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Purdue Wins National Championship!

Maude-Aimee LeBlanc, of Purdue's National Championship team in women's golf. (Brent Dinkut/Journal and Courier)

The Purdue Boilermakers won the NCAA National Championship in women’s golf today, the first Northern school in history to take the title.

They beat the Trojans of Southern California by a single stroke on the 18th hole. The finish was dramatic.

My mother would have been jumping out of her skin about now. Oh, how I wish she’d lived to see the day.

She learned the game of golf at Purdue, where she graduated with a B.S. in Pharmacy in 1961, the year the Purdue men’s team won the National Championship.

Physical education was a required course for undergraduates back then; they’d teach any student whatever sport they were interested in. She chose golf, and got pretty good at it, though nothing like these girls today.

My mother played the game for the rest of her life, which is what “lifelong learning” is all about.

In fact, the grade she got in golf class changed her life, and not in a good way; she missed graduating with honors because she got a B in that 1-credit-hour class. But still, she got the last laugh a few years later, when she won the 1st Flight tournament in the Lafayette City Championships.

I got to host her at the Memorial Championship in Dublin, Ohio, Jack Nicklaus’s ode to his golf heroes and heroines at the Muirfield Golf Club. We saw some amazing performances, including Paul Azinger’s unbelievable win when he came back from cancer. Golf was good to my Mom; she had a lot of fun playing. (And Nicklaus is the son of a pharmacist.)

This year’s Purdue team is coached by Devon Brouse; the team star is Maude-Aimee LeBlanc. The team is slightly controversial around here because none of the players are Americans. But girls come from all over the world to play college golf in the United States; the individual champion this year is a gal from Sweden who plays for Oklahoma State.

Purdue’s Maria Hernandez was the individual medalist last year. Brouse has had this program shooting for the top for some years now, and in 2010 they hit the jackpot.

College golf (high school too) is team play, not the individual sport you see on TV. It makes for an interesting dynamic. For one thing, all the players wear their school colors; Purdue wore black shorts and black golf shirts with a “P” on the chest. Black is considered an aggressive color. Maybe next year they’ll wear Old Gold.

As a team sport, the scoring is different too, and that changes the strategy. The highest score on a team is dropped, so only the five best players’ results matter. If one gal’s having a bad day, it doesn’t count. But the pressure is on for her teammates. The performance of a single star doesn’t cut it; what matters is what her teammates shoot.

Purdue finished 1 over par for the tournament, hosted by the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. USC finished 2 over par. A Purdue player tied for third as an individual, but the consistent low scores of her teammates carried the day. The last two shots of the day won it.

Then came a bit of pageantry before the awarding of the trophies. A gaggle of bagpipers marched onto the course, because golf was invented by the Scots. These weren’t college boys, but a professional bagpipe outfit in kilts. For the climax of a women’s golf tournament, let’s get guys in skirts! They had a drum major in spats, and drummers twirling their sticks ceremonially. It was a show—and no matter how much one might get sentimental over Robert Burns and Auld Lang Syne, there’s no way to make bagpipes sound like musical instruments. They make a glaring, awful noise—but Scotland gave us golf, which made my mother happy, and gave us a championship Purdue won today.

So why this post? I will never miss an opportunity to proclaim “Purdue Wins National Championship” in a sport, because great athletes provide an excuse to cheer for the whole school’s students, including those in pharmacy. This is my excuse for cheering on my Mom.

She was a far better pharmacist than she was a golfer—not that she didn’t crow about that city championship when she was in her 40s. I’ve still got her little hole-in-one trophy from later years, though it’s engraved for “Betty Arnold” as if she was married to her boyfriend, not living in sin. Oh, the scandal!

She would cheer these Purdue girls, and be the first to point out that you can’t have a world-class university unless you attract the best students from all over the world. Purdue has more foreign students than any other state university in America, and I for one am proud of them.

