Old National Presents: Ross-Ade launching pad

Alan Karpick, Publisher
Gold and Black
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Saturday's matchup with Michigan is unique.

One gets the feeling that a victory over the Wolverines, a double-digit favorite, would allow Purdue's program to fully transform itself into relevance in the world of college football. And, it will be quicker than anyone, with the possible exception of the most optimistic coaches and players, ever expected.

The shift began to happen with impressive wins over Ohio and Missouri, but beating one of college football's blue bloods, when not many think it can, would be a huge shot in the arm.

In the 93-year history of Ross-Ade Stadium, there have been just a handful of games that had the effect of truly launching Purdue's football program to another level. There are undoubtedly more games in Ross-Ade history that could qualify, but here is our list, in chronological order, that provided a spring board for Boilermaker football:

Oct. 12, 1929: Purdue 30, Michigan 16

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Purdue Exponent

Coach Jimmy Phelan was staring down the barrel of another disappointment. Purdue trailed Michigan 16-6 in the third quarter, and things looked bleak for the Boilermakers. That is before Purdue put on the biggest fourth-quarter rally in its history to date (and maybe ever), scoring 24 points in the last 15 minutes to defeat Coach Harry Kipke's Michigan team. Scoring that many points in a quarter is a lot in modern days, but almost unheard of in the early days of football.

And the victory did transform the Boilermaker program. In 1929, it finished undefeated and posted its only outright conference crown in school history. And while Phelan left Purdue after the '29 season for a coaching job at Washington, Noble Kizer took over and led the Boilermakers to a share of the league title in 1931 and '32, an unprecedented string of conference success for the Gold and Black.

Sept. 25, 1965: No. 6 Purdue 25, No. 1 Notre Dame 21

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Bob Mitchell

Coach Jack Mollenkopf was itching to get his team to the Rose Bowl. It had been close a few times during his nine-year tenure as Boilermaker coach. What he needed was a shot in the arm, and this win over Notre Dame did much to have this effect.

Purdue entered the game ranked No. 6, but was a touchdown underdog to the No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Irish. Coach Ara Parseghian's team looked invincible. In a game that had four lead changes, the Boilermakers had to rally in the game's final 3:21 to pull out the victory on a four-play, 67-yard drive led by junior quarterback Bob Griese.

It was a coming out, on a national stage, for Griese, who finished the game with a remarkable, and record-setting 19-of-22 completions for 283 yards. And while the Boilermakers faltered later in the season with a highly controversial loss to eventual national champ Michigan State and a slip-up at Illinois, the victory gave the Boilermakers and Griese a national presence. The next year they made it to Pasadena, and the year after that Purdue won a share of the Big Ten title. From 1965-69, it had a sparking 32-8-1 record, the greatest five-year period in the Modern Era of Purdue football.

Sept. 16, 1978: Purdue 21, Michigan State 14

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Wayne Doebling

This game was not between two ranked teams, but it served as a huge springboard for the Boilermakers and its second-year coach Jim Young.

And for a half, it looked like the Boilermakers were sunk. On a day similar to what we are likely to see on Saturday temperature-wise, Michigan State overcame the 87-degree thermometer reading and built a 14-0 halftime lead. Purdue wasn't living up to its end of the pre-game billing of a contest that was supposed to be an aerial circus between quarterbacks: Purdue's Mark Herrmann and MSU's Ed Smith.

In the end, it was the Boilermaker ground game that bailed out the home team. Russell Pope deftly switched directions on an end run and ran 62-yards for a score to get Purdue on the board, but it was sophomore John Macon's 33-yard scamper on a fourth-and-one situation that gave Purdue the margin of victory.

The game proved to be the catalyst for Young's team as it earned trips to three straight bowls, winning them all. MSU was no slouch in '78, earning a share of the Big Ten crown with Michigan.

Oct. 6, 1984: Purdue 28, No. 2 Ohio State 23

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There may be more similarities between the 1984 Purdue-Ohio State game and Saturday's matchup with Michigan than any of the others on our list.

Entering the 1984 season, the Boilermakers' program was down, having won just three games in each of the first two years under Coach Leon Burtnett. Things began to turn around in the 1984 season-opener, as 19-point underdog Purdue beat Notre Dame 23-21 at the Hoosier Dome Dedication Game in Indianapolis.

Like in 2017, Purdue began its transformation with a 3-1 start, including the win over ND. And like in '17, the Boilermakers were about a 10-point underdog (8.5 officially). Against the Buckeyes, Purdue trailed 17-7 early in the second half, but junior quarterback Jim Everett was beginning to come into his own and led Purdue on a furious rally. Purdue got a bit lucky too, as it was saved in the closing moments when Buckeyes' quarterback Mike Tomczak, on a possible game-winning scoring drive, forgot it was fourth down and tossed the ball out of bounds to stop the clock.

Yet, this game didn't have the effect the others did in ultimately catapulting the program to sustained success. The '84 team was historic, however, as it is the only Purdue team in history to beat Notre Dame, Ohio State and Michigan in the same year, but Burtnett lost his job two years later when the program dipped again.

Oct. 7, 2000: Purdue 32, No. 6 Michigan 31

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Tom Campbell

This game may be the shining example of one that transformed a program from a loser into a winner. Purdue fans know the story chapter and verse: The Boilermakers hadn't had a winning season since 1984, and had just come off a humbling opening-day loss at Toledo. And few expected Coach Joe Tiller's first team to win against ND, as it was a 20-point underdog.

But win Purdue did, with a relatively convincing 28-17 score. And it was the defense that came up big with Adrian Beasley's 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown that set the capacity crowd on its ear.

And what came next? Eight consecutive bowl appearances under Tiller, and a total of 10 post-season appearances for Purdue's all-time winningest coach.

It is pretty clear that something special is beginning under Coach Jeff Brohm. A win Saturday over No. 8 Michigan, and it would be much more certain that Purdue football is back.

As with the above examples, in one form or another, we haven't seen transformative games in Ross-Ade Stadium often, but we have seen it before.

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