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November 8, 2013

A look back: Memories of the streak

Looking back, through the 47 years I have been watching Purdue football the Boilermakers' annual (or nearly annual) matchup was always a measuring stick of sorts.

When I was growing up, Purdue never lost to Iowa. Heck, the first 15 years I watched the Boilermakers (1966-80) that was truly the case. Purdue owns the fifth longest victory string over a conference opponent having beaten the Hawkeyes 20-straight years that spanned the Eisenhower to Carter administrations.

But there were several harrowing escapes by Purdue during that time, and there were some blowouts too. Simply put, the games were memorable, maybe made more so by the fact Purdue won every time.

The first time I saw Iowa play Purdue in person was in '68. Purdue's great quarterback Mike Phipps' was injured, and Iowa had this quarterback turned running back named Ed Podolak on its team. The Boilermakers won easily 44-14, but the following season things were much different. Iowa visited Purdue for the second year, and the Boilermakers had to escape with a 35-31 win. An Iowa back named Levi Jackson, from nearby Gary, was hard for Purdue to stop.

I remember a female Boilermaker fans next to me yelling at the top of her lungs when the Hawkeyes were rallying "I want to go to the Rose Bowl." Back then, Purdue fans almost assumed trips to Pasadena were going to be more frequent. Yet, the '69 Boilers didn't make it, nor did any Purdue team for 31 more years.

Four years later a true freshman named Mike Northington came pretty much out of nowhere to set the Big Ten single-game touchdown record in a 48-23 win for the Boilermakers in Iowa City. Northington, who wore the same 24 jersey as Otis Armstrong did a year earlier, gave fans hope they had another superstar on their hands. He scored five times in the game, but less than two years later Northington was moved to defense where he finished out his career in solid fashion.

Mike Pruitt's 94-yard run a year later was a highlight of a blowout Purdue win in 1974. Pruitt's record run turned his career around. A year earlier, Pruitt's sophomore season was marred with a bad case of fumbleitis, but after the big run he learned to hang on to the ball. The rest was history, so to speak, as Pruitt finished his Purdue career with enough promise to get drafted by the Cleveland Browns and enjoy a productive career in the NFL.

In '75, the streak should have come to an end. Scott Dierking, who was the "Gold" in Purdue's politically incorrect (by today's standards that is) "Gold and Black Twins" (Northington, an African American was the Black), scored from 1-yard out with five seconds (see above photo) left to seal the Boilermakers remarkable fourth quarter comeback. Purdue had trailed 18-7 with six minutes left before pulling out the 19-18 win. I still am not sure he was in.

Two years later, under first-year coach Jim Young, the Boilermakers installed a part of the offense that was almost unheard of at the time-the shotgun formation. Freshman quarterback Mark Herrmann tossed a career-best five touchdown passes, four to senior receiver Reggie Arnold (a still-standing Purdue record) in a 34-21 win. It was the first time I could remember a secret being leaked to the media causing a stir. Local telecaster Ken Double reported that Purdue was working on the special formation before the game much to the ire of Young. Iowa didn't hear about the new ploy, or if they did they couldn't defend it. One other thing, and it may be my imagination, but I think the Ross-Ade Stadium faithful used to yell "shotgun" every time Herrmann assumed the position. I am not sure when that ceased.

In 1978, the Boilermakers were begging to make a name for themselves in the Big Ten. A 34-7 win at Iowa City was significant for a couple of reason. First, the vaunted "Junk Defense" was nasty as the Boilermakers had shut out Illinois on the road 13-0 the week before and had beaten No. 16 Ohio State two weeks hence. In today's terms, the most amazing thing about the Iowa game was that it marked the second-straight game Purdue was on television; something that was almost unheard of at the time.

The next year, the Boilermakers found themselves out in Iowa City again, and against a far-different bunch of Hawkeyes. Coach Hayden Fry had taken over and I remember the "new" Hawkeye logo (the same one that is used today) being every where. The Boilermakers were banged up to say the least, but managed to escape with a 20-14 win. One player that didn't escape unscathed was talented junior college receiver Mike Harris, who had his jaw broken by a compact defensive back named Bobby Stoops. I can still remember the sound of the hit. Every time I watch Oklahoma play, I think of it.

Purdue didn't know it at the time, it couldn't of, but the last win of the Boilermakers' two-decade spell over the Hawkeyes, was an exclamation point. Herrmann had another amazing performance against the Hawks hitting 26-of-34 passes for 439 yards and three touchdowns. It was a career best in yardage for Herrmann, and helped him earn consensus All-American honors. I also saw something I had yet to see before, 58 points on the scoreboard in the 45-point win.

The following year in Iowa City Fry's team ended the streak with a commanding 33-7 win en route to an improbable trip to the Rose Bowl. All good things must come to an end, but Purdue fans in 2013 would love to see the Boilermakers turn their program around in the time frame Fry did.

Who knows? it could all start with a win tomorrow.


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