Hazell has a losing record at Purdue, and a losing record is something I know firsthand. I coached my two sons all throughout their youth sport careers. This is self-proclaimed, but I probably was the coach with one of the losingest records in the history of youth sports.
For 10 years, I coached two sons in three sports. During that time, I won one championship (basketball), reached the finals once in baseball, and won two matches (overall) in soccer. Two. My soccer teams were a collection of wonderful kids who didn’t have a clue about anything to do with soccer—which, as it turned out, meshed exactly with my knowledge of the sport. Even kicking the ball was a challenge for many of these kids.
My teams took moral victories in the simpler things, like winning a period or scoring a goal. Our losses came in a variety of ways: scoring the winning goal for the other team, allowing a last-second walk-off goal, or just getting blown out. But through it all, we had fun and tried to maintain some dignity in our losses. I used to say that losing builds character. There should be a lot of kids out there with great characters.
But it was our two lone soccer victories, one with each son, that were outstanding, and this is where Hazell and I are alike—because we lost and lost a lot. The first win came completely out of the blue; my team scored seven goals, and we won 7-2. While the team was celebrating and I was shaking hands with the opposing coach, one of his parents came up to me and accused me of running up the score on his son’s team. “How could you do that,” he screamed in my face. “You are the problem with youth athletics,” he pointed out to me.
Not one to back down from a challenge, I proceeded to get in his face and let him know that he should probably be quiet before I assisted him. Unbeknownst to me, a former Purdue football player (big dude), whose child was on the opposing team, had my back. So while I was making my point, the yelling parent was smart enough to know when to back down.
During all of this, my team, whose celebration was cut short, felt bad about winning because they made that dad mad. So in essence, the win was tarnished and ruined. We didn’t win another match all season.
The second victory was just as unusual but as it turned out, was a great moment for my son. We entered the playoffs that year with a perfect record of 0-10. Our match was against the best team in the league, so when we put the ball in play, I told my player to kick it as far and as high as he could toward the opposing goal. The ground was hard, so I thought maybe the ball would bounce right and we could steal a goal. It worked. We hadn’t been playing for five seconds and we were ahead 1-0.
As the game progressed, now tied at one, the opposition’s best player was thrown out of the game for arguing with the official. With that player out, our team was still overmatched but competitive. No one scored again, and the game came down to a kickoff. My son, who hadn’t scored a goal in his entire soccer career was last. He kicked, and the ball hit the top of the goal and bounced down and in. Magic! Divine intervention. My prayers had been answered. We won.
After a decade of early morning games, two kids, 30 teams, 30 seasons, more than 350 kids coached in over 300 games—those two wins were the most gratifying of all I had as a coach and will have a place in my memory forever.
The Nebraska win will have the same effect for Hazell. The Boilermakers may get another head coach in the next year or so, but for one shining moment, Hazell was a winner. And that feeling, whether you experience it once a season or 10 times, is the best. There is nothing like it.
For Purdue, the Nebraska win erases many evil streaks that were haunting everyone who follows the program—like me. I can imagine what this meant to Hazell.