I have a confession to make: I don’t hate Purdue. Both my sisters attended the school, as well as at least a dozen of my high school friends. I still cherish my tattered “Go Ugly Early” sweatshirt from Harry’s Chocolate Shop, and I still rank the unmitigated debauchery of Breakfast Club during Purdue’s Grand Prix weekend as one of my favorite all-time college parties.
That being said, I sometimes struggle to get excited about this game. Oh sure, there have been glimmers of competitiveness, most recently during the Joe Tiller years. But when going .500 versus the likes of Bob Davie and Tyrone Willingham is your program’s bar for excellence, you really don’t have a bar.
Consider these numbers:
- 52-26-2: ND’s all-time record versus Purdue
- 3-1-2: Purdue’s record versus ND in the first five games of the series from 1896 to 1905
- 3-17-0: Purdue’s record versus ND from 1906 to 1953
- 0: The number of times Purdue won in South Bend from 1975 to 2002
- 0: The number of times Purdue won during the Holtz era
- 39-11: The average score of the ND-Purdue game during the Holtz era
- 5-7: Joe Tiller’s career record versus ND
Let’s face it, these numbers paint a picture uglier than the Gene Keady family portrait. After winning three games in the first nine years of the series, it took Purdue another half-century to double that win total. I’m 38 years old, and Purdue has gone nearly winless in South Bend in my lifetime. And in the 80s and 90s, Lou Holtz’s average margin of victory against Purdue was four touchdowns. Again, WHY am I supposed to care about this game?
I’ll tell you why. As insignificant as you think Purdue might be, they didn’t come by their nickname “The Spoilermakers” for nothing. What team ended Notre Dame’s school-record 39-game unbeaten streak? Purdue. What team has ended double-digit unbeaten and/or winning streaks by Notre Dame on four separate occasions, more than any other Irish opponent? Purdue. What team holds the record for the most points scored in one game by an opponent in Notre Dame Stadium ? Purdue. What was the only team to defeat a #1 ranked Notre Dame team twice in the Ara Parseghian era? Yep, still Purdue.
Look, I’m not making a case for Purdue as a perennial power or even one of our biggest rivals. By and large, the Blue & Gold has owned the Gold & Black, and the Boiler fanbase is at times comically delusional. Their only two legitimate claims to fame in the last 40 years are a 1998 upset of Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl and a 2001 Rose Bowl berth they “earned” for being just the Big Ten team that sucked the least in an abysmally down year for the conference.
But be careful. These 2009 Boilermakers are dangerous. Don’t let the Northern Illinois game fool you. Danny Hope can coach. That sophomore running back, Ralph Bolden, can and likely will gash our highly suspect defensive line. To the Irish faithful heading up to West Lafayette, don’t assume this is going to be easy. And if you need a place to celebrate (or God forbid drown your sorrows), stop by Harry’s and have a cold one for me.