Joe Tiller, Drew Brees and Purdue 2000

As a fan of college football both past and present, I have fond memories of the 1960s Purdue Boilermaker teams which I posted about here: Purdue

Those old teams were loaded with talent like Pro Football Hall of Fame member, Bob Griese. Leroy Keyes and Mike Phipps were other stars that came close to winning the Heisman Trophy and had some NFL success.

The 1968 Purdue team was also number 1 in the rankings for part of the season, until they had to play the mighty Ohio State Buckeyes who won the national championship that season.

Purdue head coach Jack Mollenkopf led the Boilermakers to an 84-39-9 record, but he stepped down after the 1969 season. He passed away from cancer a few short years later.

Purdue is a tough place to win and they had failures from Bob DeMoss and Alex Agase before Jim Young came along in 1977. DeMoss was a former Purdue Quarterback and an assistant to Mollenkopf before taking over as head man. He went 13-18 as the head man. Agase coached at Northwestern taking over after the departure of the great Ara Parseghian for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Purdue Boilermakers hired him to run their program before the 1973 season. His Boilermaker teams posted a very unremarkable 18-25-1 before he resigned unexpectedly after the 1976 season.

Jim Young turned the program around briefly after initially only winning 5 games in 1977.

His 1978 Boilermakers went 9-2-1 and 1979 they were one of the Big 10’s best with a 10-2 mark. In 1979, Purdue went 9-3. But, they dropped to 5-6 the following season and Young stepped down. His 5 year record at Purdue was a respectable 38-19-1.

Fred Akers was next, but he put up miserable numbers and was gone in 4 years. Jim Colletto was maybe even worse than Akers.

After Colletto failed, the Boilermakers hired Joe Tiller away from Wyoming.

In Tiller’s first recruiting class of 1997, he signed an undersized Quarterback out of Westlake High School in Austin, Texas. Drew Brees had just led his Westlake team to the Texas state championship in it’s largest classification.

Brees is the nephew of former Texas Quarterback Marty Akins, but the Longhorns and head coach John Mackovic wanted nothing to do with Brees. It seems like the feeling was mutual. Nobody else really wanted Brees either.

Purdue, and Joe Tiller were more than happy to take Drew Brees.

Things started changing in a hurry at Purdue. Brees didn’t play that much as a true freshman, but Tiller and the Purdue Boilermakers took a 3-8 team and turned them into a 9-3 in 1997. It was a remarkable turnaround.

They lost their first game against Toledo and people were probably thinking, ‘same old, same old’.

But, the Boilermakers got it going in a hurry after that by beating rival and 12th ranked Notre Dame in game two. They won six in a row including a big win over 24th ranked Wisconsin. 15th ranked

Iowa beat them and so did 6th ranked Penn State.

The 1998 season was Drew Brees first as a starter and he quickly made a name for himself throwing for just a few yards under 4,000  and 39 Touchdowns.

After an unimpressive beginning at 3-4 with losses to USC, Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Penn State. But, they got on a roll and won the rest of their games and gained a bowl bid to the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, Texas.

At the Alamo Bowl, Brees really built his reputation by taking the underdog Boilermakers to an exciting come from behind win over the 4th ranked Kansas State Wildcats.

This game deserves more attention for what it was. The Wildcats of Kansas State were really good this season, they finished the regular season undefeated and were upset in the Big 12 Title game by Texas A%M and then again in the Alamo Bowl by Purdue.  They finished the season with an 11-2 record.

In 1999, the Boilermakers had a more difficult schedule because the Big 10 bad boys were back on the schedule, Michigan and Ohio State. They started the season ranked 22nd.

They had their ups and downs and they played 7 ranked teams and they beat only 2 of them. 4th ranked Michigan and Tom Brady whipped them pretty good, but Purdue spanked 5th ranked Michigan State and Nick Saban.

They finished up the season at 7-5, but they gave every team they played a tough battle except for Michigan.

The 2000 season was the year that the Purdue Boilermakers and Joe Tiller had been shooting for. It was franchise Quarterback Drew Brees senior season and if it was going to happen for the

Boilermakers this was going to be their year.

