Editor’s note: Kent Hannon was The Exponent sports editor and managing editor from 1967-69 before going on to a career as a writer at Sports Illustrated. He is now retired and living in Athens, Georgia, where he was an alumni magazine editor at the University of Georgia for nearly 25 years.
Watching Purdue’s thrilling 49-20 victory over Ohio State on TV Saturday night — and rejoicing in the post-game scene of Boilermaker fans flooding the field as though it were New Year’s Eve — I saw what Purdue did to the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes as payback for an upset they sprang on a No. 1-ranked Purdue team in Columbus, Ohio, back on Oct. 12, 1968.
Purdue... a top-ranked football team? Yeah, you heard it right. Fifty years ago, with a pair of consensus All-Americans, Leroy Keyes and Mike Phipps, leading the way, Purdue was living up to its preseason No. 1 ranking with a 3-0 record, having vanquished Virginia, Notre Dame and Northwestern by a combined score of 124-34. We had thrashed Ohio State 43-6 the previous year, and as I boarded the team plane on that Friday afternoon back in the fall of ‘68, I was confident that my pregame column in The Exponent — titled “Big Blowout in Columbus” — was right on target.
Displaying the defensive chops that would deny Purdue a second trip to the Rose Bowl in three years, Ohio State shut out the Boilers 13-0 with Buckeye safety Jack Tatum policing the field the way he would as a future College Football Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champion in the NFL. What a difference a weekend makes. The humble pie headline on my Tuesday Exponent column read “Buckeyes in Orbit,” owing to the fact that word of the Buckeyes’ stunning victory — and postgame student-rioting on High Street in Columbus — was relayed to astronaut (and OSU alum) Donn Eisele aboard the Apollo 7 space capsule.
Speaking of High Street... did Harry’s ever close its doors last night? Did the Wabash turn gold? Did John Purdue roll over in his grave? Will Drew Brees write an even bigger check than usual?
It’s worth noting that Ohio State won the National Championship in both 1968 and 1970, so the Buckeyes’ victory over Purdue in ‘68 wasn’t actually an upset.
But because of what happened that day in 1968 — coupled with a lot of gridiron heartache in the intervening years — I contend that no college football fanbase is more deserving of what happened at Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday night than us long-suffering Purdue diehards. With Tyler Trent providing additional inspiration up in the press box, the Boilers led wire-to-wire with the final two touchdowns — courtesy of freshman sensation Rondale Moore and Columbus, Ohio, native Markus Bailey, who wasn’t offered a scholarship by OSU — making the final score look less like an upset than a coming-of-age game for a Purdue team that suddenly has a winning record after an 0-3 start.
Saturday night’s victory over Ohio State also seemed like payback for the late Darryl Stingley, the former Purdue wideout who was paralyzed by a vicious hit by Jack Tatum in 1978 when Stingley was playing for the New England Patriots and Tatum was an Oakland Raider.
I don’t know what happened when Tyler Trent visited the Purdue locker room after the game, but I’m guessing a game ball was involved. In a sense, all of us Purdue loyalists deserve one too because, to us, the Boilers have always been — and will always be — No. 1.