“Here lies a toppled god. His fall was not a small one. We did but build his pedestal, A narrow and a tall one.” ? Frank Herbert, Dune Messiah.
It’s no secret that I root for the other college in Indiana. That was already my team of choice and now my boy plays for their pep band which cranks it up a notch. Rooting against Purdue is in my blood, and – truth be told – there was a bit of schadenfreude when I learned of top seeded Purdue’s historic loss against #16 seed Farleigh Dickinson the other night. I didn’t see it because we were in Berlin at the time, five hours ahead, trying to catch a few hours of sleep before leaving for the airport at 3:45 a.m. local time. I woke up to a text from my mom sharing the shocking news.
This was a horrible loss for the Boilermakers. There’s no other way to spin it. But what tends to get lost in the discussion is the level of success necessary to make this loss even possible. If Purdue had performed to pre-season expectations, they are probably somewhere in that Big Ten logjam, placing somewhere between 2 and 9th in the league; maybe a 5 or 6 seed in the tournament. If they do that, they exit in the first game or two, folks are disappointed for a week or so, but then fans look forward to next year with more experience on the court. Instead, Purdue set itself ahead of the Big Ten pack. They get swept by Indiana but otherwise stand above the Big Ten winning the regular season and the tournament. It’s only that success that makes the historic loss possible. Instead of remembering the Big Ten championship, fans and detractors alike will remember the face plant against FDU. That’s inevitable, but I’m not entirely sure it’s fair.
Expectations are an insidious thing. I saw that in my rec soccer coaching – being up a couple of goals and then coming away with a tie felt like a loss whereas being down a couple of goals and then getting a tie felt like a win. It’s not just athletics either – it’s most things in life. Things that are objectively neutral or even good can feel bad if they don’t live up to expectations. Compared to basically every other era in history, most humans on the planet now have things better than in any other era in history; but their existence can, nevertheless, feel fraught and miserable simply because we know better is possible.
Likewise, Purdue fans feel miserable because so much more was possible. But it was only possible because of the work and success of Painter, Edey, et al, through the rest of the season. Don’t expect much empathy for Boilermaker basketball in these pages in the future, but I hope after the pain of this loss fades, there will be some ability among fans to appreciate the real accomplishments even if they are alloyed with the sting of disappointment.