*Quick suggestion: have this song on repeat while you read this…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0kGAz6HYM8…Makes it much more epic and much more emotional. Also tissues would be helpful, I needed them too.
What makes you go wild? Why do you invest so much time? Why are you so loud? (okay, so that last one is typically a general question but you get the idea.)
Most of the time, my answer is something along the lines of: “It’s those moments in sports where the game goes beyond just being a sport,” or something witty like that.
Usually I answer that question with one sentence. Here, I’m going to answer it with multiple paragraphs and plenty of tears.
July 17, 2006. The beginning of an era.
It didn’t take much time to fall in love with basketball when I came to Purdue. I had played the game all my life. But that day, July 17, 2006; ultimately began what would be one of the greatest careers not just in Purdue basketball history, but in college basketball history.
Robbie Hummel, a guard/forward from Valparaiso, Indiana committed to play for Matt Painter and the Purdue Boilermakers on that day.
He committed when the program was just starting. There weren’t any bells and whistles to his commitment, Twitter didn’t explode, and he didn’t receive any backpacks full of money (as far as I know…).
It would have been one thing for a top 100 recruit to commit to a school that had continued success over the course of the last couple years. But Purdue wasn’t there. Not even close.
And thus begins the legacy: beginning something that’s bigger than yourself.
‘The Baby Boilers’ stormed onto the scene, winning 12 of their first 13 Big Ten conference games.
During that stretch we saw two plays that would define not just a career, but a program in
itself: ‘the block’ and what I like to call the ‘hustle after a loose ball, save it, get it back in the corner and shoot an open 3 and make it crowd goes wild’ shot.
If you’re a Purdue fan, you know exactly which two plays I’m talking about.
Not since the days of head coach Matt Painter playing at Purdue had we seen this much pandemonium surrounding the Purdue basketball program.
Top 10 upsets, a court storming, a second place finish in the Big Ten…those don’t happen if it’s not for that one day that began it all.
The next year: memories were made.
This time in the history books.
The 2008-2009 season was marked by the program’s first top 5 win in years and the
program’s first ever Big Ten Tournament championship. A birth into the sweet 16 for the first time since 2000 certainly made a bit of history as well.
And there he was again, Robbie Hummel. Fighting through a painful back injury that required him to wear a less than comfortable brace, standing tall on the podium in Conseco Fieldhouse.
The next two years would pass. They were certainly not easy.
There are few times in life where I can honestly say I remember where I was, what I was doing, and who I was with. Those few times where I stopped whatever I was doing, crouched down, and just stared off into empty space asking the same question: ‘why?’
Time #1 – The first Torn ACL. My room at my fraternity, watching the Purdue basketball game, 7:10 remaining in the first half, by myself on my futon.
Purdue was #3 in the country, putting together possibly the greatest season in school history. A (23-3) record going into Minneapolis to play a Minnesota team that was sure to give us a fight.
Rob came in guns blazing and we were dominating a side that should have given us a fight. It was that drive in the lane where everything changed.
A non-contact injury to the right knee. We all hoped that our almost super-human leader would get up and start playing again, but that wasn’t the case.
Since that game, Purdue once again saw themselves battle to the program’s first Big Ten regular season championship since the mid 90’s and a fight to the Sweet 16. Only to find themselves fall to Duke in Houston, the same Duke team that went on to win the National Championship.
But we were going to be back in 2010-2011. It was our year. Hummel was going to return healthy and better than ever, and the Boilermakers were going to challenge for their first Title since 1932.
Time #2 – The second Torn ACL. October 16, 2010 – north end zone of Ross-Ade Stadium, shooting the homecoming Purdue football game against Minnesota.
I still remember to this day what happened when I received that text message from a friend that made everything I was doing seem meaningless. I will also never forget the silence that swept over Ross-Ade when the news broke to every Boilermaker fan in attendance.
I stopped shooting the game while Purdue was driving, knelt down, and stared straight into the ground. I didn’t pay attention to anything around me nor did I even care.
After the victory over Minnesota, I still remember the first question being asked to Coach Hope. It wasn’t about the victory his football team had just achieved, it was about Robbie’s second ACL injury.
Purdue had just won their fourth (and unfortunately last) game of the season, and the first question asked to the winning head coach is about a basketball player.
I’ll never forget Hope’s response to the question. He stood for a few seconds in silence, and began to choke up just a little bit. He hadn’t heard, and he was shocked…much like we all were.
Yet again, Purdue fought gallantly. JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, our other two members that helped begin the era, took us on an amazing ride.
The program’s first win over a top 3 team since 1992 versus Ohio State once again had us all going wild in Mackey.
But off the court issues ultimately derailed a team that had so much promise, and so did a team of destiny that we all had hoped to become one day.
So here we are, the beginning of the 2011 season. Rob is back, we’ve got some talent and leadership with our two other seniors Lewis Jackson and Ryne Smith. Why not make a run?
No, it wasn’t the Final Four run we all dreamed of having in Robbie’s last season. But it may have been even more special.
Once again, off the court issues had struck with the same player. We were about to see our team crumble yet again.
But this time was different. Sure, we all felt as if it was same ol’ Purdue having the stroke of bad luck that’s plagued us the previous 2 years. Only this time, we had #4 leading the charge.