Purdue started off with a bang in romps over lessor opponents Central Michigan and Kent State. Central Michigan was easily handled 48-0 and Kent State almost the same with a 45-10 victory. They started the season ranked 15th, but they were 13th in the Polls when they traveled to South Bend to take on the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame was ranked 21st and the Irish upset the Boilermakers, 23-21.

The Purdue Boilermakers were 2-1 and they had to regroup before taking on the Minnesota Gophers coached by Glen Mason. They did.

The Boilermakers won 38-24, but a trip to State College, Pennsylvania and a game against the Nittany Lions was next. This was a horrible Penn State team, maybe one of Joe Paterno’s worst. But, they still had enough to hold off the Boilermakers and win 22-20.

Now, the Boilermakers were 3-2 and they were unranked. They had a huge game coming up with the mighty 6th ranked Michigan Wolverines, but at least the game was in West Lafayette instead of in Ann Arbor.

But, the Boilermakers surprised everyone and beat the Wolverines 32-31.

Purdue was now 4-2 and back into the Polls at #21.

17th ranked Northwestern was next, but the Boilermakers dispensed with the Wildcats, 41-28.

They needed Overtime to beat the Badgers of Wisconsin, which they did, 30-24.

The now 16th ranked Boilermakers had the 12th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes next. This was John Cooper’s Buckeyes and not Jim Tressel’s and this game turned into a classic with the Boilermakers pulling off the win, 31-27.

Purdue was now at the 9th spot in the latest Poll.

The Michigan State Spartans were next on the schedule and Nick Saban had just dumped them for the LSU Tigers. Bobby Williams was in his first season as a Spartan head coach and they were not good, but they stomped the Boilermakers on this day, 30-10.

Purdue was ranked at 17 then and with only in-state rival Indiana remaining to play. This game was big for Purdue because they needed this win to tie for the championship of the Big 10. There were no separate divisions back then and the winner at the end of the regular season got to represent in the Rose Bowl.

They were tied with Northwestern and Michigan going into the last game. Purdue stuffed Indiana, Northwestern crushed Illinois and Michigan beat Ohio State to remain tied.

But, Purdue had beaten both of those team during the season, so the Boilermakers earned the Rose Bowl Berth.

What Midwestern person associated with the Big 10 did not want to go to Pasadena on January 1st? It was the stuff of dreams.

This was especially true of the Purdue Boilermakers who had not been to the Rose Bowl since they beat USC on January 2nd, 1967.

As so often happens for the Big 10 visitors, January 1st did not end so well for the Purdue

Boilermakers. The Washington Huskies beat the Purdue Boilermakers 34-24 to end the season with a negative.

Still, the 8-4 Boilermakers were able to live the dream and make it to the Promise Land on New Year’s Day.

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Drew Brees was definitely the catalyst that made things happen at Purdue. But, it would be unfair to say that he did it alone. 6 Offensive Linemen from this 2000 team played in the NFL including 4 starters and 2 back ups. Ian Allen, Brandon Gorin, Matt Light, Gene Mruczkowski, Chukky Okobi and Kelly Butler all played in the NFL.

Tight End Tim Stratton and Wide Receivers Vinny Sutherland, John Standeford and Seth Morales were good receivers for Brees.

Montrell Lowe was a low to the ground Running Back that ran for nearly a 1,000 yards in the 2000 season.

Matt Mitrione, Akin Ayodele led the defense that did step up at times.

Joe Tiller coached the Purdue Boilermakers to an 87-62 record. He was gone after a 4-8 season in 2008.

Drew Brees was not a popular man with NFL scouts, just as he had not been with the college recruiters. There’s that lack of size thing again.

He was picked in the 2nd round by the San Diego Chargers, but all did not go as planned out there. Where he finally met success was with the New Orleans Saints where he led the team to a Super Bowl championship.

I don’t remember the Purdue team that beat USC in the January 1st, 1967 Rose Bowl. But, I will always remember the Purdue team of the 2000 season and their unlikely Big 10 Championship.

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