know about Bob Griese if for no other reason than the fact that he's the father of former Michigan quarterback Brian Griese. But Bob Griese should be known for much more than that. He ranks near the top of multiple Purdue record lists, including total scoring, scoring among kickers as well as non-kickers (yeah, he was one of those guys that did it all). He led the Boilermakers to a 22-7-1 during his three years at quarterback, their one and only Rose Bowl victory in 1966, and due to this and much, much more, earned a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame in '84. Again, head to Hammer & Rails for more on Griese. They covered his career better than I have.
As for Brees, I'm going to assume most of you know what he's done and what he's still up to. At Purdue, he captained the team to its first Rose Bowl since Griese. In his four seasons, he set Big Ten records for touchdown passes, passing yards, total offensive yards, attempts, and completions. That trend of record-breaking continued into his NFL career. I will remain pissed until I die that the Detroit Lions didn't at least try to sign him after he left the San Diego Chargers as a free agent after the 2005 season. Yes, he probably would have turned down an offer from the lowly Lions, but my god, when you have a tandem of Joey Harrington and Jeff Garcia leading your team in '05, Drew Brees looks a hell of a lot better than Jon Kitna, who Detroit ended up signing during that offseason. Sorry for the rant. Anyways, Brees is currently destroying passing records as a New Orleans Saints. He's passed for over 5,000 yards in each of the last three seasons. More from Hammer & Rails here.
All together, these three men have earned 16 AFL All-Star/Pro Bowl game selections, four Super Bowl victories, three AFL championships (all Dawson), three league MVP awards, and two Super Bowl MVP awards. And that's only three of the fifteen quarterbacks that Purdue has sent to the NFL.
The official mascot: The Boilermaker Special
Before sending you off, let's take a brief look at the official mascot of Purdue: a locomotive introduced as the first, and true, mascot of the Boilermakers in 1940. Unlike Purdue Pete, the Boilermaker Special is kid-friendly. I mean, what kid doesn't love a nice ride on a choo-choo train? It's also sleek and slick and shiny. If you're interested in renting the Boilermaker Special (or the small version, called the Xtra Special), head over to the Purdue Reamer Club and shoot 'em an email.
So, there's a few things you should know about Purdue Boilermaker football, if you didn't already. I leave you with a fun moment for both Purdue and Michigan fans, since, fudge Ohio: Drew Brees connecting with Seth Morales to complete the fourth quarter comeback against Ohio in the final minutes on Oct. 28, 2000. "Holy Toledo!"