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Armstrong: No greater Boilermaker

This site focuses on Purdue sports, primarily football and basketball.
But being an avid fan of Purdue (or any other team for that matter) is all about feeling good about who you root for.
And nobody in the 143 years that Purdue has existed made the Boilermaker faithful prouder than Neil Armstrong. Even on the afternoon that I was saddened to learn of his passing at the age of 82, I count as one of my blessings to have spent at least a little time in his presence.
But few knew Armstrong was a football guy. He showed those colors at last June's (2011) National Football Foundation Dinner. He was enthralled with Purdue football but also the opportunity to spend time around Drew Brees.
Imagine that. The first man to ever walk on the moon almost giddy about being around an NFL quarterback. But Armstrong was enamored with how Brees carried himself, the message Brees was sending by his good works and deeds.
But almost like a game of tennis, Brees couldn't quite come to terms about what it meant to spend time around a guy like Armstrong. It was the mutual admiration society at its highest level.
Yes, Armstrong knew his way around the sport of football, and kept up with his Boilermakers over the years. A 1955 Purdue graduate, he loved watching "Golden Boy" Len Dawson throw it around while Armstrong played in the marching band.
There were times after Armstrong's great feat in 1969 when some around Purdue wondered about his allegiance to his University. Armstrong was his own man almost shy in the presence of others. He didn't want all the publicity that his historic achievement brought, and he definitely was not interested in cashing in on his days with NASA.
So, his visits to Purdue were somewhat infrequent. But that also made them very special. I remember him coming to West Lafayette for a football game in 1985 and posing with Jim Everett, and he was front and center when the building that bears his name (The Armstrong Hall of Engineering) was dedicated a few years ago.
Simply put, he loved his alma mater. And when he was part of last year's summer football-focused event, he fit right in. Armstrong didn't give autographs, not so much because he didn't like to, but because he wondered why anyone would want his autograph.
That was the kind of guy I briefly had the pleasure of meeting. Yet, when he did "Shout!" a couple years ago in Ross-Ade Stadium, I almost missed an opportunity to do something I felt compelled to do.
I have the pleasure of working alongside the Purdue Radio Network crew during games. He entered the booth following his somewhat out-of-character post third quarter performance and was interviewed by Tim Newton during a quick break. The game had already started back up, and I realized I had better get going if I ever wanted to say my piece, not knowing if I would ever get another chance.
Now, I don't make a habit out of gushing around former athletes or even astronauts, but this was different. So I ran out into the hallway behind the radio booth and caught up with him in time to shake his hand.
"Thanks for all you have meant to Purdue people over the years," is what I remembered saying. "I hope you know how highly we all think of you."
He said sheepishly, "I think I do."
So on a day like today, that will have to suffice. R.I.P. Neil Armstrong, a hero for the entire world. And, for Purdue folks, there has never been one greater.
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