Go Mom! GO PURDUE! Go Mom.++

National Champions 2010, the Purdue Boilermakers. (Jason Barnette)

My New TV Jinxed the Team

Robbie Hummel sidelined after his season-ending injury. (AJ Mast/Associated Press)

I did something very, very bad on February 24. I bought a TV, a 37-inch Vizio, high-def and all that.

The very same night the reason I bought it came crashing down. I should have known not to tempt the fates.

I haven’t watched TV since 1986. This makes me very weird, but it’s also made me a happier guy. Just think of all the commercials I haven’t seen—1.3 million of them.

Not watching TV is one of the best things a person can do for himself. I am now completely averse to violent images, and I only buy things I really want.

So what made me change? Purdue basketball, which I’ve followed since I was 7 years old. Purdue’s got a great team this year, ranked in the Top Ten all season long. I told myself, This could be the year we win it all.

Just once in my lifetime I want to see the Boilermakers win the National Championship. And if this is the year, I thought, I don’t want to miss it. So I broke down and bought a TV. It’s very nice, as TVs go. I called the cable company, which carries the Big Ten Network as well as ESPN; the cable was installed Feb. 24. At 8pm I sat down to watch Purdue play Minnesota, so excited I could have jumped out of my skin. About 9 minutes into the game, Purdue’s star forward Robbie Hummel blew out his knee and is gone for the rest of the year.

I’m very, very sorry, Robbie. I should never have broken the string. Your team would probably be getting a #1 seed tomorrow in the NCAA tournament if it weren’t for me. I’m hanging my head in shame. I apologize to Purdue people everywhere.

After all, I didn’t watch Drew Brees win the Super Bowl; I listened to the Saints beat the Colts on the radio and cheered my lungs out.

I listened to all those Purdue hoops on the radio; why couldn’t I have just waited until you made the Final Four? Why didn’t I just save my money and drive 30 miles to the nearest sports bar? I saw Purdue beat West Virginia there on New Year’s Day.

As it turns out, Purdue beat Minnesota that night after Hummel left the game, although the Boilers went into a total swoon after he left, and only pulled the victory out in the last minute. Since then, Purdue’s gone 3-1 to finish out the season, until this afternoon in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal—against Minnesota.

I sat in my big chair and watched; the Boilers scored all of 11 points in the first half. With less than 10 minutes to go in the game, the Gophers led by 30 and I hit the button, Power Off. I needed something more pleasant to do, so I scrubbed the kitchen floor on my hands and knees.

Hey, it’s Lent, I’m supposed to do penance.

March Madness (the NCAA basketball tournament) is my favorite time of year. I fill out my bracket online and consistently beat 95% of The New York Times sports staff year after year.

So much for madness now; I’m mad at myself for screwing it up. There’s only one consolation in all this misery; Hummel’s a junior. He’ll have all the time he needs to rehab that knee (a torn ACL is a horrible, painful injury) and be able to come back for his senior season with his running mates JuJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, the trio who’s responsible for that Top Ten ranking. Hope will be reborn next year. Chris Kramer, the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year, won’t be around, and he’s the #1 reason I wanted Purdue to win it all this time, but the one consolation is we’ll get another chance.

In the meantime I guess I’ll enjoy my sparkly clean floor.++

Purdue on Top in Big Ten

Dr. James H. Smart, president of Purdue and founder of the nation's first athletic conference, the Big Ten, in 1895.

Okay, now I’m certain the basketball gods are conspiring to bless my little heart. Purdue beat Ohio State and Illinois this week; OSU then went to East Lansing and walloped Michigan State—putting my beloved Boilermakers in sole possession of first place in the Intercollegiate Conference of Faculty Representatives, otherwise known as the Big Ten.

One favorable event is a random act; two are a coicidence. But when three similar things happen, you’ve got a pattern on your hands. I’m going to have to break down and buy a TV!

I haven’t watched the idiot box since Jack got sick in 1986; there just wasn’t time to take care of him, do his job and mine, cook and clean and pay the bills, plus turn into a couch potato every night. By the time I got done with my work, prime time was over. And I didn’t miss it. I blame television for everything that’s wrong with society; how else can you explain Sarah Palin?

