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Know Your Foe: Purdue Boilermakers

September 10, 2012

Since this is EMU’s first football game against Purdue since 1991 — far longer than this blog has been around! — it’s time for another edition of Know Your Foe!

First, we turn to Wikipedia, because it’s there:

Purdue University, located in West Lafayette, Indiana, U.S., is the flagship university of the six-campus Purdue University system. Purdue was founded on May 6, 1869, as a land-grant university when the Indiana General Assembly, taking advantage of the Morrill Act, accepted a donation of land and money from Lafayette businessman John Purdue to establish a college of science, technology, and agriculture in his name. The first classes were held on September 16, 1874, with six instructors and 39 students. Today, Purdue enrolls the second largest student body of any university in Indiana as well as the second largest international student population of any public university in the United States. Purdue offers both undergraduate and graduate programs in over 210 major areas of study, and is well known for its competitive engineering curricula. The university has also been highly influential in America’s history of aviation, having established the first college credit offered in flight training, the first four-year bachelor’s degree in aviation, and the first university airport (Purdue University Airport). In the mid-20th century, Purdue’s aviation program expanded to encompass advanced spaceflight technology giving rise to Purdue’s nickname, “Cradle of Astronauts”. Twenty-two Purdue graduates have gone on to become astronauts, including Gus Grissom (one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts), Neil Armstrong (the first person to walk on the moon), and Eugene Cernan (the most recent person to walk on the moon).

Purdue alumnus Ray Ewry at the 1900 Summer Olympics.

In addition to 22 astronauts, notable Purdue alumni include popcorn magnate Orville Redenbacher, former Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, six Nobel laureates (three each in chemistry and physics), two Pulitzer winners, and pizza-man Herman Cain. In sports, alumni include Ray Ewry (won 8 individual Olympic gold medals or 10 if you include the 1906 Intercalated Olympics, setting a record that stood for more than 100 years until surpassed only by Michael Phelps), John Wooden, Glenn Robinson, Bob Griese, and Drew Breese.

Purdue Boilermakers

The term “Boilermakers” dates to 1891, when it was applied as a derogatory term, because of the school’s emphasis on hands-on technical and mechanical education. The Purdue football team defeated nearby Wabash College 44-0, and an account of the game in the Crawfordsville Daily Argus News on October 26, 1891 was headlined, “Slaughter of Innocents: Wabash Snowed Completely Under by the Burly Boiler Makers from Purdue.” A week later, the Lafayette Sunday Times responded: “As everyone knows, Purdue went down to Wabash last Saturday and defeated their eleven. The Crawfordsville papers have not yet gotten over it. The only recourse they have is to claim that we beat their ‘scientific’ men by brute force. Our players are characterized as ‘coal heavers,’ ‘boiler makers’ and ‘stevedores.'” In early years, Purdue’s teams were also called ‘grangers’, ‘pumpkin-shuckers’, ‘railsplitters’, ‘cornfield sailors’, ‘blacksmiths’, and ‘foundry hands’ (all derogatory), but it was “Boilermakers” that stuck. The Boilermakers have won three team national championships, one each in men’s golf (1961), women’s basketball (1999), and women’s golf (2010).

Colors & mascots

Purdue’s colors, “old gold” and black, chosen in the fall of 1887, actually stemmed from a mistake. Princeton was considered to field the most successful football team of the time, and the first Purdue football team intended to emulate what they thought were the Princeton colors, yellow and black (they are actually orange and black), merely replacing yellow with gold.

The Xtra Special at a Purdue football game.

Both Purdue mascots began in 1940, but the first to have a physical existance was the official mascot, the Boilermaker Special, a locomotive body mounted on an automobile chassis. New versions were introduced in 1953 and 1960, known as Boilermaker Special II and Boilermaker Special III, respectively. In 1979, Boilermaker Special IV, known as “X-tra Special” was introduced, featuring a smaller body mounted on an electric golf cart chassis, allowing it to make appearances indoors and on the football field without causing damage to the playing surface. The Boilermaker Special III was eventually replaced by V (1993) and VII (2011), while the X-tra Special IV was replaced by X-tra Special VI (1996). Purdue Pete was created in 1940 as an advertising icon for University Bookstore. In 1944, editors of the school yearbook inserted Pete onto each page, dressed and acting according to the content of the page. In 1956, he became a costumed mascot, originally with a head made of paper-mâché over wire frame, though it is now made of fiberglass. In 2006 and 2011, proposals to change the look of Purdue Pete were rejected (many children find him scary, probably because he falls into the uncanny valley).

“All-American” Marching Band

The “All-American” Marching Band marching the block “P” with the Big Bass Drum in the middle, in 1922…

…and in 2009.

The Purdue “All-American” Marching Band, with nearly 400 members, is among the largest marching bands in the world. The band was first formed as a drum corps a year or two before the school’s first football team, but under the 50-year leadership of Paul Spotts Emrick (from his sophomore year in 1905 until his retirement in 1954!) the band moved away from military drill.

They claim, among other things, to be the first marching band to form a letter on the field (1907), the first band to play the opposing school’s fight song, the first band to perform at the Indianapolis 500, the first band to stage a self-lighted halftime show at night (using battery operated strings of lights on each member and instrument), the first band to play at Radio City Music Hall, and of course, the first band to have an alumnus walk on the moon (Neil Armstrong).

In addition, the “All-American” Marching Band is also known for their Big Bass Drum, which they claim as the world’s largest drum, although there are other claimant (e.g. “Big Bertha” at Texas). No one knows whether or not it’s really the largest, but, having seen it up close myself, I can say with certainty that it is really big.

Ross-Ade Stadium

Ross-Ade Stadium, during a 2006 game against the Miami RedHawks.

Since 1924, Purdue has played their home football games at Ross-Ade Stadium, which means if you go to the game, that’s where you’ll be going. The stadium is named for David Ross and George Ade, two Purdue alumni who purchased the land on which the stadium was built. A series of expansions over 45 years took the capacity from 13,500 to more than 69,000 in 1970. Subsequent renovations in 1988, 1998, 2002, and 2003 reduced the capacity somewhat, and it currently seats 62,500. The shape is a capped horseshoe, similar to Ohio Stadium, which I personally find preferable to a bowl (e.g., Michigan Stadium) but like less than a grid (e.g., Penn State’s Beaver Stadium). The playing field is a deep-rooting cold-tolerant strain of Bermuda grass, with an irrigation system (called “Prescription Athletic Turf” by the university) that is claimed to be capable of keeping the field playable in an inch an hour of rain.


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