No program changing victories, no championships. Just solid, Boilermaker basketball.
Finally, we come to Time #3 – The loss to #2 Kansas. March 18, 2012 – Columbus, Mississippi; WCBI newsroom, right before I was to go on air.
No one expected us to compete against the giants from Kansas. Come on, it was KANSAS. And we were the lowly 10-seed Purdue.
The era would end in despair with us getting routed by the Jayhawks…wrong.
Purdue shot out of a cannon, and so did Robbie. Shot, after shot, after shot kept answering the Kansas momentum.
We battled and we were defeating the #2-seed in our region for 39 minutes. But for 60 seconds, we came up short.
Ryne Smith’s desperation 3 to tie came tantalizingly close to banking in for overtime.
There I was again: crouching down in the middle of the newsroom (mind you I’m running late getting onto the set).
I was motion-less for a good 30 seconds. I didn’t care what was going on around me. My team, my beloved Boilermakers, had just lost a heart-breaker. And my heart was torn too.
We were SO CLOSE to landing one of the most amazing victories in program history, yet it was just a few seconds that spelled the end. How fitting it was to end that way.
A few seconds different and Rob possibly doesn’t tear his ACL at Minneapolis. A few seconds into an aggressive practice maybe doesn’t re-injure that same ACL. A couple seconds and a few bounces differently and maybe we achieve the impossible against the Jayhawks.
After my sportscast, I just came back in and sat down in the sports office. I didn’t know what to think, what to do. I was literally heart-broken after watching that game. I didn’t move out of my seat for literally 10 minutes.
There were no words to explain how I was feeling. Nothing.
The ‘Baby Boilers’ era was over. Robbie Hummel’s days in the #4 Purdue uniform were over. I was still in shock.
Watching his press conference afterwards, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t see the player that began what ultimately will define one of the greatest eras of Purdue basketball become emotional in front of the whole world.
After the game, the out-pouring of congrats and well-wishes to Hummel was incredible. Media members, Kansas fans, even a few IU fans I saw over Twitter congratulated #4 on his career.
But then again, it still didn’t help.
After the game, I caught up with a couple Boilermaker friends of mine. We all felt the same pain: heartache. But why did we feel this way?
We aren’t a part of the team, most of us weren’t close friends with the players on the team. Some of us didn’t even have a chance to attend a game this year because they work 10 hours away from Mackey Arena.
So why did we feel this pain? What made this hurt so much more than all the other times?
Was it the end of the era? The end of a career?
Yes, all of that. But mostly, it was the end of the legacy.
We felt as if we WERE a part of this team. The effort, the tenacity, the passion…it embodied what we are all about…Boilermakers.
We all felt as if we were sitting right next to Rob, or Lew Jack, or Ryne after the crushing loss, but we really weren’t.
We all were screaming and yelling in front of a TV screen to a game where no one can hear us hundreds of miles away, but you feel as if you’re passion and excitement is pushing them to victory.
Those feelings of heart-break, despair, sadness…you don’t get that. Not unless you’re a part of the team, right?
True, but when you’re a Boilermaker, you ARE the team. You may not play a single minute of any game in a season for Matt Painter, but you feel as if you’ve struggled with those guys out there.
I felt ALL of that on Sunday night. I felt the pain of Rob’s last game. I felt the hurt of seeing Ryne’s shot fall just off the rim. I felt that mind-numbing sense of the era being over.
You feel the highs and lows of a season, you feel the sucker punch when the season ends.
All of this pain, it multiples by 50 when you see a player like Robbie Hummel break down.
His career, his unbelievable and shining career at Purdue has come to an end. All of those clutch shots, all of those hustle plays, they’re all memories from now on.
But those memories have left a legacy on a program that needed something. Purdue Basketball NEEDED something to re-energize it.
We were blessed to have #4 for FIVE years. We didn’t make it to any Final Fours, we didn’t win any National Championships…but we didn’t have to.
We won SO MUCH more than a trophy in the last five years at Purdue. We won excitement, memories, moments. Those stand the test of time, you can’t put that on a trophy.
But all of this struggle, this heart-break…it WILL pay off.
It has been a difficult last three years for Purdue basketball. We’ve been SO CLOSE to the top yet we seem to fall after a drive-by slip-up.
I promise you this Boilermaker fans: the work of Robbie Hummel and his time WILL reap dividends in the end.
His hard work, his patience, and his drive has set the tone for a program that’s only just beginning to make that climb towards the top…
Remember that line I wrote earlier: ‘beginning something that’s bigger than yourself’? That’s what Robbie Hummel did when he started in 2007.
He contributed to something that was bigger than himself. He and so many others gave their all for the team, the program, and TO US.
All I can say is to Rob and the rest of those who played the past five years: THANK YOU. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. Your spirit, your selfless attitude and determination have set the foundation for future Boilermakers.
From 2007 to 2012, Purdue Basketball enjoyed some of its best years EVER. And I was a part of that. WE were a part of that. Don’t EVER forget that.
I’ve always been asked the same question by so many people that know me: why do you love sports so much?
If ALL THAT doesn’t answer your question, than I don’t know what will.