I was a “townie.” This, the traditional term accorded to Purdue University undergrads who were locals, who had grown up in the greater Lafayette-West Lafayette, Indiana area, before enrolling at Purdue.
I preferred “Boiler-by-birth.” My father, the world renowned Chemical Engineer, G.V. “Rex” Reklaitis, had begun his career teaching at Purdue two years before I was born. (BTW, you may not know a god damn thing about Chemical Engineering, but “Papa Rex,” as his grandkids now call him, is the Rick Mount of ChemE – Google him.)
So I grew up bleeding old gold and black. Dad and I went to the occasional football game but, being the wonderful father he is, those occasions were few and far between as he soon realized that attending Purdue football games was, and is, traumatizing for adults and children alike.
But the trips to watch basketball in Mackey Arena were magical.
Four or five times a year, while I was of the age of about 8 to 18, my Dad would secure us tickets to watch the Boilers play basketball. To be fair, since he usually was offered free tickets by the University, or by friends and colleagues who weren’t using their own, these were not seats for the most competitive games. For example, I remember witnessing the Boilers outlast the Spartans of the University of Tampa, 106-50 over the holiday break in 1984. Getting tickets to Boiler Basketball, even as a kid, was often only possible when the students weren’t on campus. Regardless, whether the opponent was Tampa or Weber State, going to Mackey was the finest memory of my childhood.
My love of college hoops barely eeks out my love of baseball. And for us baseball fans, we all equate that first view of the field, as we step out of the dark concourse, as nothing short of orgasmic. You are envisioning it right now as you read this, and it has been described in vivid detail, with far more elegant written language that I could ever be capable of.
Looking at a ball game is like looking through a stereopticon. Everything seems heightened. The grass is greener. The uniform whites are brighter than they should be. Maybe it’s the containment. The narrowing of focus. On the other hand, maybe it’s the tendency to drink six or eight beers in the early innings.Parker, Robert B.. Mortal Stakes (The Spenser Series Book 3) (p. 11). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
Ok, maybe that’s not Bob Uecker-level prose, but there are few things as visually pristine as an immaculately manicured Major League baseball field. Aw heck, even the field on which my 11 year-old son plays, where I am coach and groundskeeper, is still a beautiful sight. But … but … nothing stirs my soul more than stepping into the bowl of Mackey Arena.
And then the notes of “Hail Purdue” begin to sally forth…
As an undergraduate I attended every Purdue home game for four years straight. And yeah, I got a degree, drank enough beer to float the Titanic, and made some lifelong friends. But personally witnessing a three-peat of Big Ten championships remains the greatest accomplishment of my college career.
In 2019, Purdue came within a properly-executed-block-out-on-a-missed-free-throw-attempt from reaching the Final Four for the first time since 1980. In the last 40 years, Purdue has rarely been regarded as a perennial National Championship contender the way we view Michigan State, North Carolina or Kentucky. However, they have won 9 Big Ten Championships, gone to the NCAA tournament 28 times, advanced to 7 Sweet 16s, and 3 Elite Eights.
In 1994, I was there in person for the Elite Eight, at Thompson-Boling Arena, on the Campus of the University of Tennessee, to watch the #1 Seed, Glenn Robinson-lead Boilers blow a 10 point half-time lead to Cherokee Parks and whoever else was on that team that eventually lost to Arkansas.
In 2000 I watched the Boilers lose to Wisconsin (!) in the Regional Finals from my hotel room during my cousin’s wedding. (The reception was held at the hotel and was already in full swing, so no one missed me. Few rarely do.)
And, in 2019, after UVA tied the game in the final moments of regulation, I turned off the TV, retreated to my home office and, with the lights off, stared at ESPN’s Gamecast on my phone until the Boilermakers, ultimately and inevitably, failed to reach the Holy Land once again.
As a life-long Cubs’ fan who was found by his wife weeping on the living room floor after the Cubbies won it all in 2016, I would gladly trade that moment for one Final Four visit for the Old Gold and Black. All the same, I am delighted to have ridden the Boiler Special for all these years and will be eagerly sharing my experiences, including profiles of Purdue players and plenty on the opponents they battled against, with all who can be bothered to read any of it. Oh, and after I finished up in West Lafayette, I headed down to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to attend Wake Forest University to get an M.A., but more importantly, to personally witness the final year of Tim Duncan’s college career.
I’m the dude who got to watch 6 years of Big 10 and ACC basketball in person.
NCAA Hoops are back! Boiler Up! Go Deacs!
P.S. Only 3 D1 schools list their official colors as “Old Gold and Black”: Purdue, Wake Forest, and Vanderbilt. (Chose not to go to Vandy for my Ph.D. because Nashville is overrated … and I didn’t get accepted.)