Naysayer: Purdue Is Final Four–Bound, Finally!

Boilermakers everywhere were overcome with emotion as Purdue made the Final Four.

As I watched the game clock run out, my emotions kicked on. Elation. Pure joy.

After a few minutes of bliss, as I sat down and the fact that Purdue made the Final Four sank in, I began to cry. These tears came out of nowhere, but come out they did. This emotional outburst was for Matt Painter, for the Boiler Nation, and because my sons and I witnessed this together. I cried wishing that my wife, a Purdue grad like me, was still with us to see this, too.

I’ve known Matt Painter since he was a freshman at Purdue. I worked at the now-defunct Muncie Evening Press at the time and wrote a “local kid does good” article every year on Painter, a Delta High School graduate. I remember sitting in head coach Gene Keady’s office talking about the Boilermaker guard. Keady was very high on Painter, even though Matt wasn’t particularly quick, not a great outside shooter, and couldn’t really drive the lane. In fact, the greatest play I witnessed Painter pull off was a coast-to-coast drive for two points through Michigan’s Fab Five. That was amazing.

What Keady told me that day in his office has stuck with me since. “He’s my coach on the floor,” said Keady. “[Matt] has a great basketball mind at this young age.” We all know what happened after that. Keady knew what he was talking about.

It’s been a pleasure to watch this team this season. When big Zach Edey—standing flat-footed to cut down the net—took some of his strands and gave them to Keady, who was down on the floor celebrating, too, it spoke volumes about Edey and the culture Keady and Painter have created at Purdue over the last 40 years. Class and character.

I think of the beleaguered and oft-maligned Purdue fan base, all the grads and fans out there who, like me, live and die by Purdue athletics. I think of the years of suffering we have gone through, the near misses and flat-out failures. This win feels like a weight lifted off our backs. I’m happy for the Purdue basketball players and coaches to get the monkey of last year’s Round 1 defeat off their backs. Again, emotions.

Purdue’s last appearance in the Final Four was in 1980, 44 years ago. The championships were played at Indy’s Market Square Arena. The day of the semifinal game between Purdue and mighty UCLA, I was to begin a new job working in a West Lafayette pizza place. After I realized what I had done, I called in sick. I should have gone to work because Kiki VanDeWeghe and his Bruins teammates took care of the Joe Barry Carroll–led Boilers 67-62, advancing to the final game. I did not get fired, and I also did not figure it would be so long before Purdue made it back to the Final Four.

After Sunday’s final buzzer, I went outside and heard random shouts of, “Go Boilers!” and, “Go Purdue!” from around the neighborhood. It was akin to the scene in 101 Dalmatians when the dogs get the grapevine going, igniting a chorus of barking and howling throughout London. I too joined in the grapevine, and it was great.

Because of my affinity for Purdue sports, my sons are no different. Go figure. They too were shouting, crying, and jumping around. My youngest, a Purdue grad himself, gave me a big hug. His hands were stinging and itching because he was clapping so hard. His voice was nearly gone. My oldest, a Ball State grad, was more subdued, yet still very emotional like me.

I’ve been waiting just over four decades to write this column. I don’t know if I have four more decades to wait again. But Purdue’s work is not done. Matt Painter, Zach Edey, and company have two more games to go. If Purdue wins it all next week, witnessing it will be a big item crossed off my bucket list.