By JOHN SLEEPER
It didn’t look good for Purdue Oct. 28 against Ohio State.
Drew Brees, the Boilermakers’ quarterback, had just thrown his fourth interception of the day, one that led to an Ohio State field goal that gave the Buckeyes a 27-24 lead with 2:16 to play.
But on his final pass, his 65th of the day and 39th completion, Brees connected with wideout Seth Morales for a 64-yard touchdown.
Game over. Purdue 31, Ohio State 27. And the Boilermakers had made a huge step toward a Rose Bowl berth.
Upstairs in the ABC television booth, color commentator Gary Danielson’s adrenal glands unleashed a flash flood into his bloodstream, and he remembers sounding a lot like Porky Pig on regional television. Maybe it’s because Danielson’s a Purdue grad, but probably not.
More likely, it’s because, as a former quarterback, Danielson greatly appreciated what it took for Brees to fling it again.
“I never measure a player by wins and losses,” Danielson said. “I measure a player by how he deals with adversity. Brees’ touchdown pass after throwing that pick was the single most clutch play that I have ever seen in 11 years of broadcasting college football.”
While University of Washington fans may want to remind Danielson of any one of Marques Tuiasosopo’s fourth-quarter plays that helped the No. 4 Huskies to a 10-1 record and a Rose Bowl berth Jan. 1 against the Boilermakers, no one can deny Brees’ impact and quality.
Numbers, however prodigious, tell just part of the story. Brees is fourth on the NCAA career list for total offense, completions and attempts; the fact that he came back for his senior year rather then turning pro says a lot about him.
But he hadn’t been to a Rose Bowl. Purdue hadn’t in 34 years. In a career stuffed with individual accomplishments, Brees wanted to lead his team to Pasadena. He passed. He ran. Most important, he led.
“He’s one of the few guys I know at the college level who returned for his senior season to get something accomplished and then actually accomplish it,” Washington coach Rick Neuheisel said.
There were rocky spots along the way. A surprise 22-20 defeat to the worst Penn State team in three decades. A flatline effort against Michigan State that led to a 30-10 whipping.
But when Purdue clinched the Big Ten Conference title in a 41-13 victory against Indiana, it was a feeling, Brees said, that he could actually share, which he couldn’t had he won the Heisman Trophy last weekend.
“I will always, always remember, years from now, when they took the first-team offense off the field at the end of the game and had the second team run one play,” he said. “And our offensive linemen were coming off and really taking their time. Not because they’re fat and slow, but they wanted to cherish every single moment.
“I looked at (center) Chukky (Okobi) standing there, spreading his arms wide, and it was something I’ll never forget. They all walked off champions.”
That’s what turns Brees on – winning, much as it does Tuiasosopo. In fact, the two are so similar, the words they spew out on a daily basis could have been said by either.
This example, by Brees:
“When I’m done here, I want people to think of me as a winner and an all-around good person. I want to be known as one of the guys who helped turn Purdue football around. If people can look back 20-some years from now and say, ‘Man, it was those teams in the late ’90s and 2000 that got the tradition back for Purdue football,’ that would be good enough for me.”
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr isn’t crying that he doesn’t have to face Brees again.
Carr watched helplessly as Brees lead Purdue from a 28-10 halftime deficit against his team Oct. 7 to a 32-31 victory. All Brees did was complete 32 of 44 passes for 286 yards, including two TDs.
“He’s not only gifted athletically, he’s gifted intellectually,” Carr said. “He knows where the pressure is coming from. He knows where the coverage is going to be rolled. He makes such great decisions. There’s nothing he can’t do.”
Brees is going to make a ton of money soon. How long a 6-foot-1, 220-pound quarterback with 4.8 speed in the 40 sticks in the NFL is anyone’s guess. But Brees’ story at Purdue won’t be forgotten soon.
Least of all by Purdue coach Joe Tiller.
“He did everything we asked him to do, whether it was throwing the ball, running with it, catching it or handing it off and throwing a great block downfield,” Tiller said. “He is the reason Purdue is going to the Rose Bowl.”
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