Think of those thousands of commercials I missed!

But now the Boilers are sitting all alone on top of the standings in men’s basketball. That’s miracle #1, thanks to Keaton Grant’s 15 points off the bench Saturday against the Illini. (He equalled his season high of 13 three days earlier against the Buckeyes.)

Keaton Grant earlier this year. (Michael Conroy/AP)

As the 4th-ranked team in the country in both the AP and coaches’ polls (#3 as of tomorrow, I bet), the Boilers may receive a #1 seed in the Best Sports Event in the World (the NCAA Tournament) beginning in three weeks. The #1 seed receives the easiest path to regional victory and a chance at the Final Four. (That’s miracle #2.)

But now wait, because this third event is truly miraculous. I have just found out that the off-brand cable company that serves my hometown (pop. 1800) just 45 miles north of the Purdue campus has finally decided, after years of delay, there might be customers here for the Big Ten Network.

Crash, that’s the sound of me keeling over dead.

Obviously I’m old enough to remember when all Purdue basketball games were televised for free on one broadcast station, WTTV, Channel 4 in Indianapolis. But those days are gone, because businessmen figured out how to charge people money for what used to be free. (Gas stations now charge you to put air in your own tires, too.) Now, college basketball is scattered all over the pay-TV dial, from ESPN (1, 2, U and 360) to CBS to BTN. The only way to watch is with cable or satellite, and the only thing I have any interest in seeing is Purdue sports. Just think of all those reality TV shows I’ve missed. (I still wouldn’t recognize Paris Hilton or Brittany Spears if they walked up and kissed me on the mouth.)

Cable TV costs a minimum of $400 a year, and without the Big Ten Network I had no reason to subscribe.

Now, however, a miracle I’ve waited a lifetime for might actually take place: Purdue winning the National Championship next month in Indianapolis. I have to get cable; I owe it to myself not to miss this.

Of course, TV technology has changed, and my old analog TV, which I still have from the days when Jack would watch “Roseanne” back in the ’80s, and which weighs 90 pounds and isn’t worth moving, is out of date. I not only have to sign up for cable, I have to buy a new idiot box.

So I’ve been shopping online, and my my my, what pretty new boxes they have these days. They weigh less too.

I’ve found out about a new American manufacturer named Vizio, which makes TVs that use less energy, even below the standards of EnergyStar 3.0. They sell a 32-inch set with 1080 pixels and 120 Hz for a list price of $548; maybe less if I can find a good deal.

For $200 less you can get a Vizio 32-incher with 720 pixels and 60 Hz, but the pixels and refresh rate matter a lot in picture quality; since this is going to be the last TV I ever buy, let’s not be a cheapskate. OTOH, an extra 10 inches costs $200 more at $748, which is more than my house payment. What to do???

Let’s try dreaming.

Purdue Wins National Championship in High-Def!!!

That’s one way to look at it. Or:

purduelosesin2ndroundtono-name-u — in which case I don’t want to see it even in low-def.

Which do I think will happen?

The Boilers are #4 in the country, sitting atop the Big Ten with three games left to play. When Illinois took out JuJuan Johnson, Purdue’s high-scoring big man, yesterday, up came Grant off the bench; that’s the mark of a championship team, finding a way to win no matter what. Purdue’s riding a 9-game winning streak, after putting together a 14-game streak to start the season. (They had three straight losses in between.) They’re one of the hottest teams in the country, almost sure to get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Even better, this year’s team is dominated by juniors: Johnson, Robbie Hummel, E’Twaun Moore. All of them will be back next year.

I think I’d better buy the best damn TV I can afford. This will be my last chance to see the cutest guy in basketball, Purdue senior Chris Kramer.

Life is a crapshoot. GO BOILERS!

The Secretary of Defense, Purdue's Chris Kramer. (Don Ryan/AP)